Beryl Mercer, a Bright and Shinning Star; from Bad Boys to Loving Mothers

Beryl Mercer

Beryl Mercer


Beryl Mercer was born in Seville, Spain on August 13, 1882 (her family moved to England when she was two[1]), to Edward Sheppard Mercer (a diplomat attached to the Spanish Embassy in London, in the 1880’s) and Beryl Effie Martin Montague-Mercer (a concert singer in England, leading lady of the Bancroft Robertson productions).[2] The couple met at an embassy ball and not long after were married, moving to Seville, Spain.[3] Beryl Mercer truly was the embodiment of the words, Star of Stage and Screen, offering her talents to audiences worldwide.


Mother Beryl

With more than fifty credits before the cameras, Mercer was considered the “grand old lady of the screen.”[4] This moniker which she was labeled with by 1932 (along with Marie Dressler and May Robson), I am sure it was more about her ability to bring sincerity and sympathy to her roles than the number of films she appeared in. Mercer made her name playing motherly, mother or grandmother characters, once cited as holding the screen record for portraying the character of mother the most, surpassing other matrons of the movies, Mary Carr, Edythe Chapman and Lydia Knott.[5] Here are some of Beryl’s brightest, glistening roles: All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930, The Public Enemy, 1931, The Devil’s Lottery, 1932, No Greater Love, 1932, Berkeley Square, 1933, Jane Eyre, 1934 and The Little Princess in 1939.

The New Movie Magazine May 1932

The New Movie Magazine May 1932

Kingsport_Times_ KIngsport, Tennessee Sun__Oct_2__1932_

Kingsport Times, Kingsport, Tennessee, October 2, 1932

Beryl Mercer and Edith Fellowes Picture Play Magazine September 1934

Beryl Mercer and Edith Fellowes, from Jane Eyre, Picture Play Magazine September 1934

Beryl Mercer, The Little Princess

Beryl Mercer, The Little Princess


Beryl in Britain Part One:

Beryl Mercer made her stage debut at the age of four in the production of, East Lynne, in Great Yarmouth at the Theatre Royal on August 14, 1886.[6] Her mother was the star of the show and when the child that had been appearing as Willie Carlyle, took ill, little Beryl stepped in to the role. Her parents, concerned that she would be a child prodigy sent her to Jersey College in the Channel Islands. But the isolation did not achieve the results the Mercers wanted and at ten years old Beryl began her pursuit of a career on stage in earnest.

Mercer toured in Love’s Battle, Hand in Hand and The Shadow Hand, in 1892-93. By her eleventh year she had created the part of Shakespeare Jarvis in, The Lights o’ London; she experienced immediate success and became the most popular impersonator of roles written for boys in London and the provinces. She portrayed Micah Dow and in, The Little Minister and the original, Dick, in, The Scarlet Sin. For her first appearance on the London stage, Mercer portrayed Wally, in, The Two Little Vagabonds on October 4, 1896, at the Princess’s Theatre. These productions covered a period of five years which ushered Mercer into more mature roles; Herbert Tree hired her for the role of, It, the Shadow, in The Darling of the Gods. She followed that with, A Midsummer Night’s dream, produced by Oscar Asche, taking on the role of the sprite, Puck.[7]


In America Part One:

Mercer made her American stage debut on October 14, 1906 at the Garrick Theatre, in Chicago in, The Shulamite. Ms. Mercer made her initial bow on Broadway on Monday, October 29, 1906, at the Lyric Theatre,[8] as Memke (reprising the same from Chicago). The Shulamite ended its New York run on Saturday, November 17, 1906.[9] She also appeared in the original British production, at the Savoy Theatre, in London in May of the same year.[10] For several years Mercer lived in South Africa where she learned the Kaffir tongue, which she used for her role in The Shulamite.[11] Lena Ashwell the star of, The Shulamite was scheduled for an American tour, and did a revival of, Mrs. Dane’s Defense, and also played in, The Undercurrent in Chicago, but she became ill and her tour was prematurely shortened and so ending Ms. Mercer’s American debut.[12] Beryl Mercer did appear in Mrs. Dane’s Defense, in Chicago;[13] the production began on January 7 and finished on Saturday, January 12, 1907.[14] Ms. Mercer did not have a part in the New York version of Dane’s Defense which was staged in December of 1906.[15] As to whether Mercer had a role in, The Undercurrent or The Wooing of Eve, in Chicago is unclear. The Shulamite was restaged in Chicago for a Windy City week, January 14 through January 21, 1907; we will assume that Mercer revised her role for that production.[16]


Chicago Daily Tribune, October 14, 1906


New York Times, October 28, 1906


Chicago Daily Tribune, January 8, 1907


Beryl Back; Beryl in Britain Part Two:

Upon Mercer’s return to England she signed a three year contract with Lena Ashwell, and made-hay in, Diana of Dobson’s and The Likes o’ Me; following this up with, Their Point of View and In My Lady’s Dress. Other of her roles in her second stint in Great Britain was, Mother o’ Pearl, Acid Drops and a revival of, Two Little Vagabonds; in 1910 she played Pedro in, Don César de Bazan. Along with these plays Mercer had a goodly amount of sketches she played with the likes of Cyril Maude and George Barrett in variety shows for the music hall crowds.[17]

The English Illustrated Magazine 1908


Beryl in the USA, in America Part Two:

In May of 1916 Mercer was reintroduced to Broadway at the Maxine Elliott Theatre, in A Lady’s Name; then came other great performances in, Somebody’s Luggage, The Lodger, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, Out There, Humpty Dumpty, Dark Rosaleen and Three Live Ghosts, in 1920. The Ever Green Lady, followed in 1922, then an unsuccessful staging, named, The ‘49ers. Late in 1923, Mercer portrayed Alexandrina Victoria the Queen, in Queen Victoria, a role she was born for. Quarantine, A Bit of Love, Fool’s Bells took up 1925. A revival of Pygmalion, an original play, Right You Are if You Think You Are and Brass Buttons were all seen in 1927, her last year on stage.[18]


The Theatre Magazine, 1917

The Theatre Magazine, April, 1917


New York Times, January 21, 1917


All the Beryl’s in a Row:

Beryl Mercer was a private person, a woman of many interests, all sports caught her attention, but boating and photography in particular vied for her leisure time; she was a collector of curios, and her assortment of whatnots was considered rare from her years of travel while on the stage.[19] Reportedly, Mercer could speak nine languages,[20] which made her all the more indispensible.

Beryl Mercer married Maitland Sabine-Pasley on September 14, 1896. Here lies a problem. By all reports including government documents, Mercer married for the first time when she was twenty, but in 1896 she would have been but fourteen, if that was her true age. This birth-date of 1882 may have been her stage-age, once she began to mature; there are a couple of sources that list her birthday as 1876 which would match the statements in official documents with regards to her first-marriage age of twenty. Her age seemed a floating conundrum, changed at will and fancy. In a passage from Liverpool, England in 1913 she is listed as thirty-one (1882 birth); again, arriving from Liverpool, in 1915, she is but twenty-eight (1887 birth).

Ms. Mercer divorced her first husband, Maitland Sabrina- Pasley prior to the summer of 1909. Beryl Sabine-Pasley-Mercer then tied the knot on June 1, 1909, with Horace Edward Herbert (birth name, Jenner); the couple saw the stork arrive with daughter Joan in 1917.

Beryl Mercer toured with the popular show, Out There, for the Red Cross, in Belgium and received a medal, the Queen Alexandra’s Decoration, for entertaining British troops during WW1.[21] Mercer divorced her husband Holmes Herbert by 1925;[22] it is important to understand that the marriage of Herbert and Mercer was kept very quiet, and in fact it was more than a year after Herbert had remarried that it was found out Mercer was his former wife.[23] Mother and daughter Joan moved to Los Angeles in 1928; Mercer happy to finally provide a stable home environment for Joan after so many years of hotels, trains and living out of suitcases.[24]

It is interesting to mark that in the standard obituary for Ms. Mercer at her passing on July 28, 1939, she was listed as making her film-debut in 1929, often citing, Three Live Ghosts, as her first film, which was her second movie of 1929, after Mother’s Boy;[25] 1929 is of course the first year of her appearances in talkies but that left her silent films off of her work-history. Yes, even the Hollywood trade magazine, Motion Picture Herald got her debut film and year incorrect, again listing, Three Live Ghosts and 1929 as her entrance into celluloid history.[26] The entertainment insider newspaper, Variety reported her first year in films as 1929 and made mention of Mother’s Boy being her initial turn.[27] With the aforesaid stated, much confusion over Mercer’s film beginnings had already been printed a half-a-decade before her death, when, Three Live Ghosts, from 1929 is listed as her cinema first.[28]


Hidden Beryl Gems:

By July of 1931 Mercer had made, according to modern sources, nineteen movies, yet a report from 1931 claimed she had appeared in thirty films;[29] I hope to add a few of those lost titles back to her résumé.  Mercer had appeared in four films prior to Broken Chains, which was released in 1922. The first was, The Shulamite, better known as, The Folly of Desire, directed by George Loane Tucker in 1915. Yet, we have only one film by modern records for her during that period and that was, The Final Curtain that opened in early 1916. According to one report the first three movies that Mercer acted in were produced in London.[30] So, it appears that previously to, Broken Chains that Ms. Mercer had acted in four films, two of which remain unknown; she herself was not privy to the release titles of the other London projects.

April of 1924 saw Mercer grace the silver screen again in, The Guest; a short subject directed by William Nigh (Nighsmith Pictures, Inc.) at the Whitman Bennett Studio in Yonkers, New York. The editing and the titles had been finished in March and the film co-starred, Leslie Stowe and Fred C. Jones and a number of Russian actors who went unnamed.[31] The film was a story of a near tragedy following the introduction of Jazz into a remote village of Little Russia.[32]

In the 1931 release, Always Goodbye, starring Elissa Landi, Lewis Stone, Paul Cavanagh and John Garrick, Beryl Mercer is left off of modern cast-lists; although in contemporary reviews she had the role of the garrulous landlady, granted it was most likely overlooked because it was a one scene performance.[33]

Motion Picture News May 2, 1931

Motion Picture News, May 2, 1931


Shiner_Gazette_Shiner, Texas Aug_13__1931_

Shiner Gazette, Shiner, Texas, August 13, 1931


Beryl Bits:

In what was her most iconic portrayal of a mother, Beryl Mercer was not the first choice; Zasu Pitts was chosen for the part of Paul’s mother in, All Quite on the Western Front. Filming was completed and a public preview was given, the audience did what a preview audience should never do; they laughed at the wrong time, and did not see Pitts in the role. Mercer was brought in, fresh off her work in, Seven Days Leave, where she had played mother to Gary Cooper, and the retakes commenced and history was made.[34]

Ms. Mercer along with millions of Southern Californians and hundreds of thousands of Los Angelenos endured the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that had its epicenter offshore, southeast of Long Beach, on March 10, 1933. In addition, there were thirty-five aftershocks from Friday evening March 10, through Sunday morning, March 12. Damage to buildings throughout Southern California was widespread, with an estimated fifty million dollars in property damage and one-hundred-thirty lives were lost that day. Approximately five-thousand were made homeless, with more than four-thousand persons injured. The greatest destruction was seen from about twenty miles from Huntington Park and ending just south of the downtown Los Angeles business section, and to the shore at Long Beach, but the quake extended from San Diego to Santa Barbara, around a two-hundred south to north swath and some thirty miles inland. Numerous fires were seen following the earthquake; most people that were killed in the quake were adults, with the majority dying from collapsing sidewalks, falling bricks and decorative structure on building facades.  Mercer, her daughter Joan and their home survived without harm.[35]


By C. S. Williams


[1] Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) April 7, 1930

[2] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) July 16, 1922

[3] New York Times (New York, New York) June 24, 1917

[4] Montana Butte Standard (Butte, Montana) May 9, 1932

Corsicana Daily Sun (Corsicana, Texas) June 24, 1932

Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania) June 24, 1932

[5] New Movie Magazine, March, 1932

[6] Who’s Who in the Theatre, compiled and edited by John Parker, Boston, Small, Maynard & Company, Publishers,


[7] New York Times (New York, New York) June 24, 1917

[8] New York Times (New York, New York) October 28, 1906

[9] New York Times (New York, New York) November 17, 1906

[10] New York Clipper (New York, New York) November 3, 1906

[11] The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) November 18, 1906

[12] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) January 29, 1907

[13] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) January 8, 1907

[14] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) January 13, 1907

[15] New York Times (New York, New York) November 17, 1906

[16] Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) January 15; 20, 1907

[17] The Times (London, Greater London, England) April 8, 1912

The Times (London, Greater London, England) April 11, 1914

New York Times (New York, New York) June 24, 1917

[18] Who’s Who in the Theatre, compiled and edited by John Parker, Boston, Small, Maynard & Company, Publishers,


New York Times (New York, New York) June 24, 1917

Internet Broadway Data Base

[19] Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) October 24, 1932

[20] Who’s Who in the Theatre, compiled and edited by John Parker, Boston, Small, Maynard & Company publishers,


The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) November 18, 1906

[21] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) July 16, 1922

News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) June 19, 1929

Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) June 2, 1930

[22] Naturalization Declaration of Intention, Horace Edward Herbert, January, 1926

News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) June 19, 1929

Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) April 28, 1930

US Federal Census, July 10, 1930

[23] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) September 20, 1934

[24] Times Herald (Olean, New York) November 15, 1929

[25] Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) July 29, 1939

Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania) July 29, 1939

Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) July 29, 1939

Arizona Independent Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) July 29, 1939

Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) July 29, 1939

Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) July 29, 1939

Circleville Herald (Circleville, Ohio) July 29, 1939

The Times (Hammond, Indiana) July 30, 1939

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) July 29, 1939

Manitowoc Herald-Times (Manitowoc, Wisconsin) August 2, 1939

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) July 29, 1939

[26] Motion Picture Herald, August 5, 1939

[27] Variety, August 2, 1939

[28] Silver Screen, June, 1934

[29] Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) July 26, 1931

[30] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) July 16, 1922

[31] Exhibitors Herald, March 22, 1924

[32] Exhibitors Herald, March 22, 1924

[33] Motion Picture Herald, April 25, 1931

Screenland, August, 1931

[34] Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) July 10, 1932

[35] Montana Butte Standard (Butte, Montana) March 11, 1933

Salt Lake City Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) March 11, 1933

Florence Morning News (Florence, South Carolina) March 12, 1933

Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Montana) March 15, 1933

Sikeston Standard (Sikeston, Missouri) March 14, 1933


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s