Martha Mansfield

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Martha Mansfield
BornMartha Ehrlich
(1899-07-14)July 14, 1899
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 30, 1923(1923-11-30) (aged 24)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Cause of deathToxemia and burns of the extremities
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
Other namesMartha Early
Years active1912–1923
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Martha Mansfield
BornMartha Ehrlich
(1899-07-14)July 14, 1899
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 30, 1923(1923-11-30) (aged 24)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Cause of deathToxemia and burns of the extremities
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
Other namesMartha Early
Years active1912–1923
Martha Mansfield and John Barrymore in a scene still from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1920.

Martha Mansfield (July 14, 1899 – November 30, 1923) was an American actress in silent films and vaudeville stage plays.

Early life[edit]

She was born Martha Ehrlich in New York City to Maurice and Harriett Gibson Ehrlich. She had a younger sister, Edith, born in 1905.[1] Although many biographies state that Martha was born in Mansfield, Ohio, her birth record and death certificate both have New York City as her place of birth. Her mother, Harriet, was from Mansfield, Ohio, having emigrated there from Ireland in 1885. Martha later adopted the name of the town as her stage name.[1][2]


At the age of 14, she became determined to become an actress. She lobbied for, and won, a role in the Broadway production of Little Women in 1912. She also began working as an artists' model and dancer. She danced in the musicals Hop o'My Thumb in 1913.[1]

Using the name "Martha Early", she was signed to a six-month contract with Essanay Studios in 1917 where she appeared in three films with French actor Max Linder. In 1918, she appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. Later that same year, she made her feature film debut in Broadway Bill, opposite Harold Lockwood. In early 1919, Mansfield announced that she had decided to pursue a film career full-time. Before she relocated to the west coast, Mansfield played leads in films produced by Famous Players-Lasky. In October 1919, she appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's The Midnight Frolic.[3]

Her first Hollywood movie was Civilian Clothes (1920) directed by Hugh Ford. She gained prominence as Millicent Carew (originally offered to Tallulah Bankhead) in the film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which starred John Barrymore. She then signed with Selznick Pictures where she was cast with Eugene O'Brien in The Perfect Lover (1919). In 1921, Mansfield returned to the stage in a vaudeville tour. She appeared in two independent films the following year: Queen of the Moulin Rouge and Till We Meet Again. She spent the remainder of the year touring the vaudeville circuit.[4]

In 1923, Mansfield completed her contract for Selznick and signed with Fox Film Corporation. Her first film for Fox was The Silent Command, starring Edmund Lowe and Béla Lugosi.[5] The final completed features in her short film career were Potash and Permutter and The Leavenworth Case, both from 1923.[6]


Mansfield in an undated photo

On November 29, 1923, while working on location in San Antonio, Texas on the film The Warrens of Virginia, Mansfield was severely burned when a tossed match ignited her Civil War costume of hoopskirts and flimsy ruffles. Mansfield was playing the role of Agatha Warren and had just finished her scenes and retired to a car when her clothing burst into flames. Her neck and face were saved when leading man Wilfred Lytell threw his heavy overcoat over her. The chauffeur of Mansfield's car was burned badly on his hands while trying to remove the burning clothing from the actress. The fire was put out, but she sustained substantial burns to her body.[7]

She was rushed to a hospital where she died less than twenty-four hours later of "burns of all extremities, general toxemia and suppression of urine".[8] Mansfield was 24 years old. Accompanied by actor Phillip Shorey, Mansfield's body was transported back to her home in New York City.[6] She was interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.[9]

It was never determined who threw the match that ignited Mansfield's clothing. Some witnesses said they saw a match enter through the car window of the car Mansfield was sitting in. Another theory was that a nervous Mansfield decided to smoke a cigarette in the car to calm her nerves and accidentally ignited the dress with a dropped match or a cigarette. Mansfield's mother, Harriett Ehrlich, dismissed this theory as she said smoking made her daughter "uncomfortable".[8]


When the Warrens of Virginia was finally released in late 1924, Mansfield's role had been edited down, and Rosemary Hill was promoted as the female lead.[10]

Mansfield left an estate valued at $2,473. She bequeathed $22,000 in Liberty bonds to her mother. She also left her mother two life insurance polices worth $25,000 each.[11]


1917Max Comes AcrossShort film
1917Max Wants a DivorceMax's WifeShort film
1917Max in a TaxiShort film
1918Broadway BillMuriel Latham
1918The Spoiled GirlShort film
1919The Hand InvisibleKatherine Dale
1919The Perfect LoverMavis Morgan
1919Should a Husband Forgive?
1920A Social SleuthShort film
1920Women Men LoveRuth Gibson
1920Mothers of MenPaulette
1920Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeMillicent Carewe
1920Civilian ClothesFlorence Lanham
1920The Wonderful ChancePeggy Winton
1921His Brother's KeeperHelen Harding
1921Gilded LiesHester Thorpe
1921The Last DoorHelen Rogers
1921A Man of StoneLady Fortescue
1922Queen of the Moulin RougeRosalie Anjou
1922Till We Meet AgainHenrietta Carter
1923Is Money Everything?Mrs. Justine Pelham
1923The Woman in ChainsClaudia Marvelle
1923Youthful CheatersLois Brooke
1923Little Red School HouseMercy Brent
1923Fog BoundMildred Van Buren
1923The Silent CommandPeg Williams, the vamp
1923Potash and PerlmutterThe Head Model
1923The Leavenworth CaseMary Leavenworth
1924The Warrens of VirginiaAgatha WarrenReleased posthumously


  1. ^ a b c Ankerich, Michael G. (2010). Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor. p. 236. ISBN 1-59393-605-2. 
  2. ^ Ankerich 2010 p.239
  3. ^ Ankerich 2010 pp.237-238
  4. ^ Ankerich 2010 p.240
  5. ^ Ankerich 2010 p.242
  6. ^ a b "Burns Are Fatal To Star Of Film". The Milwaukee Sentinel. December 1, 1923. p. 8. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Martha Mansfield, Movie Star, Dies As The Result Of Burns". Meriden Morning Record. December 1, 1923. p. 1. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Ankerich 2010 p.243
  9. ^ Ankerich 2010 p.244
  10. ^ Golden, Eve (2001). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland Publishing, USA. p. 229. ISBN 0786408340. 
  11. ^ "Martha Mansfield Left All to Her Mother In "Partial Return" for Care Given Her". The New York Times. September 26, 1924. 

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