Six year old Lorna Volare in 1917, at the time she appeared as a supporting player in Norma Talmadge’s The Moth Film Fun, December 1917. via Lantern, Digital Media Library
The Five Second Version
Who today would know of the child stars of the silent film era – that is, before Shirley Temple? Baby Ivy Ward, Rosheen Glenister, Miriam Battista and Baby Lorna Volare are names unknown to us now and yet in the 1910s and 1920s they were much in demand by producers, popular with audiences – and their parents were well paid. Lorna Volare was a child from Australia whose parents had moved to the US in 1915. Lorna appeared in her first film at age four and a half, only a few months after the family settled in New Jersey.
Lorna Volare was born in Benalla, a country town about 200 kilometres north east of Melbourne, Victoria on 10 October, 1911.Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 1911/25784. It appears her mother Helen was visiting family or friends in the town to give birth, because the Volare home was in South … Continue reading However, there is little likelihood that Lorna ever had much memory of Benalla, or of Melbourne, as she left Australia before she turned four.
Fred Volare and the pianolas
Lorna’s father Fred Volare was a piano tuner, salesman and musician from England. He was born George Frederick Voller in London, and arrived in Australia in the first years of the twentieth century.The 1901 English census lists George F Voller, a 19 year old piano tuner living with his parents and siblings in Wandsworth Perhaps the new spelling of his surname as Volare helped create an exotic musical persona or maybe the change of name helped him start a completely new life,Years later, Fred Volare would visit and stay with his older sibling Alice Voller at 34 Quinton St, Earlsfield, London either way he quickly made a name for himself in Australia.
Fred travelled the length and breadth of Victoria tuning pianos and selling the new and very popular invention – the pianola. Four months before the birth of Lorna, in June 1911, he had married Helen McIntrye, a nurse – who came from a very large farming family of Port Campbell, in Victoria’s west.Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1911/5150 A son, Erling Frederick, was also born of the marriage in June 1914.Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 1914/16894
In early 1915, Fred and Helen made the dramatic decision to move to the US. This appears not to have been a whim, because they sold up all their belongings and their large home at 245 Williams Road Toorak with an announcement they were soon moving to the US.The Age (Melb) 20 Feb, 1915, P2, via National Library of Australia’s Trove The advertisements listed their worldly goods for sale, confirming they were living a comfortable middle class life – apparently all thanks to Fred’s work selling pianolas. They sailed on the RMS Niagara, arriving in Vancouver on April 10, 1915, in transit for New York.
By 1920, US records show the family were living on Lake Avenue, Scotch Plains near Westfield in New Jersey. Fred, who was now described in documents as a “factory manager” and “piano expert”, worked at the Aeolian Piano and Pianola Company factory in nearby Garwood, New Jersey, only a few miles from their home.Fred’s World War One US registration card lists Aeolian as his employer.
Lorna the “three year old”
The earliest film appearance by Lorna seems to have been in Ransom, a film starring Julia Dean, made in late 1915.It is listed by the AFI as released in January 1916 Unfortunately, the film is now considered lost, as are most of Lorna’s 14 other films.Part of The Moth (1917), a Norma Talmadge film, survives in the collections of the Library of Congress
The only account of how four year old Lorna from Australia ended up in films all of which were made on the US East Coast survives in the pages of The Green Book Magazine.The Green Book Magazine Vol 20, 1918, P968-969 via the HathiTrust Digital Library The story given here was that a group of actors on the Niagara saw Lorna playing on the decks and suggested (to her parents) that she should try acting. Perhaps this is true, but it is so very similar to every other “actor discovery” story that the modern reader would be wise to treat it with caution. It is worth remembering that the decision for four year old Lorna to act was made by Fred and Helen, who must have approved of and organised her performing. The typical story of a child being “discovered” by someone else meant parents could claim they were harnessing a child’s natural ability – rather than exploiting them by pushing them onto the stage.
Contemporary newspapers made much of Lorna’s youth. Until late 1916, US reports inaccurately gave her age as three, while some also made a point of mentioning her film salary as $100 per week, a significant sum – which was mentioned so often it may be true. If she earned this, it was her parents who collected.Hartford Courant (Connecticut) 3 May 1916, P6 via newspapers.com
At this time, the Gerry Society (New York’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) was very active in campaigning against child actors, something Fred and Helen must have been aware of. However, it appears the society had much more of a concern about the morality of children being on the stage, than they did about children appearing in film. On one occasion Lorna Volare and other juvenile actors were the subject of legal action during a Chicago run of Daddies in November 1919, because the play violated Illinois State law,The New York Clipper, 19 Nov 1919, P5. Billboard magazine described the Gerry Society as a “self styled reform agency.” Billboard, 26 March 1921, P23. Via Lantern Digital Media Library but otherwise her childhood acting career seems to have been remarkably unhindered by the Gerry Society. Also see Note 1 below.
Lorna the actor
Some of Lorna’s appearances were in quality film productions. For example, she appeared in supporting roles in three films made in New York by the hugely successful actress-producer Norma Talmadge in 1917. These included The Law of Compensation and two of her “Select Pictures,” The Moth and The Secret of the Storm Country. Clearly Talmadge had confidence in Lorna’s abilities as she personally cast some roles. In the same year Lorna also appeared in A Man and the Woman, directed by pioneer director Alice Guy and her husband Herbert Blaché, almost certainly made at their Solax Studios at nearby Fort Lee in New Jersey.
As with so many reviews of child performers, reports of Lorna’s acting in films tended to be effusive. Motion picture directories also contributed to the stereotype of the time by describing her physical attributes – “golden brown hair, large blue eyes.”Motion Picture Studio Directories 1919-1921, P249 Via Ancestry.com More considered were commentaries on her theatre performances. In October 1917 she appeared in a short run of the play The Claim, at New York’s Fulton theatre, “a drama of Western life.” One newspaper ran a large photo and reported on “Youthful Lorna Volare, whose years number barely five, but whose histrionic and emotional ability amazed first night audiences on Broadway last week.”The Sun (New York) 13 Oct 1917, P5 via newspapers.com But Lorna’s big breakthrough came in September 1918 when she appeared on stage in David Belasco’s production of Daddies.
Daddies was a great success – it ran for 340 performances in New York.The Internet Broadway Database reports it ran from September 1918 to June 1919 The comedy was about four bachelors who are induced to adopt war orphans, and 7 year old Lorna played one of them. Theatre magazine noted her “accent betrays no locale proving her diction is faultless.”Ada Patterson, Theatre Magazine, Vol 27-28, 1918, P350 via The Hathi Trust The Billboard labelled Lorna “the star of the cast,”The Billboard, 9 Nov 1918, P17, via Lantern Digital Media Library while a reviewer for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that Lorna performed “with a skill and sense of values that is remarkable in a child.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York) 6 Sep 1918, P6 via newspapers.com
David Belasco thought Lorna was a “marvellous child actor... “I have only known one child who equalled her. That was little Maude Adams. Maude had the same charm, the same bright mind, the same odd little ways that were all her own.” A happy home environment was vital to her continuing success, he thought. However Belasco was less confident that a married woman could be a success on stage. Firmly channeling his own nineteenth century upbringing, he warned, a woman “cannot serve two masters.”ie – a husband AND the stage. Ada Patterson, Theatre Magazine Vol 27-28, 1918. P350 via The Hathi Trust
Lorna continued to appear on stage, including in a tour of Daddies. She also appeared in one final film made in 1921- His Greatest Sacrifice, with popular player William Farnum. She was now ten years old and hardly able to still be presented as “baby Lorna” by this time and therein lay the problem for all child actors – what to do once they started to grow up.
In Lorna’s case, almost as quickly as she had arrived on the screen, by the end of 1923, she was gone.
Lorna in later life
From 1924, Lorna attended secondary school at Westfield High School, near her home. We know a little of Lorna’s school years because her High School yearbook has been digitized – a project of the Ancestry genealogical organisation. Her 1929 entry indicates she was involved in drama at school, had a “charming accent” (doubtless the result of parenting and elocution) and had an amazing biography. It appears she then went on to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.The Courier News (New Jersey) 2 Dec 1937, P18, via newspaper.com
Lorna was associated with several New Jersey theatre groups in the 1930s, as a performer and director. In December 1937 she married W Kenneth Ostrander, a journalist. They married at the family home, while the talented Fred Volare played the Wedding March. The couple remained in New Jersey and raised two children, living near Fred and Helen, for the next twenty years. Lorna also shared her parents’ interests – after the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, she joined their efforts with the local branch of the British War Relief Society. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, she joined the war industry, working at an engineering firm and encouraging other women to do the same.The Courier News (New Jersey) 23 Nov 1942, P9 via newspapers.com Her wartime efforts were impressive – fund-raising, civil defence activities and even encouraging the collection of scrap metal.
Lorna Ostrander died in Arizona in 1998. She was never interviewed about the experience of being a child star of the silent era, and had long since been forgotten by Australians.
Note 1: The Gerry Society
That the Gerry Society served a reforming function seems without doubt. However, the eccentricities of the society at the start of the twentieth century can be gauged from Elbridge T Gerry‘s own commentary in 1890, when he asserted there were three classes of theatres – 1) reputable – “Where legitimate drama is exhibited,” 2) semi-reputable, which were still often vulgar, and 3) disreputable, with their audiences composed of the “lowest and most degraded class of society.” Despite this, Cullen, Hackman and McNeilly note how inconsistent the society was in applying their rules in relation to individual acts. For example, they were apparently not concerned about a young Fred Astaire dancing, but hounded Buster Keaton’s family.Cullen, Hackman and McNeilly 2007 P436 The Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, comprising children from Lorna’s home town of Melbourne, never performed on the US east coast because of the Society’s presence.
The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children exists today, with a very contemporary child protection mission. See https://nyspcc.org/
Left: Lorna in Daddies in 1918. The Green Book Magazine Vol 20, 1918, P968 via the HathiTrust Digital Library
- de Groat, Greta. “The Talmadge Sisters.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2011.
- Laura Bauer (Ed)(2019) Hollywood Heroines. The most influential women in film history. Greenwood
- Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly (2007)Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press
- Elbridge T Gerry (1890) “Children of the Stage” The North American Review, Vol 151, No 404, July 1890 P14-21 via jstor.
|↑1||Film Fun, December 1917. via Lantern, Digital Media Library|
|↑2||Motion Picture News, 27 Jan 1917, P577, via Lantern Digital Media Library|
|↑3||Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 1911/25784. It appears her mother Helen was visiting family or friends in the town to give birth, because the Volare home was in South Yarra, a suburb of Melbourne, as the birth certificate states.|
|↑4||The 1901 English census lists George F Voller, a 19 year old piano tuner living with his parents and siblings in Wandsworth|
|↑5||Years later, Fred Volare would visit and stay with his older sibling Alice Voller at 34 Quinton St, Earlsfield, London|
|↑6||Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1911/5150|
|↑7||Victoria, Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 1914/16894|
|↑8||Left – The Horsham Times (Vic) 9 Feb 1912, P5. Right – Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic.) 21 Oct 1914, P3. Both via National Library of Australia’s Trove|
|↑9||The Age (Melb) 20 Feb, 1915, P2, via National Library of Australia’s Trove|
|↑10||Fred’s World War One US registration card lists Aeolian as his employer.|
|↑11||It is listed by the AFI as released in January 1916|
|↑12||Part of The Moth (1917), a Norma Talmadge film, survives in the collections of the Library of Congress|
|↑13||all of which were made on the US East Coast|
|↑14||The Green Book Magazine Vol 20, 1918, P968-969 via the HathiTrust Digital Library|
|↑15||Moving Picture World, 27 Jan 1917, P526. Via Lantern, Digital Media Library|
|↑16||Hartford Courant (Connecticut) 3 May 1916, P6 via newspapers.com|
|↑17||The New York Clipper, 19 Nov 1919, P5. Billboard magazine described the Gerry Society as a “self styled reform agency.” Billboard, 26 March 1921, P23. Via Lantern Digital Media Library|
|↑18||Motion Picture Studio Directories 1919-1921, P249 Via Ancestry.com|
|↑19||The Sun (New York) 13 Oct 1917, P5 via newspapers.com|
|↑20||New-York Tribune, Oct 6, 1918 · P36, via newspapers.com|
|↑21||The Internet Broadway Database reports it ran from September 1918 to June 1919|
|↑22||Ada Patterson, Theatre Magazine, Vol 27-28, 1918, P350 via The Hathi Trust|
|↑23||The Billboard, 9 Nov 1918, P17, via Lantern Digital Media Library|
|↑24||The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York) 6 Sep 1918, P6 via newspapers.com|
|↑25||ie – a husband AND the stage. Ada Patterson, Theatre Magazine Vol 27-28, 1918. P350 via The Hathi Trust|
|↑26||The Galena Evening Times, (Kansas)10 May 1921, P4 via newspapers.com|
18 Dec 1921, P45, via newspapers.com
|↑28||The Courier News (New Jersey) 2 Dec 1937, P18, via newspaper.com|
|↑29||Via Ancestry.com – US School Yearbooks 1900-2016 . The scan has been edited slightly to maintain the page title|
|↑30||The Courier News (New Jersey) 23 Nov 1942, P9 via newspapers.com|
|↑31||Cullen, Hackman and McNeilly 2007 P436|
|↑32||The Green Book Magazine Vol 20, 1918, P968 via the HathiTrust Digital Library|
One thought on “Baby Lorna Volare (1911-1998) – the child actor from Benalla”
Fabulous research and presentation of Lorna’s story. Thanks!