Her name seems to be inextricably tied to electricity. She was born in a city named for an inventor of electrical appliances, named for a steam engine which produced electricity, and sought and found the bright lights of Hollywood in the glory days of the silent movies. Seventy five years ago she was near the top of ranks of Hollywood’s leading silent movie comediennes. One hundred years ago on July 25, 1902 (1899?), Corliss Palmer was born in the southwest Georgia town of Edison, which was born the same year and named after the inventor Thomas Edison. Her father Luther Palmer brought the family to Dublin, where he worked as an engineer in the power plant on the lower edge of town down by the Oconee River. He named her for the Corliss engine, an engine which incidentally powered the plant where her father worked. She enjoyed minor success in Hollywood in the “Silent Movie” days, only to see her career fade away with the coming of “talking pictures.”
Luther Palmer died about the year 1910. Corliss' mother (Julia Alma Farrell) remarried J.M. Simmons and the family moved to Macon, where Corliss was working as a clerk in a jewelry store in 1920. Corliss had a sister, Ennis, and a brother Grady., who were living in a house at 1019 Hazel Street, several blocks north of Tattnall Square. The Simmons later moved to 614 Montpelier Avenue.
In the early 1920s, Corliss Palmer left home to follow her dreams to Hollywood, which was a far more different place than it is today. Her first credited role came in 1922, when she appeared in the silent movie, “Farm to Fame.” Corliss again appeared in the credits of a movie, when in 1926, she starred in three movies, including her most famous picture, “Bromo and Juliet.” The short film starred Charley Chase, a Pittsburgh born actor, who got his start in Hollywood working with “Silent Movie” legends Charlie Chaplin, Max Sennett, and Fatty Arbuckle. Corliss played Madge, a scheming bon vivant, who entices her suitor into performing the role of Romeo in a charity event. The twenty four minute short film featured a fellow Georgian by the name of Oliver Hardy, who hailed from Harlem. The picture was produced by Hal Roach, the king of comedy producers in the 20s and 30s in connection with Pathe’ Studios. Corliss’s other movies in 1926 were as “ Nancy” in “Her Second Chance” and with Anna Q. Nilson as “ Mrs. Gorman” in “George Washington Cohen,” which starred George Jessel in the lead role. That same year, Corliss married Eugene Brewster, a little known screenwriter.
Corliss reached the pinnacle of her success in 1927 and 1928. In 1927, she appeared in four comedies. Corliss played “Mrs. Fremont Cage” in a movie about a marriage gone bad, “Honeymoon Hate.” In “A Man’s Past,” Corliss portrayed the role of “Sylvia Cabot” opposite the well known character actor, Conrad Veidt. Her third role of 1927 came with a performance as “ Lisa Smith,” in “Polly of the Movies,” which starred the lesser known father of the well respected actor, Jason Robards, Jr.. Her last role of that year was in “The Return of Boston Blackie.” Corliss played an attractive blonde, Sylvia Markham, a daughter of a wealthy couple who steals her mother’s necklace. She draws the eye of “Boston Blackie,” a paroled jewel thief, to aid in her escape only to find that her mother wants the necklace to help her father out of a financial crisis. Blackie recovers the jewels for himself but is wounded in the process. This is where the bad guy steps in and takes them. Blackie, with the aid of his faithful German Shepard Strongheart, recovers the necklace, not once but twice. With the necklace back in the rightful owner’s possession, Blackie, Madge, and Strongheart hold hands at the end of the movie and live happily ever after.
Silent movies ended in 1929. Many actors and actresses, who did not have to worry about the tone and inflection of their voice, or their pronunciation skills, found it difficult to survive in the world of the revolutionary talking pictures. Her sole role in the last year of silent movies was as “Lila” in “Broadway Fever.”
As her movie career ended in 1931, so did her five year marriage to Eugene Brewster, (LEFT) who produced “The Eternal Two,” a romantic film featuring Corliss. Corliss married a second time to William Taylor. Her life ended too soon, when on August 27, 1952. Ironically the woman who was once the most beautiful girl in America, is buried in an unmarked grave next to her brother Grady in Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Montica, California. .
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD
Love At the End of the Rainbow
Corliss Palmer - An Epilogue
She was dubbed "the most beautiful girl in the world." Corliss Palmer, a one time resident of Dublin, left Georgia to find her dreams in the land of Hollywood. She found fame, fortune, and love in Tinsel Town, or at least she thought she did. Her triumphs in the Roaring Twenties, as documented in a previous column, were obliterated by the cruelness of the movie business. Her personal demons plunged her to the depths of utter despair. Left nearly all alone, she turned to within her own soul to discover that love is more important than money and popularity. After enduring agony after agony, Corliss ultimately discovered that true love is not based on how beautiful you are or how many films you have made, but it is much less complex. At the end of her vacillating life, Corliss found the real love, the love she had been looking for.
Despite her plunge to the depths of despair, there were still admirers. One man who never stopped admiring Corliss was Dr. Roy Mason. Mason, an internist at Arroya Sanitarium, convinced Corliss to leave the anguish of Hollywood for the serenity of the country, where she could find rest, peace, fresh air and good food. The couple increasingly spent more time with each other. For Dr. Mason, it was total and eternal love. For Corliss, she loved the attention and jumped at the chance to spend some time in the country and receive the adoration of just another one of the hundreds of men who had been in love with her, but had never really touched her heart.
Corliss returned to Hollywood to regain her title as "The Most Beautiful Girl in The World." There was no one to greet her at the train station - no fans, no photographers, no reporters. She had no more friends. Hell was only a step away. Corliss befriended Betty Baxter, a failing screen writer. The duo drowned their sorrows in bottles of scotch and gin. Betty introduced Corliss to Rod Demora, a wealthy Arizona farmer and cattlemen. Demora, who recognized Corliss from her days of Hollywood glory, immediately attracted the despondent Corliss, who was still fixated on fortune and fame. The trio frequented all of the glamorous night spots around town. Rod proposed. Corliss, of course, accepted. When Rod's son became terribly ill, Corliss's last chance for her return to Hollywood faded.
Claire Thomas, a former fan and café cashier, introduced Corliss to Bill Taylor, an awkward, shy and struggling rodeo cowboy. Slowly, but surely, the couple were drawn together. On her thirty second birthday, Bill presented Corliss with a long box of twelve fern stems and single rose - all that he could afford with the last quarter in his pocket. Bill grinned bashfully. Corliss' heart swelled. They kissed, and for the first time in her life, Corliss tingled. "I knew then at last I found honest love," Corliss fondly remembered. The couple led a simple and meager life until Corliss's untimely death at the age of fifty. Corliss never found her elusive pot of gold that she so desperately sought at the end of the rainbow that loomed over Hollywood. She found something much better, love.