Jack Brammall, Forgotten Man of Stage and Screen

Jack Brammall

Jack Brammall

John George Gardner Brammell or Bramall (records differ, which was the family-name then is unclear, since he used each variation), was born in Rochdale (a suburb of Manchester, about thirteen-miles to the northwest), England, on October 15, 1879 to George and Ellen; he arrived in the United States in 1902. In 1907 at the age of twenty-seven he married Ruby Leona Ross, on September 25; they would have a daughter, Leona (Lee), in October of 1908. Brammell was a man of medium height at 5’7,” quite slender weighing only 135-pounds, blonde hair and grayish-blue eyes; this afforded him the opportunity to play juvenile roles well into his late thirties. Brammell used different spellings throughout his career: Bramall, Bramhall, Brammail and the most popular being Brammall; Jack, John, J. G. and John G. were often seen before his family name. In the very early days he was also referred to as George, but never professionally as Gardner. There is no preface for Brammall in regards to acting; what he did before stage and film, what his training was we may never know the answers to these questions.

Brammall Before Film:

Jack Brammall and Ruby Ross were both members of the Trahern Stock Company of New York, in 1907, they became acquainted, then married; Al Trahern, founder and leader of the group was referred to by friends as “Cupid” because of the abundant members of his company who married one another.[1] The Trahern Company presentations were unique in that Trahern had bought and leased theaters on Long Island, NY, in Bay Shore, Patchogue, Riverhead, Greenport, Sayville and Freeport; each week, each town, saw the troupe perform an up-to-date play.[2] This was accomplished by the touring (albeit a short distance, yet none the less a daunting undertaking) company using a Long Island Railroad car to transport the players, costumes, props and orchestra. Although the six aforementioned municipalities were the main focus of Trahern, yet the acting group did make visits to other communities, including Sag Harbor and Cutchogue, which are also on Long Island. When not on Long Island the Trahern Stock Company was performing at the Camden Theater, in Camden, New Jersey, returning to Long Island in the spring.[3]

One might tend to think that these were humble beginnings for Mr. Brammall who would one day be a silver-screen-star, but, Al Trahern, proprietor and manager of the stock company that bared his name, was a man of some note in the area, controlling six theaters, investing in a significant amount of real estate, while being a member of the Board of Trade of Suffolk County, as well as serving on several of the civic organizations in the towns where his actors troupe were housed. Mr. Trahern was the only theatrical manager who successfully catered to Long Island audiences for any considerable length of time. He and his group, sans the Brammalls, would move on to larger pastures, in Nashville, Tennessee, finally moving to southern California in 1920, setting up a string of seven smaller cities for his regional troupe.[4] Trahern used a similar system in California as he had on Long Island, except instead of a train car he used a bus and trailer for transporting the company and the accouterments of actors and staging.[5]

Leaving the Trahern Company proved profitable for Mr. Brammall and quickly gaining him attention. The first notable part for Brammall was, Ingomar, which was staged as a special event for the benefit of the Lincoln Memorial Hall on Thursday, December 30, 1909; Mr. Brammall was seen with soon to be silent film super-star, William Farnum and a company of seventy-five for this exclusive showing.[6] Winter of 1910, found Brammall portraying Crawley, in, Springtime; William Harrigan and Mabel Taliaferro who had also been in the, Ingomar, benefit-showing, were again with Brammall in this production, in Washington, D. C., at the Columbia Theatre, on February 1.[7]

Brammall’s first role on the Great White Way was, The Call of the Cricket, 1910; this was at the Belasco Theatre, premiering on April 19 of ’10. Cricket had much more success prior to Broadway, playing well in Chicago, Indianapolis, Knoxville and Atlanta.[8] The Broadway run of Cricket was cut short either by the sudden illness of its star (Tuesday, May 3), Mabel Taliaferro or by the drubbing that the play took from the critics. The harsh tones of the reviews for Cricket did not include Ms. Taliaferro, whose performance was considered to be pleasing and that her acting carried the production;[9] the play closed after the showings on Saturday, May 7, 1910, having given just twenty-five performances.[10]

During this time proved a boost for Ruby Ross Brammall, who joined the Professional Woman’s League, along with her mother, Leona and her younger sister, Helen Ross, who can be seen in the rear seats of this 1910 Alco.[11]

Brooklyn_Life_Sat__May_7__1910_

Brooklyn Life, May 7, 1910

 

In the 1910-1911 season, Mr. and Mrs. Brammall appeared in support of Lillian Russell, in her starring vehicle, In Search of a Sinner, which toured the medium to large markets in the U.S…[12] Ruby Ross and husband Jack Brammall came to the Lillian Russell play, In Search of a Sinner, by favoritism, resulting from nepotism; Ruby was the niece (on her mother’s side) of Helen Leonard, better known as, Lillian Russell.[13] That is not to say that Ross and Brammall were not deserving of the opportunities afforded them by Russell, for they had put in three years with the Trahern Company, just that the relation with Russell was a leg-up for the young couple.

Brammall On Celluloid:

Brammall got his film debut in the Majestic Motion Picture Company film: The Lighted Candle, which was released in March of 1912. Mr. Brammall made an additional five short films for Majestic in 1912 and The Old Mam’selle’s Secret for Reliance Film Company, released in late ’12. The Kinemacolor Company of America hired director David Miles (also of Majestic who directed Brammall more often than not), was appointed by Kinemacolor to establish two companies in the west at Hollywood in the Kinemacolor Studios and the third he was keen to be in control of, being that this group would film at the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, other areas of Arizona and north to south and east to west of California. Jack Brammall was a member of the cast of actors who worked with Miles[14] on three color films; this company left for the west about the first of October, 1912.[15]  The shorts that Brammall was involved in were: Parson Jim’s Baby, Too Many Maids and, The Major’s Story; each of these saw openings in 1913.  This trip west for Brammall was a family affair, for his wife Ruby (using her maiden name) was in the company of Kinemacolor actors and their daughter, Leona was one of the, K. K.’s, Kinemacolor Kids;[16] Leona Brammall was just three on this colorful film-making trip. One of the roles that Little Leona played was the part of Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne, in the Kinemacolor production of, The Scarlet Letter, 1913.[17]   The Brammall family found themselves without work in Los Angeles when Kinemacolor folded operations in June of 1913 and the Brammalls headed east for employment.[18]

He appeared in numerous shorts from 1912 through 1915, but Mr. Brammall’s interest still lay on the stage. In 1915, he joined with the Bramhall Players, (1915-1918) a theater troupe housed in the Bramhall Playhouse located at 138 E. 27th Street (the corner of Lexington Ave. & 27th Street[19]), in New York. Brammall was appointed to the position of producer with the Bramhall Players, and he would oversee nine plays,[20] all at the Bramhall Playhouse.

With forty films under his belt, Brammall’s best known roles were in, The Wolf Man, 1914; The Stronger Man and The Bankhurst Victory, 1915,  The Missing Links, 1916, The Master Man, 1919, Terror Island, 1920 and The Cheater Reformed, 1921. Brammall was often first billed or within the first four or five names of the actors’ credits; mentioned often in film announcements, and any reviews of his work were almost always positive. During Brammall’s tenure in film, he worked with two soon to be notable names in Hollywood: James Cruze and Tod Browning. He also acted under the direction of durable journeymen: James P. Hogan, William K. Howard, Scott R. Dunlap, Robert Thornby and Henry King. Brammall co-starred with some of the leading-leading-ladies of Tinsel-Town, Lillian Gish, Irene Hunt, Ethel Clayton, Lila Lee and Mae Marsh. And Brammall appeared with some the finest actors of the fledgling celluloid industry: Robert Harron, Allan Sears, F. A. Turner, Johnnie Walker and William Russell.

Reel Life, The Wolf-Man, August 28, 1915

Reel Life, The Wolf-Man, August 28, 1915

Reel Life, Brammell playing the other-man September 4, 1915

Reel Life, Brammell playing the other-man September 4, 1915

 

Brammall Pettifogged:

In the Majestic Motion Picture Company, one-reeler, The Silent Call, Internet Movie Data Base has Herbert Prior as the, Hotel Clerk, and Brammall as the Traveling Salesman, yet the Motion Picture Story Magazine, reported in consecutive editions (August and September, 1912) that Mr. Prior was the traveling man or drummer, Brammall the clerk and Miss Mabel Trunnelle the switchboard girl, in this drama depicting the trials of a telephone operator in a large hotel and the important part the switchboard plays to the enterprise.[21]

Brammall After Film:

After Brammall’s stint in film, he reverted to stage work and eventually became a stage director in New York, but prior to that leg of credits he had roles before the footlights…

The Ramsey Wallace, 1927 production of, Secret Service Smith, which saw performances in Stamford, CT, Mamaroneck, NY, and Boston, prior to a planned Labor Day opening in New York City, had Brammall in a supporting role.[22] What happened between Boston and Broadway with Secret Service Smith is a mystery, with no opening in Manhattan. Secret Service Smith was written by Lincoln Osborn, adapted from, The Black Magician, one of the Secret Service Smith detective stories by Major R. T. M. Scott.[23] In late 1929, Brammall appeared in, Thunder in the Air, on Broadway, although the play had a short run and it would be another three-and-a-half-years (early 1933) before he would once again tread the boards on the Great White Way.

His next work beginning in March of 1933 was in Young Sinners, then, June Moon, which ran a month, in May and June of ’33; he also appeared in No More Ladies, in both the January to June 1934 run and in the abbreviated stint in September of ’34. His final work on Broadway was in Living Dangerously, which began on January 12, 1935 and did not see the month out before closing. What other work with the theatre Brammall was associated with from 1930 onward, I can find no trace. His last Federal Census was in 1930, which he listed stage director as his occupation; but what work is the question, since the paper-trail shows he was idle from 1930 through February of 1933? Brammall’s last known address was in Manhattan. There is no record of his death, his ending as enigmatic as his genesis in acting. His wife Ruby Ross, died his widow in 1980; his daughter Leona passed away at the age of 92, just days after her birthday in 2000.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) March 29, 1910

[2] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) August 22, 1908

[3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 25, 1908

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) January 10, 1909

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) March 29, 1910

Peconic Bay Shopper…Preserving North Fork History, November, 2013

[4] Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) December 21, 1920

[5] Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) December 21, 1920

[6] New York Tribune (New York, New York) December 23, 1909

[7] Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia) February 1, 1910

[8] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) February 27, 1910

Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) March 13, 1910

Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) April 10, 1910

Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) March 17, 1910

[9] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 5, 1910

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) May 15, 1910

[10] Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) May 7, 1910

[11] Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) May 7, 1910

Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) July 9, 1910

[12]Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) August 21, 1910

New York Times (New York, New York) September 17, 1910

San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) November 27, 1910

Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) December 25, 1910

Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska) January 8, 1911

Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois) January 14, 1911

Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia) March 5, 1911

Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania) March 16; 20, 1911

Sunday Star (Washington, District of Columbia) April 2, 1911

[13] New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania) October 16, 1907

[14] Moving Picture News, October, 1912

[15] Motography, September 14, 1912

[16] Variety, May 31, 1913

Moving Picture News, October 12, 1912

[17] Lincoln County Leader (Toledo, Oregon) June 19, 1914

[18] Variety, June 13, 1913

[19] El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas) Week-End Edition, April 17-18, 1915

[20] The Importance of Coming and Going (1915), The Depths of Purity (1915), Now and To-morrow (1915),

The Courtship of Then (1915), Keeping Up Appearances (1916-1917), The Silent Assertion (1918),

Difference in Gods (1918) and The Comforts of Ignorance (1918).

[21] Moving Picture World, April 20, 1912

[22] Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) August 6, 1927

[23] Brooklyn Life (Brooklyn, New York) August 6, 1927

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