Maurice Costello

Last updated
Maurice Costello
Harvard Theatre Collection - Maurice Costello TCS 1.6015 - cropped.jpg
Maurice George Costello

(1877-02-22)February 22, 1877
DiedOctober 29, 1950(1950-10-29) (aged 73)
Burial place Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles
Occupation(s)actor, director, screenwriter
Years active1905–1945
(m. 1902;div. 1927)

Ruth Reeves
(m. 1939;div. 1941)
Children Dolores Costello
Helene Costello

Maurice George Costello (February 22, 1877 – October 29, 1950) [1] was a prominent American vaudeville actor of the late 1890s and early 1900s who later played a principal role in early American films as leading man, supporting player, and director.


Early life

Costello was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Irish immigrants Ellen (née Fitzgerald; born 1853) and Thomas Costello (born 1852). His father Thomas died while repairing a blast furnace at Andrew Carnegie's Union Iron Mill when Maurice was just five months old. He had a strongly Irish upbringing, living with his mother, her Irish brother, and many Irish immigrant boarders. [2]


Costello made his film debut in 1908, but was long believed to have debuted in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom (1905), supposedly playing the lead in what is regarded as the first serious film to feature the character of Sherlock Holmes, since it was preceded only by the 30-second comedy film Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900). However, Holmesian scholar Leslie S. Klinger has written that the identification of Costello in the role is flawed. [3] Klinger states that the first identification of Costello with the role was in Michael Pointer's Public Life of Sherlock Holmes published in 1975 but Pointer later realized his error and wrote to Klinger stating

"I am now aware that Maurice Costello could not have been in that film, as he had not joined the Vitagraph company by that date. I'm sorry that my book has been misleading, but I doubt that I shall have the opportunity for an amended reprint, and should not have the time to prepare one anyway." [3]

Maurice Costello and Florence Lawrence in Antony and Cleopatra (1908) Antony and Cleopatra 1908.jpg
Maurice Costello and Florence Lawrence in Antony and Cleopatra (1908)

Costello joined Vitagraph, being a member of the first motion picture stock company ever formed, playing opposite Florence Turner. Among some of his best known pictures are A Tale of Two Cities, The Man Who Couldn't Beat God and For the Honor of the Family. Costello was notorious for his refusal to help build sets, insisting that he was "hired as an actor and nothing else", despite the common practice of the time. From this and his role as the creator of the first known school of screen acting, Costello is sometimes credited as "the father of screen acting". [4]

Costello was one of the world's first leading men in early American cinema, but like a lot of other silent screen stars, he found the transition to "talkies" extremely difficult. While his leading man status was largely lost, Costello continued to appear in movies, often in small roles and bit parts, right up until his death in 1950.

Maurice Costello also discovered Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, who, as a teenager, ran errands and got lunches for the actors at the Vitagraph Studios at no charge. This impressed Costello who brought him in and introduced him to other leading actors of the day. Moe then gained small parts in many of the Vitagraph movies but most of these were destroyed by fire that swept the studios in 1910.

Personal life

Costello was married to actress Mae Costello (née Altschuk). On November 23, 1913, Costello was arrested for beating his wife Mae. On November 25, 1913, Costello admitted that he had beaten his wife while intoxicated. Mae Costello requested that the charges be dropped to disorderly conduct, and Costello was given six months probation by Magistrate Geisner of the Coney Island Police Court. [5]

Costello died at the age of 73 in 1950 in Los Angeles, California of a heart problem [6] and was interred at Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles, a Catholic cemetery.[ citation needed ]

His descendants include two daughters, actresses Dolores Costello and Helene Costello, a grandson John Drew Barrymore, and a great granddaughter Drew Barrymore.[ citation needed ]


Maurice Costello in 1916 Maurice Costello - Aug 1916 CM.jpg
Maurice Costello in 1916
1908 Antony and Cleopatra Marc AntonyShort
1909 The Bride of Lammermoor Edgar RavenswoodShort
1909 Les Misérables Jean ValjeanShort
1909 A Midsummer Night's Dream LysanderShort
1911 A Tale of Two Cities Sydney CartonShort
1911 His Sister's Children Harry BurtonShort
1911 Some Good in All BillShort
1912 As You Like It Orlando
1912The Adventure of the Italian ModelLambert Chase [7] [8]
1912The Adventure of a Thumb PrintLambert Chase [7] [8]
1912The Mystery of the Seven JewelsLambert Chase [7] [8]
1913A Princess of BagdadSeyn – the Cobbler
1914 Mr. Barnes of New York Mr. Barnes
1915 The Man Who Couldn't Beat God Martin Henchfordalso co-directed
1915The Crown Prince's DoublePrince Oscar / Barry Lawrence
1916 The Crimson Stain Mystery Harold Stanley
1919 The Captain's Captain John Sark
1919 The Cambric Mask John Sark
1919 The Man Who Won Henry Longfield
1919The Girl-WomanSanford
1920 Human Collateral Richard Morton
1920 Deadline at Eleven Paul Klocke
1920 The Tower of Jewels Fraser Grimstead
1921 Conceit Barbe la Fleche
1922 Determination Putnam
1923 None So Blind Russell Mortimer
1923 The Glimpses of the Moon Fred Gillow
1923 Man and Wife Caleb Perkins
1923 Fog Bound Deputy Brown
1924 Let Not Man Put Asunder Sir Humphrey
1924 Roulette Ben Corcoran
1924 Week End Husbands John Keane
1924 Virtuous Liars Josiah Wright
1924 Love of Women Mr. Redfield
1924Heart of Alaska
1924 The Story Without a Name The Cripple
1924 The Law and the Lady Cyrus Blake
1925 The Mad Marriage
1926 The Wives of the Prophet William Neil
1926 The Last Alarm Fireman's father
1926 The False Alarm
1926 Camille Armand's father
1927 Johnny Get Your Hair Cut Baxter Ryan
1927 Wolves of the Air Bob's Father
1927 The Shamrock and the Rose Father O'Brien
1927Spider WebsJeffrey Stanton
1928See You Later
1928 The Wagon Show Colonel Beldan
1928Black Feather
1928 Eagle of the Night
1934 Search for Beauty Health Acres GuestUncredited
1936 Hollywood Boulevard Director in Commissary
1938 I Am the Law Lindsay Staff MemberUncredited
1938 A Man to Remember Town CouncilorUncredited
1938 Comet Over Broadway Actor at Dress RehearsalUncredited
1938 There's That Woman Again HeadwaiterUncredited
1939 Disbarred Frightened JurorUncredited
1939 It's a Wonderful World GuestUncredited
1939 Judge Hardy and Son Man in AudienceUncredited
1939 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew HartUncredited
1939 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Diggs – NewsmanUncredited
1939 The Roaring Twenties Nightclub PatronUncredited
1940 Rovin' Tumbleweeds Ways and Means Committee MemberUncredited
1940 The Ghost Comes Home Townsman at BanquetUncredited
1940 Johnny Apollo ExtraUncredited
1940 Edison, the Man BrokerUncredited
1940 The Sea Hawk Man Carrying SpearUncredited
1940 All This, and Heaven Too Minor RoleUncredited
1940 Foreign Correspondent Minor RoleUncredited
1940 A Little Bit of Heaven Uncle Louie
1940 Third Finger, Left Hand Man at Railroad StationUncredited
1940 Tin Pan Alley Uncredited
1941 A Man Betrayed Club Inferno PatronUNcredited
1941 Lady from Louisiana Edwards
1941 Citizen Kane ExtraUncredited
1941 Here Comes Mr. Jordan Ringsider at FightUncredited
1941 H.M. Pulham, Esq. Wedding GuestUncredited
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Rodeo Spectator with Martin ManningUncredited
1942 Reap the Wild Wind Ball GuestUncredited
1942 Cairo Cavity Rock TownsmanUncredited
1942 The Glass Key Card PlayerUncredited
1942 Henry Aldrich, Editor Fire SpectatorUncredited
1943 Du Barry Was a Lady PasserbyUncredited
1943 Sweet Rosie O'Grady Minor RoleUncredited
1944 A Fig Leaf for Eve Nightclub PatronUncredited
1944 The Doughgirls Minor RoleUncredited
1944 The Climax Minor RoleUncredited
1944 Practically Yours Senate StenographerUncredited
1945 Guest Wife Bit PartUncredited, (final film role)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherlock Holmes</span> Fictional character (consulting detective) created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. Referring to himself as a "consulting detective" in the stories, Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Barrymore</span> American actor (1882–1942)

John Barrymore was an American actor on stage, screen and radio. A member of the Drew and Barrymore theatrical families, he initially tried to avoid the stage, and briefly attempted a career as an artist, but appeared on stage together with his father Maurice in 1900, and then his sister Ethel the following year. He began his career in 1903 and first gained attention as a stage actor in light comedy, then high drama, culminating in productions of Justice (1916), Richard III (1920) and Hamlet (1922); his portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the "greatest living American tragedian".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethel Barrymore</span> American actress (1879–1959)

Ethel Barrymore was an American actress and a member of the Barrymore family of actors. Barrymore was a stage, screen and radio actress whose career spanned six decades, and was regarded as "The First Lady of the American Theatre". She received four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, winning for None but the Lonely Heart (1944).

<i>The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes</i> Collection of short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of twelve short stories by British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, first published on 14 October 1892. It contains the earliest short stories featuring the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, which had been published in twelve monthly issues of The Strand Magazine from July 1891 to June 1892. The stories are collected in the same sequence, which is not supported by any fictional chronology. The only characters common to all twelve are Holmes and Dr. Watson and all are related in first-person narrative from Watson's point of view.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dolores Costello</span> American actress (1903–1979)

Dolores Costello was an American film actress who achieved her greatest success during the era of silent movies. She was nicknamed "The Goddess of the Silent Screen" by her first husband, the actor John Barrymore. She was the mother of John Drew Barrymore.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tom Conway</span> British actor (1904–1967)

Tom Conway was a British film, television, and radio actor remembered for playing private detectives and psychiatrists, among other roles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Helene Costello</span> American actress

Helene Costello was an American stage and film actress, most notably of the silent era.

<i>A Tale of Two Cities</i> (1911 film) 1911 film

A Tale of Two Cities is a 1911 silent film produced by Vitagraph Studios, loosely based on the 1859 novel by Charles Dickens.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been very popular as adaptations for the stage, and later film, and still later television. The four volumes of the Universal Sherlock Holmes (1995) compiled by Ronald B. De Waal lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products. They include the original writings, "together with the translations of these tales into sixty-three languages, plus Braille and shorthand, the writings about the Writings or higher criticism, writings about Sherlockians and their societies, memorials and memorabilia, games, puzzles and quizzes, phonograph records, audio and video tapes, compact discs, laser discs, ballets, films, musicals, operettas, oratorios, plays, radio and television programs, parodies and pastiches, children's books, cartoons, comics, and a multitude of other items — from advertisements to wine — that have accumulated throughout the world on the two most famous characters in literature."

<i>Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace</i> 1962 film by Terence Fisher

Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace is a 1962 mystery film directed by Terence Fisher. It is a West German-French-Italian international co-production. The film starred Christopher Lee as Sherlock Holmes and Thorley Walters as Dr. Watson. Curt Siodmak wrote the screenplay, based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

<i>Sherlock Holmes Baffled</i> 1900 film by Arthur Marvin

Sherlock Holmes Baffled is a very short American silent film created in 1900 with cinematography by Arthur Marvin. It is the earliest known film to feature Arthur Conan Doyle's detective character Sherlock Holmes, albeit in a form unlike that of later screen incarnations. The inclusion of the character also makes it the first recorded detective film. In the film, a thief who can appear and disappear at will steals a sack of items from Sherlock Holmes. At each point, Holmes's attempts to thwart the intruder end in failure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mae Costello</span> American actress (1882–1929)

Mae Costello was an American stage and film actress of the early twentieth-century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harry T. Morey</span> American actor

Harry Temple Morey was an American stage and motion picture actor who appeared in nearly 200 films during his career.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom is a 1905 American silent film directed by J. Stuart Blackton for Vitagraph Studios. It was the second film based on Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, following the 1900 Mutoscope trick film Sherlock Holmes Baffled, and is usually regarded as the first attempt to film a "serious" Holmes adaptation. The scenario was by Theodore Liebler based on elements of Conan Doyle's 1890 novel The Sign of the Four.

<i>The Hound of the Baskervilles</i> (1921 film) 1921 film by Maurice Elvey

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1921 British silent mystery film directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Eille Norwood, Catina Campbell and Rex McDougall. It is based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was made by Stoll Pictures, Britain's largest film company at the time. It was the first British film adaptation of the famous novel.

From 1921 to 1923, Stoll Pictures produced three series of silent black-and-white films based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Forty-five short films and two feature-length films were produced featuring Eille Norwood in the role of Holmes and Hubert Willis cast as Dr. Watson with the exception of the final film, The Sign of Four, where Willis was replaced with Arthur Cullin. Consequently, Norwood holds the record for most appearances as Sherlock Holmes in film.

The Hound of London is a television film directed by Peter Reynolds-Long and starring Patrick Macnee as Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Charleson</span> Irish actress

Mary Charleson was an Irish silent film actress who starred in about 80 films in the U.S. between 1912 and 1920.


  1. According to the California Death Index, Archived 2016-04-10 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Shulman, Terry C. (2019). "Film's First Family: The Untold Story of the Costellos": 7–8.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. 1 2 Kilnger, Leslie S. (June 1998). "Was Maurice Costello The First Screen Sherlock Holmes?". The Baker Street Journal . 48 (2): 27–30.
  4. "Walk along Middle River leads to biography of Hollywood stars, The News Leader". 15 November 2009.
  5. "The evening world. (New York, N.Y.) 1887–1931, November 25, 1913, Final Edition, Image 22". 25 November 1913 via
  6. Los Angeles Times
  7. 1 2 3 Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, ed. Richard Abel (London: Routledge, 2005), 679; and Adam Lauder, “It’s Alive!: Bertram Brooker and Vitalism,” in The Logic of Nature, the Romance of Space: Elements of Canadian Modernist Painting, ed. Cassandra Getty (Windsor, ON; Oshawa, ON: Art Gallery of Windsor; The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2010), 104n93.
  8. 1 2 3 James King, Betram Brooker. Life and work. Art Canada Institut – Institut de l’Art Canadien, 2018, p. 5.