Alfred Paget, born on June 2, 1879, in England, left an indelible mark on the silent film era with his versatile acting career.
Best known for his compelling portrayal of Prince Belshazzar in D.W. Griffith’s monumental 1916 historical epic “ Intolerance,” Paget’s cinematic journey was as remarkable as the characters he brought to life on the silver screen.
Before his foray into the world of film, Paget’s early years were marked by a different kind of stage – that of military service. From 1899 to 1903, he served in the prestigious Royal Horse Guards of the British Army, a period that included his deployment to South Africa during the Second Boer War. His dedication and valor during this time earned him the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State, and Transvaal.
Transitioning from military service to the allure of the silver screen, Paget entered the burgeoning film industry in the early 20th century. His cinematic debut marked the beginning of a prolific career that would see him participate in over 230 films between 1908 and 1918.
One of Paget’s notable contributions to cinema came in 1912 when he played the role of the Rival Gang Leader in “ The Musketeers of Pig Alley.” This early appearance showcased his ability to portray complex characters, setting the stage for the diverse roles he would undertake in the years to come.
However, it was in D.W. Griffith’s “ Intolerance” that Paget would truly shine. Released in 1916, this epic film weaved together four parallel historical narratives, exploring themes of love, injustice, and societal conflicts across different time periods. Paget’s portrayal of Prince Belshazzar, a character in the Babylonian segment of the film, added depth and intensity to the historical tapestry Griffith aimed to create.
“ Intolerance” is celebrated not only for its ambitious storytelling but also for its groundbreaking cinematic techniques. Paget’s presence in this cinematic spectacle attests to his ability to adapt to and contribute meaningfully to the evolving language of film.
Despite his success in the film industry, Paget’s life took an unexpected turn. In the summer of 1919, he contracted a form of malarial fever. This ailment, likely a consequence of his military service, would ultimately lead to his untimely demise. Paget passed away on October 8, 1919, in Winnipeg, Canada, where he had traveled in April 1918 and enrolled in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
His service in Canada saw him assigned to the 34th Fort Garry Horse Depot Squadron in Winnipeg as an instructor, a role that reflected the respect he garnered due to his prior military experience. His quick promotion to the rank of Sergeant demonstrated not only his leadership qualities but also the seamless transition of skills from his military service to his new role.
Alfred Paget found his final resting place in the Field Of Honour in Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg. His legacy, however, lives on through the films he contributed to during the silent era, notably his impactful role in “ Intolerance.” Beyond the characters he portrayed, Paget’s journey from military service to the cinematic stage remains a testament to the multidimensional nature of individuals who contributed to the early years of filmmaking.