Today’s film fans cannot conceive of a time when kids stomped and whistled and cheered when the names of their favorite cowgirl actresses flashed on the screen. Children of all ages flocked to the Saturday matinee to see such silent film stars such as Eileen Sedgwick, Ruth Roland, and the serial queen of 1919, Marie Walcamp. With her blonde curls streaming, Marie defied death in numerous serials starring opposite stuntman and actor, Eddie Polo. Week after week Marie and Eddie escaped from peril only to plunge – at the end of two reels – into another hair-raising hazard, there to be suspended until the next film was released. And life was black if kids didn’t have a nickel to get into the theatre on that hallowed day.
When Marie went overseas to perform in rodeos the natives cheered as loudly for her as they would for Mary Pickford, (an actress and pioneer in the American film industry) then the queen of screen drama. They mobbed her and fought for her autograph.
Marie was born on July 27, 1894, in Dennison, Ohio. She started getting the itch to perform when she was a teenager. At sixteen, she left school to head out to New York to pursue an acting career. She made her first film appearance in 1914 in the film The Werewolf. She worked off screen for two years and reappeared again in 1915 in a western called Coral. The following year she appeared in four more films and as the years progressed, she kept appearing in more and more until she had over a hundred films in her resume.
Hollywood had no cowgirl serial queen to compare with Marie Walcamp. She portrayed Tempest Cody, a female agent for the government stationed out West, in nine short films. The Tempest Cody pictures were incredibly popular. Marie always performed her own stunts. Producers nicknamed her “The Daredevil of the Films” because she was never afraid to try dangerous feats.
All of the films Marie starred were generally shot in two days and featured plenty of action. Walcamp thrived on her work despite the predictability of the scripts. “Of course, it’s always the same old thing,” Marie commented in a magazine interview in 1920. “I get chased, abused, nearly killed, rescued in the nick of time, loved, hated – and finally there’s the forever after!
In 1918, Marie starred in the film The Lion’s Claws. In the film, she had to battle a lion. The safety measures on the set were not as stringent as they should have been, and the lion swatted her hard across the face with its paw. She wore the scars from the incident for the rest of her life.
Marie’s final film was the 1925 melodrama In a Moment of Temptation. She spent the next few years after the film’s premiere acting with a theatrical stock company. She made a screen test in 1933 in the serial The Perils of Pauline, but she didn’t get the role.
The silent film star had many health problems and suffered from severe bouts of depression. She committed suicide on November 17, 1936, by turning the gas on in her apartment. Her husband discovered her body when he returned home from a business trip. Marie was forty-two years old when she died.