Carol Dempster

Carol Dempster (December 9, 1901 – February 1, 1991) was an American film actress of the silent film era.[1]

Carol Dempster
Stars of the Photoplay, 1924
Born(1901-12-09)December 9, 1901
DiedFebruary 1, 1991(1991-02-01) (aged 89)
Years active1916–1926
Edwin S. Larsen (m. 19261978)

Early years

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Dempster was the daughter of a captain on the Great Lakes and the youngest of four children. The family moved to California when her father decided to change careers. While dancing in a school program, Dempster was noticed by Ruth St. Denis and went on to become the youngest graduate in the first class of St. Denis's school of dance.[2]


Dempster got her start in films as a protégé of legendary film director D.W. Griffith alongside other Griffith actresses of the mid-1910s Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Mae Marsh. Griffith gave Dempster her first role at age 15 in his 1916 film Intolerance playing one of the Babylonian harem girls alongside another teenaged newcomer, Mildred Harris. Dempster eventually became one of Griffith's "favorites"; he cast her in nearly every one of his films throughout the 1920s, allegedly to the irritation of Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish. Dempster became romantically involved with the much older Griffith during the early 1920s while Griffith was estranged from his wife, Linda Arvidson.

Dempster's first feature role came in 1919 in the Griffith directed The Girl Who Stayed at Home opposite Robert "Bobby" Harron. Dempster followed this with Griffith's The Love Flower (1920), Dream Street (1921), One Exciting Night (1922) and Isn't Life Wonderful (1924), America (1924), Sally of the Sawdust (1925), and That Royle Girl (1925). Dempster appeared opposite such notable actors as John Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, William Powell, Ivor Novello, and W.C. Fields.

In 1926 Dempster acted in her final film, a Griffith vehicle entitled The Sorrows of Satan (1926), co-starring Adolphe Menjou, Ricardo Cortez, and the Hungarian vamp Lya De Putti. Dempster then retired from the screen to marry wealthy banker Edwin S. Larson in 1926.[1]

Dempster's critical stock was never very high, in part because she was unable to live up to the performances of Lillian Gish, whom she replaced as Griffith's leading lady. Her somewhat "ordinary" appearance and animated acting style were frequently criticized. Also, with a few exceptions, the films she appeared in were not among Griffith's more popular works. In recent years, however, viewers and critics alike have slowly begun to appreciate her performances, particularly in two later films, Isn't Life Wonderful and The Sorrows of Satan. [3]


Dempster died in La Jolla, California, in 1991 at the age of 89 from heart failure and was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale, California. Upon her death, Dempster left $1.6 million to the San Diego Museum of Art, which was used to expand the museum's collections of prints and drawings.[4]


All features were directed by D. W. Griffith except Sherlock Holmes, which was directed by Albert Parker. The Hope Chest, a product of the New Art Film Company from 1918, was produced by Griffith but directed by Elmer Clifton.

Year Title Role
1916 Intolerance Dancer (uncredited)
1918 Lillian Gish in a Liberty Loan Appeal (Lost) Bit
The Greatest Thing in Life (Lost) Dancer
The Hope Chest (Undetermined/presumably lost) Ethel Hoyt
1919 A Romance of Happy Valley Girl John Logan meets in New York
The Girl Who Stayed at Home Acoline France
True Heart Susie Bettina's friend
Scarlet Days Lady Fair
1920 The Love Flower Stella Bevan
Way Down East Barn dancer
1921 Dream Street Gypsy Fair
1922 Sherlock Holmes Alice Faulkner
One Exciting Night Agnes Harrington
1923 The White Rose Marie Carrington
1924 America Miss Nancy Montague
Isn't Life Wonderful Inga
1925 Sally of the Sawdust Sally
That Royle Girl (Lost) Joan Daisy Royle
1926 The Sorrows of Satan Mavis Claire


  1. "Carol Dempster". Variety. March 3, 1991. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  2. Menefee, David W. (2004). The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 41–51. ISBN 9780275982591. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  3. D.W. Griffith: An American Life by Richard Schickel, Simon & Schuster, 1984.
  4. Los Angeles Times,
  • The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me. By Lillian Gish. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
  • Focus on D.W. Griffith. By Harry M. Geduld. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
  • Adventures with D. W. Griffith. By Karl Brown. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.
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