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THE FIRST MOVIE STAR; Film-maker plans tribute to Hollywood icon.

Byline: ANDREW GERARD

GERARD BUTLER, Ewan McGregor and Kelly Macdonald have planted the saltire on Hollywood's red carpets.

But they are only following in the footsteps of an extraordinary but forgotten screen pioneer - Cissie Loftus.

She went from mimicking music hall acts on the stage to becoming Scotland's first Hollywood star, featuring in silent movies and talkies.

Now theatre producer Ed Crozier is planning a movie about the remarkable actress, whose private life was as tragic and colourful as the Tinseltown favourites of today.

Despite being born in Victorian times, Cissie had two failed marriages and battled drug and alcohol addiction.

Crozier said her star quality was obvious from an early age.

He said: "She must have been a sensation on the stage, this charming petite teenager with a marvellous voice and range of talents."

At a time when great music hall stars were as familiar to the public as soap opera actors are today, Cissie was equally at home pretending to be Sir Harry Lauder or Vesta Tilley, then the biggest stars around.

World-famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso once came to see her, and exclaimed: "Who is that lady with my voice in her throat?"

Being born into a famous stage family, Cissie was always destined for a showbiz life. Marie Cecilia Loftus Brown was born in Glasgow on October 22, 1876. Her mother Marie Loftus was a famous music hall star.

Her father Ben Brown was one of the legendary trio Brown, Newland and LeClerc. Her parents sent her to Lancashire for a convent school education but she followed them on to the stage at the age of just 15.

She had been working as Marie's dresser and from childhood had stood in the wings watching the great acts of the day perform in music halls.

She was a talented mimic but her ambition made her determined to achieve even greater fame than her parents.

She was married at 17 to a man more than twice her age, writer and former MP Justin Huntly McCarthy. The marriage was to prove a disaster.

At 19, she went to America, and the public there fell in love with this bright new star of vaudeville.

It was her stunning performance in the stage version of A Lady Of Quality which led to that groundbreaking appearance - for a Scot - in the 1913 movie of the same name.

By then, Cissie was concentrating on serious drama, and was known as Cecilia Loftus. She was again the lead in Diana Of Dobson's in 1917 - another long forgotten silent movie.

Cissie was one of the few actresses to make the transition from silent films to talkies.

But as she never again enjoyed the success of her first films, losing out on a major role in Gone With the Wind that might have revived her career. However, she kept acting on screen until the 1940s.

Her marriage ended in the scandal of divorce after five years but still her career blossomed.

She was being employed in Shakespearian and other dramatic roles by the great impresario Sir Henry Irving, and had been only the second actress in the role of Peter Pan in the play written by her fellow Scot, JM Barrie.

As comfortable in New York as she was in London, Cissie was reputed to be earning $1000 per week - the equivalent to pounds 50,000 in modern money.

She was a natural for the musicals that were starting to make Broadway famous. From 1901 to the late 1930s she was in the original cast of several famous shows.

Famous men queued to romance her. Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, loved to play piano for her and she had her portrait painted by Toulouse Lautrec shortly before the French artist's death in 1901.

Her personal life was a disaster. She married a second time, to American doctor Alonzo Hughes Waterman, but that ended in divorce.

The premature birth and subsequent death of her only child, Peter, caused her to get hooked on painkillers. The habit grew and in November 1922 she was arrested in London on charges of possessing atrophine and morphine.

The following year, Cissie left to live permanently in the US, making a triumphant comeback on Broadway.

Despite a growing problem with alcohol, she continued to work on stage and screen, her last film being The Black Cat in 1941.

She died in of a heart attack aged 66 in New York in 1943 - just three years after her mother.

The actress is buried in New York's Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, among the graves of many actors and Broadway stars.

Crozier, best known in Glasgow for The Big Picnic, is preparing research on Cissie through his company Promenade Enterprises. He has had West End hits including Baby Doll and Rat Pack Confidential, He said: "We have had some great Scottish film stars over the years, especially in recent times.

"But with A Lady Of Quality, Cissie was the first Scottish woman to be the headline star of a major American movie.

"The fact that her co-star was Lionel Barrymore, who founded the famous American film dynasty, says it all.

"That her later life was blighted by drink and drugs makes her story all the more poignant, and she certainly deserves to be more widely known for her achievements."

Cissie has no star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and her name is never mentioned in the pantheon of Scottish actresses.

But her status as Scotland's forgotten movie star could be about to change.

CAPTION(S):

Presence: Cecilia in a later role in the Dead End Kids, below, with Shirley Temple in The Bluebird, and in 1903. She's buried at Valhalla, left Big role: Cissie was the second actress to play Peter Pan on stage
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 20, 2011
Words:961
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