Miriam Seegar, one of the last surviving adult performers featured in silent films, died of “age-related causes” on Sunday, Jan. 2, at her home in Pasadena, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. She was 103.
Born on Sept. 1, 1907, in Greentown, Ind., Seegar began her film career in England. After replacing Sylvia Sidney in the play Crime in the West End, she landed roles in three British silent films, most notably the female lead in When Knights Were Bold (1929), directed by her future husband, Tim Whelan.*
In Hollywood, Seegar played in two movies opposite Richard Dix, then a highly popular leading man: the silent The Love Doctor (1929) and in Reginald Barker’s early talkie Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929), a humorous mystery-thriller that is perhaps her best-known film.
Among Seegar’s other film credits were Victor Schertzinger’s Fashions in Love with Adolphe Menjou (1929); the Fox Movietone Follies of 1930; What a Man (1930), opposite a fast-fading Reginald Denny; and the Buck Jones oater The Dawn Trail (1930).
By 1931, Seegar’s name was to be found further down the cast list, even in programmers and B fare. Her last film appearance was in Lowell Sherman’s 1932 drama False Faces (apparently no relation to the 1920 Lon Chaney vehicle The False Faces). Curiously, the film’s cast included a number of silent film performers who had seen better days, among them Nance O’Neil, Lila Lee, Forrest Stanley, Olive Tell, Edward Martindel, and Seegar herself, in addition to silent film director Oscar Apfel.
In 1932, Seegar married Tim Whelan, with whom she moved to England following the birth of their first child the following year. She retired from show business at that time, while Whelan continued with his directorial career in Britain and later in Hollywood. Among his credits are The Divorce of Lady X (1938), with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, and St. Martin’s Lane / Sidewalks of London (1938), with Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, and Rex Harrison.
Whelan died in 1957. As per a(n unconfirmed) report on the IMDb, the couple’s two sons, one of whom suffered from Down’s Syndrome, died shortly afterwards.
According to her Los Angeles Times obit, Seegar later worked as an interior decorator in Los Angeles. She reportedly appeared in Peter Turner’s 2000 documentary I Used to Be in Pictures – apparently (and unfortunately) unreleased and unavailable, as it’s supposed to feature numerous other oldtimers, including Anita Page, Gloria Stuart, Joan Marsh, Lupita Tovar, and Ruth Clifford.
Two of Seegar’s sisters were also in show business: Dorothy Seegar on stage and Sara Seegar both on stage and on television, most frequently as a supporting player in Dennis the Menace and Bewitched.
The only surviving adult performer that I can think of who had major roles in silent films is Barbara Kent, whose 1928 drama Lonesome was added to the National Film Registry last week.
* As found in Anthony Slide’s A Special Relationship: Britain Comes to Hollywood and Hollywood Comes to Britain, When Knights Were Bold was “dismissed by one critic as ‘When gags were old.’” Slide adds that while in the U.K. in the late 1930s, Tim Whelan “screen-tested two Irish beauties”: future Hollywood actresses Geraldine Fitzgerald and Maureen O’Hara.