By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
In addition to his life on-screen, starring in nearly 100 silent films, Richard Rosson also had a life in Pacific Palisades on Amalfi Drive.
Rosson was born in 1893 in New York, and, at the age of 60, the silent film actor died inside his garage in The Riviera.
But before his demise, the wavy-haired and chiseled-looking Rosson spent nearly all of his life earning a buck in the world of Hollywood.
In 1911, Rosson was in his late teens when he began his acting career in the moving pictures of the silent era. He initially worked with comic actor legend John Bunny in the short film “Selecting His Heiress.”
Rosson quickly picked up some credited parts in films such as “The Pretty Sister of Jose” (1915) and the 1918 film “The Ghost Flower.”
Rosson’s movie life was an all-in-the-family affair—his older brother was director Arthur, his younger sister was the beautiful actress Helene and his younger brother Harold got into the act, establishing himself as a noted cinematographer.
By the early 1920s, Rosson’s acting credits were behind him. He last had acted in the 1922 film “Always the Woman.”
Trying to establish himself now as a film director, Rosson got a lucky break in 1926. The silent comic film “Fine Manners,” starring Gloria Swanson and Eugene O’Brien, was initially being directed Lewis Milestone.
While making the film, Swanson and Milestone had a dispute of some sort. The end result was Milestone walking off the set. The production company for the film, Famous Players-Lasky, then turned to Rosson to complete the film as its director.
“Fine Manners” was a success, propelling Rosson’s directorial career forward in a huge way. Famous Players-Lasky signed Rosson to a long-term contract.
As a director, Rosson kept busy through the last part of the silent film era. In the sound era, he co-directed the 1932 film version of “Scarface” with Howard Hawks, starring Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak.
Rosson worked through the Depression era of the 1930s, leading up to his arrest just before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Rosson, now married to silent film actress and model Vera Sisson was arrested with his wife in Vienna, Austria. The couple was charged with espionage by the Gestapo.
After being held in solitary confinement for over a month for allegedly filming military hardware, they were freed.
After this event, Rosson continued his directing career. He also did location-second unit directing for MGM Studios on such films as Victor Fleming’s “Captains Courageous” (1937) and Mervyn LeRoy’s “Quo Vadis” (1951).
In 1952, while doing location filming in South Africa for the John Ford-directed film “Mogambo,” Rosson caught a fever of unknown origin. The mystery illness caused his health to massively decline. The director would never recover.
Rosson’s home in The Riviera on Amalfi Drive would be where the director tried to recover from the pain this monstrous illness was causing him.
On May 31, 1953, Rosson would direct his own life’s ending. He died inside his parked car at home of carbon monoxide poisoning.
On that fateful May day, Rosson had left a note for his wife. It read, “I cannot bear to go on. I love you very much.”
Rosson’s wife’s passing, just over a year later in 1954, was no prettier than his own ending: Sisson died in Carmel from a barbiturate overdose.
Michael Oldham, author of the novel “The Valentino Formula,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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