Savannah-Chatham County Public School System

Massie Heritage Exhibit on Savannah's Silent Film Star Opens

Published on: 9/28/2023

Recently, it was discovered that one of the most famous actors of the silent film era called Savannah home in the early 1900s.  In 1900, Larwence “Larry" Semon, moved in with his aunt Emma and uncle Lewis on Jones Street.

Larry's parents were itinerant circus performers who were constantly on the move and decided that 12 year old Larry, needed more stability.  Once settled in Savannah, he attended Massie school from 1900 to 1904.  Sadly, his mother and father died in their travels abroad during Larry's stay in Savannah.  He remained here with his aunt and uncle and became a sensation around town showing off his talents. 

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He started by emulating his father's talent as a magician and went on to act in a number of plays at various theatres in town.  Larry was often billed as the “boy wonder" and was quite popular here before moving on to become one of Hollywood's most adored actors of the 1920s. 

His most famous role was as “Scarecrow" in the silent version of The Wizard of Oz, starring opposite Oliver Hardy as Tin Man, and Dorothy Dwan (who later became his wife) as Dorothy.  Semon made millions in the silent film industry but lived lavishly and died deeply in debt at the young age of 39 in 1928.  There were rumors that he had staged his death to avoid accountability for his enormous debts.     

Larry's biographer, Claudia Sassen, has written extensively about Larry's tragic life in her book, Larry Semon, Daredevil Comedian of the Silent Screen.  Recently, she reached out to the Curator at Massie in hopes of finding out more about his life in Savannah as a young boy.  It was discovered there is an abundance of information in local newspapers about Larry and his enormous local popularity.

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During his time in Savannah, Larry also cultivated his talent for illustration and in the 1910s went on to become a renowned cartoon artist at major newspapers in Philadelphia and New York shortly before his acting career started in 1915.  While in New York, he pursued acting and ultimately made his way to Hollywood by 1917 where he became America's leading silent film actor. 

Mrs. Sassen has kindly shared a treasure trove of information, film reels, publicity photos, and artwork, that make up Mr. Semon's life's work.  A temporary exhibit about Mr. Semon is now on display at Massie Heritage Center.

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