While Dot (Dorothy) Farley is most often identified as a comedic actress, she also seems to have written and directed films. Anthony Slide notes that Farley asserted in a 1923 Illustrated World article that she both wrote and directed dramas and comedies. He thinks that she may not have worked as a director for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Company. She may have directed and written shorts for another company in the first two decades (Slide 1996, 121). Born in Chicago, Illinois, Dot Farley began her acting career at the age of three, and was reportedly featured in a number of stage productions including an E. A. MacDowell Company production of “Wedding Bells,” appearing as “Chicago’s Little Dot” (Waddell III4). A Los Angeles Times 1924 career overview tells us that she continued to work with a Chicago comic-opera company until her voice failed in 1910, at which time she accepted an offer to star in comedy shorts for the Essanay Company (B26).
Dot Farley. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Farley is perhaps best known as one of the earliest members of Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy troupe, where she developed the trademark facial and bodily distortions that the Atlanta Constitution described as “A Face to Fit Everyone Occasion” (B11). Although she left Keystone after a few years of work, she occasionally returned to play such roles as Ben Turpin’s cross-eyed mother in A Small Town Idol (1921). In 1913, she left the Pathé Company to join the St. Louis Motion Picture Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She then moved to Universal in 1915, where she worked in many Luna Company productions including The Near Capture of Jesse James (1915), playing the role of a girl who, inspired by dime Western novels, puts on men’s clothing to live the life of a bandit. Farley continued to have a reputation for playing adventurous roles well into the late silent period. Newspapers reported on her ability to fool cast members and strangers with her disguises and, testimony to her indefatigability, she returned to work the day after sustaining minor burns while filming Listen Lester (1924) for the Sacramento Picture Company. Although she is most well-known for her comedic work during the silent period, Farley was cast in the sound period, starring in a series of domestic comedies at the Radio Keith Orpheum Company, in Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings (1927), and taking bit parts in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and Preston Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).
Although Dot Farley receives official writing credit for only a handful of films, newspaper reports and fan magazines frequently describe her as a prolific scenario writer. In 1913, A. G. Waddell reported that Farley had written a large portion of the scenarios produced by the St. Louis Company that appeared under the Warner Brothers brand, and, in addition, wrote Western stories for other companies (III4). So widely recognized was Farley as the primary scenario writer of the Albuquerque Film Company that in his 1915 directory for would-be script writers, William Reno Kane proclaimed that venue “essentially closed,” explaining that “experienced scenario writer” Dot Farley “supplies most of the scripts that are used” by the company (230). By 1924, a Los Angeles Times report claimed that Farley had “some 300 produced scenarios” to her credit (A9), and in his study of female directors, Anthony Slide claims Dot Farley “tried her hand at directing” a few years after Mabel Normand directed her first pictures (1996). Though the FIAF Treasures database only shows her as credited for acting, it may be possible that Farley played a more substantial role behind the scenes as writer and conceivably even producer (“Another” A9). Perhaps Dot Farley’s reputation as a strictly comedic actor also prevented her behind-the-camera work from being taken seriously and fully recorded for posterity.
“Actor Saved in Studio Blaze.” Los Angeles Times (29 Jan. 1924): A5.
“Another Scenario.” Los Angeles Times (30 July 1924): A9.
“Big Picture from Albuquerque Company.” Moving Picture World (30 May 1914): 1275.
“Chance Came When She Lost Her Voice.” Los Angeles Times (13 July 1924): B26.
“Dot Farley.” The Atlanta Constitution (23 May 1915): B11.
“Dot Farley to Direct.” Moving Picture World (3 Sept. 1921): 50.
Kane, William R. 1001 Places to Sell Manuscripts. Ridgewood, New Jersey: The Editor Company, 1915.
Powell, P.M. “News Notes.” Moving Picture World (29 March 1913): 1323.
Slide, Anthony. The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Waddell, Ad G. “With the Photoplayers.” Los Angeles Times (7 March 1913): III4.
A. Archival Filmography: Extant Titles:
1. Dot Farley as Actress
The Ranchman's Vengeance. Dir.: Allan Dwan (American Film Manufacturing US 1911) cas.: J. Warren Kerrigan, Pauline Bush, Jack Richardson, Dot Farley, George Periolat, Gilbert P. Hamilton, si, b&w. 35mm. Archive: EYE Filmmuseum.
At the Basket Picnic. Dir.: Dell Henderson (Biograph US 1912) cas.: Eddie Dillion, W. Christy Cabanne, Charles West, Dot Farley, si, b&w. Archive: Museum of Modern Art.
The Acquittal. Dir.: Clarence Brown (Universal Pictures Corp. US 1923) cas.: Claire Windsor, Norman Kerry, Richard Travers, Barbara Bedford, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm, 7 reels; 6523 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
Tea: With a Kick! Dir.: Erle C. Kenton (Victor Halperin Productions US 1923) cas.: Doris May, Creighton Hale, Ralph Lewis, Rosemary Thelby, Stuart Holmes, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 6 reels. Archive: George Eastman Museum.
The Enemy Sex. Dir.: James Cruze (Famous Players-Lasky US 1924) cas.: Betty Compson, Percy Marmont, Sheldon Lewis, Kathlyn Williams, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm, 8 reels; 7,919 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
The Fatal Mistake. Dir.: Scott Dunlap (Perfection Pictures US 1924) cas.: William Fairbanks, Eva Novak, Wilfred Lucas, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm, 5 reels. Archive: Library of Congress.
The Signal Tower. Dir.: Clarence Brown, sc.: James O. Spearing (Universal Pictures US 1924) cas.: Virginia Valli, Rockliffe Fellowes, Wallace Beery, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 16mm, 7 reels; 6,714 ft. Archive: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
So Big (trailer). Dir.: Charles Brabin (First National Pictures, Inc. US 1924) cas.: Colleen Moore, Joseph De Grasse, John Bowers, Ben Lyon, Wallace Beery, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress.
Lure of the Track. Dir.: J.P. McGowan (Charles Makranzy Productions US 1925) cas.: Sheldon Lewis, Maclyn Arbuckle, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm, 5 reels; 4,800 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
The Timid Terror. Dir.: Del Andrews, sc.: Gerald C. Duffy (R-C Pictures US 1926) cas.: George O’Hara, Edith Yorke, Doris Hill, George Nichols, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 5 reels. Archive: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique.
The Shamrock and the Rose. Dir.: Jack Nelson, sc: Isadore Bernstein (Chadwick Pictures Corp. US 1927) cas.: Mack Swain, Olive Hasbrouck, Edmund Burns, Maurice Costello, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm, 6,700 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
Celebrity. Dir.: Tay Garnett, sc.: Tay Garnett, George Dromgold (Pathé Exchange, Inc. US 1928) cas.: Robert Armstrong, Clyde Cook, Lina Basquette, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35 mm, 7 reels; 6,145 ft. Archive: Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art.
Should a Girl Marry? (trailer). Dir.: Scott Pembroke (Trem Carr Productions US 1928) cas.: Helen Foster, Donald Keith, William V. Mong, Andy Clyde, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress.
Foolish Husbands. Dir.: Phil Whitman (Sennett-Pathe Exchange US 1929) cas.: Billy Bevan, Dot Farley, Vernon Dent, si, b&w. Archive: EYE Filmmuseum.
Marquis Preferred. Dir.: Frank Tuttle (Famous Players-Lasky Corp. US 1929) cas.: Adolphe Menjou, Nora Lane, Chester Conklin, Dot Farley, si, b&w, 16 mm, 6 reels; 5,506 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
2. Dot Farley as Actress and Screenwriter
Even Unto Death. Sc.: Dot Farley (Albuquerque Film Co US 1914) cas.: Dot Farley, si, b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive.
Soul Mates. Dir.: Gilbert P. Hamilton, sc.: Dot Farley (Joseph Griggs Productions US 1914) cas.: Dot Farley, si, b&w, 35 mm, 1 reel; 893 ft. Archive: Library of Congress.
B. Filmography: Non-Extant Film Titles:
1. Dot Farley as Actress
The Harem Skirt, 1911; The Peril of the Plains, 1912; A Dollar Did It, 1913; The Hubby’s Job, 1913; The Price of Crime, 1914; Home Talent, 1921; The Enemy Sex, 1924; The Fatal Mistake, 1924; My Son, 1925; Border Intrigue, 1925; Yours to Command, 1927.
2. Dot Farley as Actress and Screenwriter
False Pride Has a Fall, 1914; The Lust of the Red Man, 1914; Aunt Matilda Outwitted, 1915; Buy, Buy Baby!, 1915; Her New Yob, 1915; Louisa’s Battle With Cupid, 1915; Misplaced Twins, 1915; The Near Capture of Jesse James, 1915; She Couldn’t Get Away With It, 1915; Wheeled Into Matrimony, 1915; A Woman’s Way, 1915; Inherited Passions/Are Passions Inherited?, 1916.
D. Streamed Media:
The Ranchman's Vengeance (1911) via the EYE Filmmuseum (Dutch intertitles)
Dot Farley’s credits as a screenwriter are incomplete. According to a news item in Motion Picture World, Farley wrote all of the films that she made for the Albuquerque Film Company as well as Luna Films, a subdivision of Albuquerque. This filmography also has some inconsistencies. Even Unto Death is listed as 1915 in FIAF, but does not list her as writer, while Paul Spher lists the film as 1914, but does list her as author. It is uncertain if Soul Mates is extant as the record on FIAF is incomplete and lists inconsistent information. The Library of Congress online catalog lists Farley as a writer, but her name is followed by a question mark. Matrimony Blues is listed in FIAF as being directed by Lex Neal, while it’s listed as being directed by Benjamin Stoloff in AFI. AFI, but not FIAF, credits Farley for: The Acquittal, Tea:With a Kick!, The Enemy Sex, Listen Lester, The Signal Tower, The Timid Terror, The Shamrock and the Rose, Celebrity, Should a Girl Marry?, and Marquis Preferred. Neither FIAF nor AFI credits Farley for Peeping Pete, but her name is listed in The Braff Silent Short Film Working Papers.
Miller, April. "Dot Farley." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-bqwt-kv92>