Actor Biography

JEWEL CARMEN

Born: 1897, Danville, KY

Died: 1984, San Diego, CA

Notable Films: The Half Breed (1916), American Aristocracy (1916), A Tale of Two Cities (1917), When a Man Sees Red (1917), Les Misérables (1917), The Bat (1926)

Jewel Carmen's short career was dominated by a lengthy contract dispute with William Fox and the Fox Film Corporation. Still a teenager, her career began with shorts for Keystone and Nestor. She joined Fine Arts Company in 1916 and in 1917 she signed with Fox Film Corp and starred in a dozen films. She signed a contract with producer Frank Keeney while still under contract to Fox Film Corp. Although she eventually won a suit and damages against Fox for interfering with her attempts to gain employment, her film career had stalled. After three films in the middle twenties, made with her husband, Roland West, her career was ended.

CAREER

Born Florence Lavini Quick, Jewel Carmen started in films at age 15, appearing first in The Will of Destiny (1912), produced by Georges Méliés' US-based production company. She was billed as "Florence La Vinci", a variation of her birth name. In 1913, she made shorts for Keystone and Nestor, billed with another name variation, "Evelyn Quick".

She signed with the Fine Arts Company in 1916, and her screen name changed from the exotic "Florence La Vinci" and rather dull "Evelyn Quick" to the glamorous, but perhaps more appropriate for a pretty nineteen year old, "Jewel Carmen". Of her seven films for Fine Arts, she had featured roles in four (Flirting With Fate, The Half-Breed, Manhattan Madness and American Aristocracy) with Douglas Fairbanks, the studio's biggest star.

After signing with Fox Film Corporation in July, 1917, Carmen had featured roles in five films starring William Farnum, one of the studio's biggest stars, including "super deluxe" (as advertised by the studio) versions of A Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables.

Late in 1917, she was given her first starring vehicle, The Kingdom of Love. An anonymous reviewer in The Los Angeles Times (December 30, 1917) praised her performance as "an attractive screen conception" and "risen to the possibilities of the remarkable character in a brilliant way". By early 1918, she had made five more starring films.

In mid-1918, despite Fox's efforts to highlight her, Carmen, apparently seeking a higher salary, abruptly severed her connection to the studio. She signed a contract with the newly organized Frank A. Keeney Picture Corporation. Keeney planned to assume management of her films when she reached legal age in July, 1918.

William Fox, the head of the Fox studio, would not acquiesce to the termination of Carmen's contract. He informed Keeney that Carmen had a valid contract with his studio and was not available to appear for any other producer. By November 1918, Keeney had not made a film with Carmen, was not paying her a salary, and had cancelled their contract. Carmen filed a motion in the U.S. District Court of New York asking that William Fox be enjoined from interfering with her attempts to gain employment. This motion was the beginning of a series of suits and appeals between Carmen, William Fox and the Fox Studios that dragged on for almost nine years.

Released from the contract with Keeney, Carmen, who had married director and producer Roland West in late 1918, signed a contract to star for Roland West Productions. Several years passed before their first film, Silver Lining (1921), was released. Two films followed, Nobody (1921) and The Bat (1926), her final film. West, without Carmen, directed three silent films between Nobody and The Bat.

Carmen was not cast in West's talkies, Alibi (1929), The Bat Whispers (1930) and Corsair (1931), all starring Chester Morris. In April 1929, West directed and starred in a radio presentation of Alibi; Carmen played the leading female role, probably her last public performance. At this time, West announced his intention to make a film with Carmen and Chester Morris; the film was never made.

PERSONAL LIFE

Jewel Carmen was born Florence Lavina Quick in Danville, Kentucky, on July 13, 1897. She pursued an acting career from an early age, and her youth, delicacy, and beauty gained her film roles in shorts and a contract with Fine Arts Studios.

Carmen was starring in Fox productions when she derailed her career by leaving Fox and signing with the Frank A. Keeney Picture Corporation. Keeney was a vaudeville manager who planned to produce films. Presumably Carmen changed producers because the contract with Keeney guaranteed a higher yearly salary than Fox Films was paying her, however the Keeney Picture Corporation made only films from 1918 to 1919. William Fox, the head of Fox Films, persuaded Keeney to cancel her contract, and after leaving Fox in early 1918, Carmen was off the screen for three years, before making two films in 1921 and one in 1926.

In late 1918, after Keeney cancelled their contract, Carmen filed suit against Fox for interfering with her ability to find employment. Fox had an agreement to indemnify Keeney for any damages he might suffer if she filed suit. She contended that the contract with Fox was not binding because she was not of legal age (18 in California, but 21 in New York) when she signed it. In July 1919, the U.S. District Court in New York agreed with Carmen, voided the Fox contract, and awarded her damages. Fox won a reversal of the judgment from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November, 1920. Carmen took her case to the New York Supreme Court. In May 1925, a jury returned the verdict that she was not of age when she signed her Fox contract and was free to sign with Keeney or any other producer and awarded damages. In November 1926, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the jury's verdict and denied Fox a motion to appeal. The Court of Appeals rendered a final judgment against Fox Studios in February 1927. After nine years, Carmen had won her case, but her film career had collapsed. Between breaking her contract with Fox Studios and the resolution of her civil suits nine years later, she had made only three films.

In 1918, Carmen married director, writer and producer Roland West. Several times during the twenties, West announced plans to produce films starring Carmen, but they only made three together.

Her name appeared in the newspapers in conjunction with the presidential election of 1920. On August 22, 1920, The New York Times reported on a special visit to Marion, Ohio by the Harding and Coolidge Theatrical League. The League visited presidential candidate Harding, and Al Jolson, President of the League, sang Harding a campaign song he had written for him. Jewel Carmen was among the seventy film and theatrical celebrities participating in this occasion.

Carmen and West had separated by 1930, and West became the business partner and neighbor (in an adjoining apartment) of actress Thelma Todd in a beach café near Malibu, California. Todd starred in West's final film, Corsair (1931). In December 1935, Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage; her car engine was running when she was found. Carmen testified before the grand jury investigating the suspicious death that she had seen Todd and a "dark-appearing" man in Todd's car the evening after Todd was presumed to have died. The District Attorney dismissed the testimony as a case of mistaken identity. The exact circumstances associated with Todd's death were never determined.

After her divorce from West, Carmen lived quietly, basically dropping out of sight. She died in San Diego, California, on March 4, 1984, at age 86. Her death did not even rate an obituary in Variety, which usually mentions the passing of all entertainment personalities.

CAREER CONSIDERATION

Carmen's career had been a succession of featured roles from 1916 with the Fine Arts Company into 1918 with Fox Pictures. After abruptly leaving Fox and attempting to sign with another producer, her film career collapsed. She married producer/director Roland West, signed a contract with him, but made few films.

Carmen was young, beautiful and an experienced actress when she quit Fox Studios. Other producers might have employed her profitably. William Fox's determined efforts to prevent her from voiding her contract may have convinced other producers to not support an actor who attempted to raise her salary by contract jumping.

Her husband, West, had no reservations with signing her and announcing his intention to star her in his films, but West made only ten films (one a year) after their marriage, and Carmen starred in only three of them.

Why did she make so few films after leaving Fox? Did she and West not find suitable projects, or was she losing interest in her career, or were there other factors? There are no answers to these questions. Whatever the reasons, Jewel Carmen's promising career had effectively stalled out at age 21.

REFERENCES

The Los Angeles Times Archive Online

The New York Times Article Archive

Variety Archive

Kindergarten of the Movies: A History of The Fine Arts Company, Anthony Slide, 1980