Robert Harron

Robert Emmett "Bobby" Harron (April 12, 1893 September 5, 1920) was an American motion picture actor of the early silent film era. Although he acted in over 200 films, he is known for his roles in the D.W. Griffith directed films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).

Robert Harron
Harron in 1918
Robert Emmett Harron

(1893-04-12)April 12, 1893
DiedSeptember 5, 1920(1920-09-05) (aged 27)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Cause of deathSelf-inflicted gunshot wound (accident)
Resting placeCalvary Cemetery, Queens
Other namesBobby Harron
Years active19071920
RelativesJohn Harron (brother)

Harron was the older brother of film actors John Harron and Mary Harron.

Early life and family

Born in New York City, Harron was second oldest child of nine siblings in a poor, working-class Irish Catholic family.[1] Harron's younger siblings John (nicknamed "Johnnie"), Mary and Charles also became actors while one of his younger sisters, Tessie, was an extra in silent films.[1] Charles was killed in a car accident in December 1915.[2] Tessie died of Spanish influenza in 1918 while Harron's brother John died of spinal meningitis in 1939.[3][4][5]

Harron attended the Saint John Parochial School in Greenwich Village.[1] At the age of fourteen, he found work as an errand boy at American Biograph Studios.[6] In addition to cleaning duties, Harron also appeared as an extra in a few shorts for Biograph.[7]


Within a year of working for Biograph, Harron was noticed by newly hired director D.W. Griffith.[6] Harron quickly became a favorite of Griffith and Griffith began to give the 14-year-old increasingly larger film roles. His first film for Griffith was the 1909 short crime drama The Lonely Villa. The teenaged Harron was often cast by Griffith in the role of the "sensitive" and "naïve" boy, who was overwhelmingly sympathetic and appealing to American film-goers in the very early years of American motion pictures and not far removed from Harron's real-life persona; Harron was often described as a quiet and soft-spoken youth. It was these traits that helped garner much public interest in the young actor, especially amongst young female fans. In 1912 alone, Robert Harron appeared in nearly forty films at Biograph.[8]

Harron is probably best recalled for his roles in the three epic Griffith films: 1914's Judith of Bethulia, opposite Blanche Sweet, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, and Dorothy and Lillian Gish; 1915's controversial all-star cast The Birth of a Nation; and 1916's colossal multi-scenario Intolerance opposite such popular stars of the era as Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Wallace Reid, Harold Lockwood, and Mildred Harris. One of Harron's most popular roles of the era came in 1919 when he starred opposite Lillian Gish in the Griffith directed romantic film True Heart Susie.

Robert Harron's film career continued to flourish throughout the 1910s and he was occasionally paired with leading actresses Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish with romantic plots, often in roles that cemented his "sensitive boy" image. Harron had, in fact, a burgeoning off-screen romantic relationship with Dorothy Gish.[9] By 1920, Harron had grown too old to continue playing the juvenile roles that had launched his career. He began losing leading man roles to Richard Barthelmess.[10] Later that year, D.W. Griffith agreed to loan Harron to Metro Pictures for a four-picture deal. His first film for Metro, also the last film of his career, was the comedy Coincidence.[11] The film was released in 1921, after Harron's death.


In late August 1920, Harron traveled by train from Los Angeles to New York City to attend the premiere of the film Way Down East and a preview of what would become his final film, Coincidence. Harron checked into the Hotel Seymour on September 1 with his friend, screenwriter and director Victor Heerman, with whom he was sharing a room. Harron and Heerman attended the preview for Coincidence later that day. Heerman later said that the preview went poorly as the film was not well received by the audience.[9]

After the premiere, Harron returned to his hotel room alone. At some point, Harron sustained a gunshot wound to the chest after a gun in his possession discharged. According to published reports and Harron's own account, he had the gun in a trunk along with his clothes and other possessions. As he was taking some clothes out of the trunk, the gun fell to the floor, discharged, hitting him in the chest and puncturing his lung.[12] [13] Harron called the hotel desk for assistance and was still conscious when the hotel manager came to his room. Not realizing he was seriously wounded, Harron joked with the manager that he was in a "devil of a fix" having shot himself. He initially refused to let the manager call an ambulance, only wanting to be examined by a local physician in his room. After a physician could not be found, Harron relented and agreed to allow the manager to call an ambulance. When medics arrived and attempted to transport Harron using a stretcher, he insisted to be taken down in a chair. As he had lost a considerable amount of blood, medics had to convince Harron that he needed to be transported on a stretcher.[12]

Harron was transported to Bellevue Hospital Center where he remained conscious but in critical condition. While he was being treated, Harron was arrested for possessing a firearm without a permit under the Sullivan Act and placed in the hospital's prison ward.[14] Shortly after the shooting, rumors arose that the shooting was not accidental and Harron had attempted suicide. There was speculation that Harron was despondent over being passed over for the leading role in Way Down East (Richard Barthelmess was ultimately cast).[15] Several of Harron's friends rejected the suicide theory. Victor Heerman, with whom he often went on double dates and was staying with Harron in the Hotel Seymour, later said that he visited Harron in the hospital and he denied that he had attempted suicide. Harron admitted the gun belonged to him, but claimed that he had brought it with him because he did not want the gun at the family home in Los Angeles. Harron told Heerman that his younger brother Johnnie had become "hard to handle" and he feared leaving the gun at the family home where Johnnie could find it. Harron told Heerman that he wrapped the gun up in a pair of his trousers and placed them in his suitcase. On the night of the shooting, Harron said he had gone to retrieve the trousers from his suitcase to have them pressed when the gun fell out and discharged.[15] Harron also told a priest who visited him in the hospital that the shooting was an accident.[13]

Despite Harron's denial, rumors of attempted suicide persisted. One such rumor was that Harron attempted suicide over the breakup of his relationship with Dorothy Gish. Victor Heerman rejected this theory because Harron, a teetotaler and virgin, was a devout Catholic. Actresses Miriam Cooper and Lillian Gish, both of whom were friends with Harron, agreed with Heerman's reasoning. Cooper and Gish also believed Harron had not tried to kill himself as he was his family's major source of income and had plans to start shooting a new film with Elmer Clifton.[15]

Friends who visited Harron in the hospital were optimistic about his recovery as he appeared to be on the mend.[15] However, on September 5, four days after he was shot, Harron died of his wound.[16] He is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York City.[2]


Year Title Role Notes
1907 Dr. Skinum Boy at Door Short
1907 Mr. Gay and Mrs. Messenger Short
1908 Bobby's Kodak Son Short
1908 The Snowman A child Short
1908 Balked at the Altar Short
1908 Monday Morning in a Coney Island Police Court Young Man Short
1908 A Calamitous Elopement George Wilkinson Short
1909 Those Awful Hats Theatre Audience Short, Uncredited
1909 At the Altar Boy On Street Short
1909 A Drunkard's Reformation Theatre Usher Short
1909 The Lonely Villa Short
1909 The Hessian Renegades Farmer Short
1909 To Save Her Soul Stagehand / Usher Short
1910 Ramona Short
1910 The Modern Prodigal At Post Office
1911 The Broken Cross Short
1911 The White Rose of the Wilds White Rose's Brother Short
1911 Enoch Arden Teenage Arden Son Part II
1911 Fighting Blood The Old Soldier's Son Short
1911 A Country Cupid Among Students Short
1911 The Last Drop of Water In Wagon Train Short
1911 The Battle A Union soldier Short
1911 The Miser's Heart Bakeshop Assistant Short
1912 For His Son At Soda Fountain Short, Uncredited
1912 The Transformation of Mike At Dance Short
1912 Under Burning Skies On Street / At Farewell Party Short
1912 A String of Pearls In Tenement Short
1912 One Is Business, the Other Crime Delivery Boy Uncredited, Short
1912 The Lesser Evil In Smuggler Band Short
1912 A Temporary Truce The Murdered Indian's Son Short
1912 Man's Lust for Gold The Prospector's Son Short
1912 The Inner Circle In Crowd / Accident Witness Short
1912 A Change of Spirit Young Man on Street Short, Uncredited
1912 Two Daughters of Eve At Stage Door Short
1912 Friends Stableboy Short, Uncredited
1912 So Near, Yet So Far The Rival / In Club Short
1912 A Feud in the Kentucky Hills A brother Short
1912 The Painted Lady Beau at Ice Cream Festival Short, Uncredited
1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley Rival Gang Member / In Alley / At Dance Short
1912 Heredity Indian Short
1912 The Informer The Southern Boy Short
1912 A Sailor's Heart On Porch Short, Uncredited
1912 Brutality Short
1912 The New York Hat Youth outside church Short
1912 My Hero The Young Man Short
1912 The Burglar's Dilemma Young Burglar Short
1912 A Cry for Help Witness to Accident Short
1913 A Misappropriated Turkey Union Member Short
1913 Brothers The Father's Favorite Son Short
1913 Oil and Water Minor Role Short, Uncredited
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel The Desk Clerk Short
1913 Broken Ways In Telegraph Office Short
1913 Near to Earth Gato's Brother Short
1913 Fate The Beloved Son Short
1913 The Sheriff's Baby The Deputy Short
1913 A Misunderstood Boy The Son Short
1913 The House of Darkness Asylum Guard Short
1913 A Timely Interception The Farmer's Adopted Son Short
1913 Death's Marathon The Messenger Short
1913 The Sorrowful Shore One of the Son's Friends Short
1913 The Battle at Elderbush Gulch The father Short
1913 The Tender Hearted Boy The Tender Hearted Boy
1913 The Little Tease Jim
1913 The Yaqui Cur Strongheart
1914 Judith of Bethulia Nathan
1914 The Battle of the Sexes John Andrews, the son Incomplete/lost film
1914 Brute Force Harry Faulkner Short, Prologue - Weakhands (The Old Days)
1914 The Great Leap; Until Death Do Us Part Bobby Dawson
1914 The Life of General Villa American lover Lost film
1914 Home, Sweet Home The Easterner, Robert Winthrop
1914 The Escape Larry Joyce Lost film
1914 The Rebellion of Kitty Belle Joe Belle Short
1914 The Avenging Conscience The Grocer's boy
1914 The Idiot The Idiot Short
1915 The Birth of a Nation Tod Stoneman
1915 The Outcast Bob
1915 The Outlaw's Revenge American lover
1915 Her Shattered Idol Robert
1915 The Missing Links Henry Gaylord Lost film
1916 Hoodoo Ann Jimmie Vance
1916 A Child of the Paris Streets Jimmie Parker
1916 A Wild Girl of the Sierras Bob Jordan
1916 The Marriage of Molly-O Larry O'Dea
1916 Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages The Boy (Modern Story)
1916 The Little Liar Bobby
1916 The Wharf Rat Edward Holmes
1917 The Bad Boy Jimmie Bates
1918 An Old-Fashioned Young Man Frank Trent
1918 Sunshine Alley Ned Morris
1918 Hearts of the World The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton Uncredited
1918 The Great Love Jim Young Lost film
1918 The Greatest Thing in Life Edward Livingston Lost film
1918 A Romance of Happy Valley John L. Logan, Jr.
1919 The Girl Who Stayed at Home James Grey
1919 True Heart Susie William Jenkins
1919 The Mother and the Law The Boy
1919 The Greatest Question Jimmie Hilton
1921 Coincidence Billy Jenks
1922 Peacock Alley Cleo of Paris Incomplete


  1. Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 173, 175. ISBN 0-813-12249-X.
  2. Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent Film Necrology. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 230. ISBN 0-786-41059-0.
  3. Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0-786-48790-9.
  4. Kear, Lynn; King, James (2009). Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook. McFarland. p. 212. ISBN 0-786-45468-7.
  5. Golden, Eve (2000). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland. p. 49. ISBN 0-786-48354-7.
  6. Lowery, Carolyn (1920). The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen. Moffat, Yard. p. 66.
  7. Golden 2002 p.50
  8. Golden 2002 pp.50-51
  9. Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 174, 175. ISBN 0-813-12249-X.
  10. Stokes, Melvyn (2007). D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time. Oxford University Press. p. cvi. ISBN 0-199-88751-9.
  11. Schickel, Richard (1996). D.W. Griffith: An American Life. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 439. ISBN 0-879-10080-X.
  12. "MOVIE STAR SHOOTS SELF BY ACCIDENT". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 2, 1920. p. 1. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
  13. Affron, Charles (2001). Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life. University of California Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-520-23434-0.
  14. Staff report (September 2, 1920). Rob. Harron shot as his pistol falls. Film star in critical condition as result of accidental wound. Faces Sullivan Act charge. He is moved into prison ward at Bellevue after policeman places him under arrest. New York Times
  15. Slide 2002 p.175
  16. Staff report (September 6, 1920). Robert Harron dies; actor succumbs to wound received in pistol accident. New York Times


  • John Holmstrom, The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 10.
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