Thursday, March 8, 2018

Women's History Month 2018: Flora Zabelle

Flora Zabelle
Source: LOC
Not much is recorded of Flora Zabelle Hitchcock's life. She went from refugee to Broadway star and one of the first American silent film actresses.

She was born Flora Mangasarian in Constantinople in the Ottman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey). Her family fled to escape the Turks' Hamidian massacres of Armenians.

Flora chose the stage as her career where she flourished for both her acting prowess and her noted beauty. She adopted the stage name Flora Zabelle, later adding her husband last name. The San Francisco Call wrote of the young actress in 1902, “Endowed by nature with a pretty face and form, an uncommonly magnetic personality and a pleasing soprano voice, Flora Zabelle, one of the most attractive of Philadelphia's smart set..."

Already a star on Broadway, Flora married another famous actor, Raymond Hitchcock in 1905. The two quickly became a noted celebrity couple and innovators in musical comedy theater. They went on to teach acting lessons and arrange musical comedy tours throughout the country.

Their celebrity status was not all rosy. Several odd tales found their way into newspapers at the time. It is unclear how much truth these gossip pieces contain. At one point Flora believed her husband to have been kidnapped and possibly killed for several days. A 1912 newspaper report says Flora rushed back to the United States after reading a personal item in a newspaper about her brother being ill, but this was actually an elaborate ruse on her husband's part to convince her to come home. This same report quotes Flora as saying, "My husband and I have agreed to separate -- financially, domestically and artistically. The separation is complete and forever." It's unclear if the two stayed separated, but they remained legally married until her husband's death in 1929.

Flora's film career was not long, but she did achieve some prominence. She starred opposite John Barrymore in the 1916 silent short, The Red Widow and was featured in several other shorts and full-length films. After her husband's death, Flora began to withdraw from stage and screen appearing only rarely until disappearing from both completely in 1940. She passed away in 1968 at the age of 88. She left behind a legacy as a survivor of ethnic cleansing in the country of her birth and as a pioneer in stage and screen in the country she came to call home.

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