In 1923, Lina Baskette and her mother traveled across the country by train to New York City, so that the girl could audition for John Murray Anderson. Anderson urged her to change the spelling of her surname from “Baskette” to “Basquette”. Producer Charles Dillingham changed the spelling of her first name from “Lena” to “Lina” saying, “Lena is a cook, Lina is an artiste.” Before she could sign with Anderson, Florenz Ziegfeld cast the 16-year-old Basquette in his Ziegfeld Follies and cast her as a featured dancer. The Follies producers officially dubbed her “America’s Prima Ballerina.” The girl gained notice from Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who wanted to mentor her in classical ballet. Her mother Gladys Baskette decided that a career as a ballerina would not yield enough money and turned down Pavolva’s offer. Basquette later said, “I dreamed of being in a ballet company and it broke my heart.”
By 1925, at age 18 Lina Basquette was appearing in two concurrent Ziegfeld productions. She was spotted in Louie the 14th by Sam Warner, film producer and co-founder of Warner Bros. studio. Warner instantly fell in love with her and proposed marriage. Basquette did not want to marry him, as he was considerably older than she. Her mother insisted that Basquette accept Warner’s proposal, believing that the producer was wealthy (at the time, Warner Bros. was losing money). Basquette and Warner were married in July 1925. After the marriage, Basquette grew to love and respect Warner; the couple had a daughter, Lita, in 1926. Warner died suddenly on October 5, 1927, the day before the opening of the highly anticipated Warner Bros. film, The Jazz Singer, which he had been working on tirelessly. Basquette was devastated by his death. She spent years battling Warner’s family over money and custody of the couple’s daughter.
Lina Basquette returned to work in 1928, appearing in four films. That year, she was named one of thirteen WAMPAS Baby Stars. The following year, she appeared in The Younger Generation, directed by Frank Capra. In 1929, she starred in the partial-sound film, The Godless Girl, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. This is the role for which she is best known. Basquette plays the title character Judith, who is based on Queen Silver, a child prodigy who early made speeches as a Socialist activist. Judith is the leader of a high school atheist society; she forces members to renounce The Bible while placing a hand on the head of a live monkey. In the film’s climactic scene, DeMille insisted on realism while filming the reformatory going up in flames. During the filming, Basquette’s eyelashes and eyebrows were burned. The Godless Girl was not a box office success in the United States, but it did well in Austria and Germany. Basquette later recalled that she received a fan letter from Adolf Hitler (before he achieved his political power) saying that she was his favorite movie star.
After appearing in The Godless Girl, Lina Basquette found her popularity declining and she was offered fewer film roles. She was unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood due to her legal battles with the Warner family, which was trying to take custody of her daughter with Sam Warner in order to rear her as Jewish, and challenged settlement of his estate. She made a successful transition to sound films and appeared in some Western films in the 1930s. In January 1937, Basquette was offered a contract with the Universum Film AG studio in Germany, after the Nazi Party had taken power. After arriving in Germany, she was driven to Berchtesgaden, where she met Führer Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and Joseph Goebbels. She later claimed that Hitler made a pass at her, and she kicked him in the groin. When he persisted, Basquette told him that her maternal grandfather was Jewish. She left Germany the following day. As her career in films continued to decline, Basquette returned to dancing. She performed in nightclubs and on the vaudeville circuit. In 1939, Basquette and her fifth husband, English actor Henry Mollison, appeared on stage together in Idiot’s Delight, which toured in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. After appearing in 1943’s A Night for Crime, Basquette retired from films.
On August 9, 1943, Lina Basquette was raped and robbed in Burbank, California, after she gave a ride to 22-year-old Army Private George Paul Rimke. Basquette later testified that after she picked up the soldier, he forced her into the backseat and raped her. Rimke denied the charges but was found guilty on August 26, 1943 and sentenced to life in prison. In 1947, Basquette used money from a trust fund left to her by her first husband, Sam Warner, and purchased a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1950, she and her sixth husband Warner Gilmore opened Honey Hollow Kennels; they began breeding and showing Great Danes. Basquette went on to become the single biggest winner of Great Dane breed shows and was known as a noted dog breeder. She also wrote several books on the subject of dog breeding. She retired from dog handling in 1983. Basquette moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, after her retirement. She continued to judge dog shows for the American Kennel Club and also wrote a monthly column for Kennel Review. Renewed interest in Lina Basquette’s films was sparked after a profile of her was published in 1989 in The New Yorker. Her films were screened in Washington, DC at the National Gallery of Art and at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles. Lina Basquette published her autobiography, Lina: DeMille’s Godless Girl, in 1991. That same year she was cast in her first film in 48 years, an independent production titled Paradise Park. She played a grandmother who dreamed God was coming to grant a wish to residents of an Appalachian trailer park. The film also stars Porter Wagoner and Johnny Paycheck. It was her final film role. On September 30, 1994, Lina Basquette died of lymphoma at her home in Wheeling, West Virginia, at the age of 87. She was survived by her half-sister Marge Champion, two children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
- April, 19, 1907
- San Mateo, California
- September, 09, 1994
- Wheeling, West Virginia
Cause of Death