Antonia Gilchrist

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The actress herself

Antonia Gilchrist was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1899 to a theatrical family. There was aristocracy in her blood, which manifested itself in her cold and proud screen presence. She was educated in a finishing school in France before emigrating to the U.S. in 1918. She worked as a typist before being discovered by a passing movie executive who nearly swooned when she locked eyes with him.

…This is what the official press packet reads.

In reality, Anna Soames was born in Lincoln, Nevada in 1888 and simply migrated south, rather than trans-Atlantically, with her family to reach Hollywood. Anna had always had her eyes set on actresshood, going straight from her parent’s shanty to the casting couch.

She found more success in the infant motion picture industry than in theatre, where her odd delivery and mannerisms failed to impress critics. It was signing on to Paramount that made her career. The studio was looking for a low-rate Theda Bara and they got one in Antonia/Anna. She could project “willful menace…tempered with wounded chastity” according to one gushing critic. Lack of sound meant that her moody countenance could dominate scenes without her delivery ruining the effect.

Gilchrist’s catalog is extensive, even for the rapidly-paced silent film industry, weighing in at 150 films (not counting her earlier bit-parts and background scenes.) She played temptresses, sorceresses, ingenues, historical and allegorical alike. Her Salome was said to set the screen alight. Her Akasha raised the ire of religious watchdogs because of her boldly exposed navel. Realizing that an interview would probably undermine the image of an unreachable temptress, the studio communicated with star magazines solely through press packets, claiming Antonia’s presence so potent any interviewer would fall into a stupor. The press swallowed it eagerly, providing a few embellishments of their own: that Antonia had seen a fortune-teller who told her to go into acting, that she had been born during an eclipse, that she drank bat’s milk as part of her beauty regiment, and other such flourishes.

Despite this fever-pitch of admiration, none of her films are known to survive to this day. The only extant pieces of her career are a few stills of Dinner For Sinners(1925) her last film, unreleased, and a studio catalog dating prior to 1924.

This is not due to the regular errors of storage that plague so many other silent films, rather, this is said to be deliberate destruction on the part of the studio.

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

A publicity still from Dinner For Sinners

Information on the scandal that led to the studio severing ties with their odd star are likewise scanty. Peek, a gossip zine, reported Gilchrist’s presence at a “blue party” on April 14, 1923. The article merely hinted at a deeper story, promising a multi-issue expose. But when the March issue rolled around, no mention was made of Gilchrist or anything surrounding the party.

What little details can be gathered from the periphery of the industry at the time paint a picture of something far beyond the usual sex&drugs scandal. It seemed to involve the child of a film crew member that disappeared during the filming of her latest movie, but in what capacity we can only speculate. What Gilchrist did was said to be unforgivable, and unspeakable. For this reason, any record of her career with the studio was completely destroyed. The only surviving memorabilia languished in the hands of private collectors, most of that did not survive long enough to be transferred to digital format.

Gilchrist herself never made another movie, and for all intents and purposes vanished off the face of the earth. A marriage certificate, signed with her given name and not her stage name, surfaced in a collection of Hollywood paperwork being auctioned off by the studio. It was dated the day of the child’s disappearance. The groom’s name was blank.

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