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William Forrest Halsey: Silent Scenarist of Fredericksburg

Forrest Halsey (who did not utilize the "William" assigned by his parents at his birth in New Jersey on the ninth of November, 1878) was a grandson of John and Martha Whittemore, onetime residents of Fredericksburg's imposing Hanover Street mansion, Federal Hill.

Well-known both in Fredericksburg and in international literary circles during the two decades of 1910-1930, he is to most--like his silent movies--a nearly forgotten shadow.

Forrest came to live, briefly, in Fredericksburg about 1910, probably because he had three older sisters, Grace, Margaret and Virginia, living here. Although his physical presence was more frequently in New York or California, he designated Fredericksburg as his official residence for nearly forty years and owned the lot and dwelling at 500 ½ Hanover Street from 1926 until his death.

His education in New Jersey and New York was geared exclusively toward his career as a playwright and scenarist for the silent movies. Several of his plays and movie scripts were written, and the products exhibited, in Fredericksburg. Others played in France and England, as well as in every major city in the United States.

Fredericksburg residents during the 1907-1926 period of silent movies would pack the Opera House, the Casino and Pitts' Leader Theatre to enjoy the moving black and white images of playwright Forrest Halsey's The Bawlerout, The Children of St. Anne, Open Road, Ashes of Embers or The Grouch. (Mr. Pitts was selective and censorious, for they did not see Flames of the Flesh, Dust of Desire or The Ruling Passion.)

In 1925 Forrest Halsey was decorated Officer D'Academie Francaise by the French Government for his work with Gloria Swanson in producing Madame Sans-Gene. It was Mr. Halsey who introduced Miss Swanson to the Marquis de la Falaise who became the third of six husbands. It was also Mr. Halsey who persuaded the Marquis to unveil the Fredericksburg World War I Memorial adjacent to Maury School during the May 30, 1926 ceremony.

William PowellForrest Halsey's screen scripts were produced by Paramount, Universal, United Artists, MGM, and Warner Brothers. Included among their casts were Pauline Frederick, George Arliss, Mary Astor, Rudolph Valentino, William Powell, Hedda Hopper, Loretta Young, Billie Dove, Walter Pidgeon, Greta Garbo, Ray Milland, Baby Jane and Chick Chandler.

Rudolph ValentinoMany of his scripts carried three or two star quality ratings (of a rare four star possible). His original script, The Whip Lady, rated a zero, however, and was declared a "stinker."

In poor health for a number of years due to a bad heart, Forrest Halsey died Oct. 1, 1946 in Venice, California, far from his "official residence" in Fredericksburg. He was unmarried and his property on Hanover Street was inherited by his two surviving older and widowed sisters, who later sold it.

Like the silent movies for which he was responsible, his name is now simply a part of Fredericksburg's history.

This article originally appeared in The Fredericksburg Times magazine, December, 1989.

Additional Resources on the Web:

Gloria Swanson and Her MarquisAFI Catalog of Silent Films: Forrest Halsey

IMDB Entry for Forrest Halsey

Books of Interest in the Library:

Movies of the Silent Years edited by Ann Lloyd.

Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film by James Card.

Silent Stars by Jeanine Basinger.


Photo of Gloria Swanson and her husband, the Marquis de la Falaise