For reference and background on Wampas and the full listing of Babies, see my original post in this series.
Year that she was crowned: 1924
Baby who?: Lucille Ricksen was born Ingeborg Myrtle Elisabeth Ericksen on August 22, 1910 in Chicago to a barber and a housewife. She was a first generation American, her parents both were born in Denmark.
Her career started quite early. As a baby, her parents sought work for her and her older brother Marshall first in modeling then acting. By the age of 4, she already had the stage name of Lucille Ricksen (her brother also changed his surname to Ricksen). Lucille did some work for Essanay studios, based out of Chicago, before being summoned to Hollywood in 1920 by Samuel Goldwyn.
By that point, her parents had divorced (in 1917). Her mother did not work and probably relied on the children to pay their bills. According to the 1920 census, soon after they had relocated to California, Lucille, her brother, and mother were all listed as having no occupation, but this was far from the truth…at least in the case of the children.
Sam Goldwyn cast Lucille in The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy serial shorts (known commonly as the Edgar shorts) as the spoiled, but pretty brat who Edgar has a crush on.
In 1922, her talents were noted by director/producer Marshall Neilan who took her under his wing (and, according to some reports, took her out on the town). Around this time, her looks matured slightly and Neilan saw her potential as an ingenue instead of a child actress, despite the fact that she was only 12 years old when she was given her first role as a “leading lady.” By 1923, at age 13, blonde haired, brown eyed Lucille was playing in The Rendezvous opposite Conrad Nagel, a popular leading man of the time…and also literally twice her age. Opinions on her status as the “youngest leading lady on the screen” are somewhat mixed. Some critics found it downright odd that she would be bumped to ingenue roles so soon. However, this didn’t stop the movie makers from casting her as one and it certainly didn’t hurt her reputation. Almost universally, she was praised for her genuine, emotional performances and maturity.
Why could she have been picked by Wampas?: The year before she was marked for babydom, she had cranked out 10 films. Her star was quickly ascending and Wampas recognized this. It didn’t hurt that she was cute, had the support of fellow directors, actors, and producers alike, and could hand in a great performance. Basically, she was a Mary Pickford who was actually allowed to age.
Photo credit: By Stars of the Photoplay – https://archive.org/stream/starsofphotoplay00phot#page/n213/mode/1up, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54298165
Life after Babydom: Sadly, there was not much of one for Lucille Ricksen. She didn’t slow down after being awarded by Wampas and continued churning out films, making around 8 in 1924. Being overworked took a toll on her body and sped along an illness initially characterized as anemia and later as tuberculosis. Illness would keep her bedridden and out of work for months. The stress of watching her beloved daughter withering away took a toll on Lucille’s 38 year old mother, who has been by her bedside day and night, and she suddenly collapsed on top of her daughter, having suffered a fatal heart attack. Lucille and her 17 year old brother Marshall were essentially orphaned, having no idea where there father was. Some of Lucille’s film friends stepped in, namely former co-stars Conrad Nagel and fellow (1922) Wampas baby Lois Wilson plus screenwriter/producer/director Rupert Hughes. Breadwinner Lucille had been out of work for months at this point, her brother was in school, her mother did not work, and her father had disappeared long ago so they were in dire straits financially. Nagel and Hughes set up a fund for their care and support and applied for guardianship of the two youngsters. They would never go before a judge in Lucille’s case. She took her last breath in the arms of friend Lois Wilson on March, 13, 1925, a few weeks after her mother’s death. She was 14 years old.
But Lucille’s story is not over. Before she and her mother’s deaths, Lucille had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy where she had named her mother as beneficiary upon Lucille’s death. With both deceased, this money was up for grabs. Nagel and Hughes, in the midst of trying to obtain guardianship of Marshall, attempted to become administrators of the estate on Marshall’s behalf.
Enter the disappearing father, Samuel Ericksen.
Either because he felt a sudden parental responsibility or just had a nose for cold, hard cash, Samuel chose this moment to pop back in. He hired attorneys and fought Nagel and Hughes for guardianship of teenaged Marshall, claiming that film folks would be a bad influence on his son, conveniently forgetting that film folks had been the ones caring for his children and paying for their support in his absence. His attorneys specifically went after Hughes who they referred to as an atheist based on some of his past writings. Despite this, Nagel and Hughes were awarded guardianship. But dear old dad was not down for the count. Ericksen, who claimed that the majority of the money would be used towards Marshall’s education, was named administer of Lucille’s estate in another court.
Though I believe that the timing of Ericken’s entrance on the scene was suspicious, I am willing to consider that perhaps he really did have Marshall’s best interest at heart, or at the very least ensured that some of the money went to his education as promised. News and records of Marshall afterwards say that he did some work as a film extra then attended college with a substantial allowance and segued his education into a career as a lawyer. He married, had two children, and died at the age of 67.
Best known for: Unfortunately, if she is known at all today, it is probably more for her highly publicized death at such a young age than for anything she did in life.
How accurate was Wampas?: This one is hard to say because she never really had a chance to reach her full potential. Most of the roles before her death were in a supporting, but meaty capacity as the second female lead, but she seemed to be working her way up…and quickly. Whether she could have transitioned well to Talkies, we will never know, though it was noted that she had a nice singing voice, which could have helped or indicated her potential in a vocal capacity. It seems as though she may have faired better than some of her contemporaries, as she had worked with several major studios at that point and had made friends with higher ups who would go on to make a success in Talkies (Paul Bern especially). With her sweet face and innocent appeal, she probably would not have become one of the powerhouse ladies of early 1930s pre-code Hollywood (a la Blondell and Stanwyck), but with her talent and powerful friends she may have found steady work in a supporting capacity. Again, we can only speculate. My rating is based both on fact and what may have been…3/5 for Wampas’ accuracy.
Zoe’s take: Though it’s hard to speculate on what Lucille would have become to the film industry had she lived longer, it’s sad to think that she never fully got the chance. Lucille is an undeniably tragic figure in silent film history, but I found myself as touched, and in some ways even more so, by Marshall’s fate. How awful it can feel to be the one left behind. On paper, it looked like he had a happy enough life in the years afterwards. I certainly hope that is true.
Liebman, Roy. The Wampas Baby Stars: a Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland, 2009.
Hughes, Rupert. “A Certain Little Movie Actress.” The Baltimore Sun, 10 May 1925.