Silent Film Star Louise Lovely’s 1916 Fan Letter and Photos Acquired by National Archive

At the height of her Hollywood career in the early 20th century, Australian silent movie star Louise Lovely was receiving up to 1,000 fan letters a week.

She tried to personally answer as many as she could.

A rare surviving handwritten reply to someone named Gladys has been acquired by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), along with two signed photographs.

Fan photograph of Australian actress Louise Lovely, 1916.

Jennifer Gall, NFSA assistant curator of documents and artefacts, said the letter’s tone reflected the spirit of the actress, who began her career on stage as a child before rising to become Australia’s first international film star.

“She was a very warm person and very polite,” Dr Gall said.

“She was a modern woman who found new pathways, new inspiration for women and really defined a place for women in this wonderful new artform of cinema and movie-making.”

Lovely was born Nellie Louise Carbasse in Sydney in 1895 to an Italian father and Swiss mother.

After appearing in 10 early Australian films, she sailed for Hollywood in 1914 with her husband, actor Wilton Welch.

She won a contract with Universal Studios where her name was changed and her long brown hair bleached into a cascade of blonde curls.

“She had that sort of sweet innocence that was fashionable at the time,” Dr Gall said.

The letter Lovely sent to Gladys was written in 1916 after she starred as Bettina Scott in the film Bettina Loved A Soldier.

“My dear friend Gladys,

“Thank you for your sweet letter. I am so pleased you liked my ‘Bettina’. It is my favourite picture and I only wish I could get more like it.

“I am sending you a little photo with this. I am collecting snapshots for a large album I have started of my friends.

“Won’t you please send me a little snap. I’d just love to have one.

“I know you are nice from your letter. Write me again as I shall always be glad to hear from you.

“With love, Louise Lovely.”

The NFSA has also acquired a fan photo addressed to a Hubert Braton showing Lovely with her hair bobbed — the result of a stunt gone wrong.

Flames from a fire on a movie set designed to look like a burning house were fanned too close to the actress’s hair.

“All of her lovely ringlets were quite singed by that experience so the bob and her new look came after that,” Dr Gall said.

Silent movie star Louise Lovely with bobbed hair

After making more than 50 films in four years and touring a vaudeville act, Lovely and Welch returned to Australia in 1924.

They raised £8,000 to make a film in Tasmania called Jewelled Nights but failed to recoup costs.

“That made it impossible for her to continue [her film production career],” Dr Gall said.

Lovely directed and starred in Jewelled Nights as a socialite who jilts her fiance and becomes a miner, disguised as a man.

An elegant, brown wool riding habit she wore in her role is also in the NFSA’s collection.

Dr Gall said it was made with great attention to detail.

“It marks it as a garment that was meant to please the audience when they saw this on their favourite actress in the film,” she said.

Lovely and her second husband Bert Cowan returned to Hobart in 1949; he managed the Prince Of Wales Theatre and she ran the sweet shop.

Dr Gall said it was a shame that Lovely was unable to pursue her dream of making more movies in Australia.

“We did have quite a lot of [film] experience here,” she said.

“It’s just that financial backing that’s always been the difficult thing for movie-makers and that really tripped up Louise’s vision.”

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