Lou Telgen was a Dutch-born actor who did some of his acting in France, some in England but most of it in the United States. He performed both on stage and in film. At that time, stage acting involved using voice while film acting was silent. As a result the two roles then were significantly different.
The information reported on him varies depending on the biographer. The Dutch biographer claims that he was successful as a stage actor but largely because of his good looks. He was then considered a matinee idol. According to the same source he was a failure as a film actor but appeared in many films because certain main actors liked him in his roles.
The American biographers on the other hand barely mention his stage acting roles but stress his successes as a film actor. So it is difficult to judge how good or how bad an actor he was during his rather lengthy career.
He became an apprentice actor in Amsterdam in 1903 when he was in his early twenties. His last film was made a few years before his suicide death in 1934 when he was 52 years old. The year 1903 is a little suspect because he is also reported to have been involved in much early foreign travel before he became interested in acting.
Telgen was born out of wedlock in Sint Oedenrode, a village in the province Noord Brabant, the Netherlands on November 26, 1881. His birth name was Isadore Louis Bernard Edmon van Dommelen. His mother’s name was Anna Maria van Dommelen. His father, a lieutenant in the Dutch army, was named Isadore Louis Bernard Edmon Telgen. Hence he had his father’s given names and his mother’s family name. He clearly did not like this because he adopted the name Lou Telgen. It probably became his official legal name when he became a U.S. citizen in 1918.
Although Telgen did some early acting he did not really become a professional actor until Sarah Bernard hired him as her leading man and he accompanied her on tour. With Sarah Bernard he starred in the silent film “La Dame de Camelias” in 1910. Later in 1912 he also acted with her in the film “Queen Elizabeth”. Both films were very successful and it established him as a successful actor. Following his involvement with Bernhardt he enjoyed a brief career as a matinee actor in stage plays.
In 1913 he went to London where he produced and starred in the Oscar Wilde play, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Following its run he was invited back to the USA and made his first American film in 1915 entitled “The Explorer”. It was followed by the film “The Unknown”. In both films his co-star was Dorothy Davenport. He followed that up with three films starring Geraldine Farrar. The following year in 1916 he married Farrar.
During his entire acting career he has been involved with 45 film productions, mostly as an actor. He starred with such well-known actors as Sarah Bernhardt, Geraldine Farrar, Boris Karloff, Helda Hopper, Charles Boyer, Loretta Young and Jean Parker. During that time he directed four films and wrote two films. About half of his films are still in existence but copies of many others have been lost.
Telgen has been married four times. The first marriage was to Countess Jeanne de Brouckere from 1903 to 1905. It produced a daughter. He was later married to Geraldine Farrar from 1916 to 1923. He then married Nina Romano and was married to her from 1923 to 1928. Her real name was Isabel Craven Dilworth. His fourth and last marriage was to Eve Casanova from 1930 to 1932. Her real name was Julia Horne.
At the end of his career he had become a poor man because of his wasteful tastes. Although he had earned vast sums of money from his productions, it had apparently all been wasted. A wealthy lady in Hollywood felt sorry for him and allowed him to live in her home. On October 29, 1934 at age 52, he locked himself in the bathroom and killed himself in front of a full length mirror with a pair of household scissors. He decided to make the end dramatic, and dramatic it was. It received wide publicity from the press.
Lou Telgen, Wikipedia and other web sources
Gold, Arthur and Robert Fizdale, “The Divine Sarah”, New York: Vintage Books, 1991
Menefee, David M., “The Rise and Fall of Lou Telgen”, Menefee Publishing, 2011
Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland, The Hague, 2002
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