Monday, December 3, 2012

Anna Q Nilsson. Hollywood Tragedy- and Wax Work on Sunset Boulevard

Anna Q. Nilsson is probably best remembered today as one of the "wax works" from the classic Hollywood Movie, Sunset Boulevard today, but she was once a glamor girl from the silent screen.

Anna Q Nilsson in her silent movie days

The early silent star whose career came to a tragic abrupt end was born Anna Querentia Nilsson in Ystad, Sweden, in 1890. She was still in her early teens when a neighbor, just returned from a trip to the United States came by the Nilsson home for a visit. she wore a hat made of ostrich plumes. "I'd never seen anything so beautiful in my life as that hat," recalls Anna "and I decided that America was the place for me."

Anna had worked and saved some money and, after much persuasion, her parents permitted her to go to New York with another girl from Ystad but with the promise that she would stay with family friends once there.

Upon her arrival in 1907, Anna worked as a nursemaid and took English lessons so she could get a better job. One day when she stopped in front of Carnegie Hall to check on an address, the artist Carol Bickwith saw her and asked if she would pose for him. Her hosts were horrified when they heard about it and threatened to write to her parents. But Anna leaped at the opportunity. Soon she was known as the Stanlow Poster Girl, and she began to pose for photographers as well. During this period, she made strong friendships with two other girls who were soon to be movie stars, Alice Joyce and Mabel Normand.

One of the photographers who got a job with the Kalem Companey, an early producer of movies, recommended Anna as an actress for the one-reeler Molly Pitcher in 1913, and ended up staying with Kalem Company for five years. She made such pictures as Barriers Swept Aside in 1915, appearing in at least 40 movies since her film debut, and one of her last movies was titled Midnight Lovers in 1925.

Then one day in 1925 she and a friend went riding in the mountains. Just as they approached a stone wall, her horse, frightened by a snake, threw her and she struck the wall. She was carried back to her hotel and the doctor who examined her said that all she needed was rest. After five days in bed the pain in her hip had become so bad that she demanded to be taken to Los Angeles. The doctor, it was later discovered, was a drug addict, and her hip had been badly shattered. Anne was operated on and spent a year in the hospital but still could not walk. She endured still another operation with the same negative results and more long months of recuperation. She decided to return to Sweden to see if the doctors there could help her but was persuaded to aboard ship to consult a specialist in Vienna. In Vienna,  she was told she would need another operation. She refused and traveled to Stockholm where she was advised to work with a therapist. When she returned to America a year later her friends had a stretcher and nurse waiting at dockside. To their surprise and utter amazement Anna walked down the gangplank and continued to walk well for the rest of her life.

By the time she was well, however, talkies were in and she had been off the screen for several years. "At first I was heartbroken that my career was ended but I get over things very quickly" she said later in life. Her money had been well invested and she threw herself into a life of charity work, reading, and extensive travel. Several times she was talked into bit parts in sound films such as World changes, 1933, and others in the 1940s. She admitted  to feeling out of place and terrified because, "films are so different from when I had worked before, and I never had much confidence in myself."

Anna had two brief marriages. The first was in 1916 to G. Combs, whom she describes as "a darling but also a drunk." In 1923 she married John Gunnerson "a drunken bum."

In the 1960s, no longer active in her charity work or traveling. Anna moved from Beverly Hills to the senior citizen project in sun City, California, where she was the toast of the town. All her neighbors were old enough to remember her and she was the only film personality there. She watched lots of movies, and liked to garden, and played bridge a great deal.
Anna Q in Sunset Boulevard, as a "wax work"

Young people today may know Miss Nilsson for her cameo role in Sunset Boulevard in 1950, in which she played cards with Gloria Swanson, H.B. Warner and Buster Keaton, Anna kept in touch with very few of the screen contemporaries although she was visited by Conrad Nagel just before he died in 1970: Anna starred in his first film.

"I was never very social even when I was a star,"she explained in the 1970s.And when I was, it was always with men. It must be the Swedish in me. I can be alone for weeks on end." Among the mementos in her living room were an autographed picture of Rudolph Valentino signed "To the beautiful blond Viking."

The Glory Days of Hollywood is a highly researched blog of all stars and stories from old Hollywood. Just type in the search bar located on the right side bar, or under "Blog Archive" and find what you are looking for. If you choose to type a name such as "Lana Turner" in the search bar, links will appear at the top of the current article you are visiting that contain the star or subject you are looking for. Just click those links. 

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