James Cornelius Kirkwood Sr. (February 22, 1876 – August 24, 1963) was a versatile American actor and director whose career spanned over half a century.
He left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment through his performances, directing, and personal life, which often drew public attention.
Kirkwood’s journey in the world of entertainment commenced in 1909 when he made his debut on the silver screen. His early roles included playing leads in films directed by the legendary D. W. Griffith, setting the stage for his future success as an actor. His ability to captivate audiences and deliver compelling performances quickly earned him recognition in the industry.
As his career progressed, James Kirkwood expanded his horizons by venturing into directing. In 1912, he took on the role of director and began to shape the creative vision of various film projects. His talents behind the camera complemented his acting abilities, making him a well-rounded figure in the world of cinema.
One notable aspect of Kirkwood’s personal life was his rumored affair with the renowned actress Mary Pickford. This rumored relationship added a layer of intrigue to his public persona, as he became a favorite of Pickford during their professional collaborations.
In 1923, James Kirkwood tied the knot with actress Lila Lee. Their union resulted in the birth of their son, James Kirkwood Jr. This second-generation Kirkwood would go on to achieve significant success as a writer, earning both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the iconic musical “A Chorus Line.”
Before his marriage to Lila Lee, Kirkwood had been wed to Gertrude Robinson, with whom he had a child. However, during this marriage, he engaged in an affair with Mary Miles Minter, who was just 15 years old at the time. Their unconventional “marriage” without clergy took place in the countryside near Santa Barbara, California. The relationship eventually came to an end after Minter became pregnant with Kirkwood’s child and underwent an abortion.
Kirkwood’s romantic life continued to evolve as he married actress Beatrice Powers in 1931. The couple had a daughter named Joan Mary Kirkwood. Unfortunately, their marriage ended in divorce in 1934, with Powers citing mental cruelty as the reason for their separation.
In 1940, James Kirkwood embarked on a new chapter in his personal life by marrying Marjorie Davidson (1920–2008). The couple welcomed a son, Terrance Michael Kirkwood, in 1941.
James Kirkwood’s career took an intriguing turn when he was originally chosen by director George Melford to portray the starring role of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in “ The Sheik.” However, this role became famously associated with Rudolph Valentino after Kirkwood passed on it.
Although Kirkwood’s directing career began to wane in 1920, he continued to be a presence in the entertainment industry, both as an actor and director, well into the 1950s. His filmography encompassed more than two hundred films over nearly fifty years, highlighting his enduring impact on the world of cinema.
James Cornelius Kirkwood Sr. passed away at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, leaving behind a rich legacy in the annals of Hollywood history. In the 1909 film “A Corner in Wheat,” he played the role of the farmer, showcasing his early contributions to the world of silent cinema.