He was a famous actor in the early days of Hollywood and the silent movies.
The year is 1882. Joseph and Sarah Coxen are sailing from England to the USA with their only child Edward Albert aged two years. The family, heading to San Francisco are to join Joseph’s brother and his family who had emigrated two years earlier.
Edward Albert or ‘Bertie’ as he was known to his family would become a Hollywood actor with parts in over 150 films and many stage plays including a Broadway play. He would also live through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. When he began his acting career he dropped the name Albert and became Edward, Eddie or Ed Coxen.
The Coxen family settled in San Francisco and Joseph started a business with his brother – ‘Coxen Brothers, Wood and Photo Engravers’. However, they returned to London in 1896 after fourteen years to look after Sarah’s dying sister.
Edward Coxen was 16 years old and determined to return to the USA. He set sail one year later on the SS St Louis from Southampton travelling 3rd class to get back to his uncle’s home in California. In 1900 at the age of 20 he became a naturalised US citizen. For the next six years he completed his education (Berkeley, University of California), went gold prospecting in California and worked in civil engineering.
In early 1906 Edward Coxen (aged 26) spoke his first lines as a professional actor appearing in ‘Who Goes There?’ at the Majestic Theatre, San Francisco. The show opened on the 9th April 1906 but the San Francisco earthquake and fire is only nine days later.
On the morning of April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake shook San Francisco. Though the quake lasted less than a minute, its immediate impact was disastrous. The earthquake ignited several fires around the city that burned for three days and destroyed nearly 500 city blocks.
San Francisco is devastated. The earthquake and fires killed an estimated 3,000 people and left half of the city’s 400,000 residents homeless. Aid poured in from around the country, but those who survived faced weeks of difficulty and hardship.
The survivors slept in tents in city parks, stood in long lines for food, and cooked in the street to reduce the threat of more fires.
‘Who Goes There?’ moved across the Bay to a theatre in Oakland and Edward Coxen resumed his acting career. The Coxen Brothers business and home suffered in the earthquake and the family moved to Los Angeles.
In 1909, as a 29-year-old, Edward Coxen was now an established actor and he played Wallack’s Theatre on Broadway in ‘A Little Brother of the Rich’ that ran for 27 performances. A review in the New York Times included the observation:
‘Isn’t it remarkable,’ inquired a lady of her escort as they left Wallack’s Theatre last night ‘that such a good play could be made out of such a bad book?’
This was the time when Hollywood was the centre of the new and growing motion picture industry and was the place to be for young actors. The demand for one-reeler westerns was insatiable and some studios released these on a one-a-week basis. In 1911 the Santa Monica Studio recruited Edward Coxen as one of their young talent.
Hollywood is one of the most famous names on the planet with immediate cinematic connotations. However in the early 1900’s when Ed Coxen arrived it was little more than a small town surrounded by acres and acres of orange groves.
Film and movies had begun in 1905 with the invention of the moving picture by Thomas Edison. Silent movies were popular because they transcended language; their visual images and jokes could be appreciated worldwide.
But the American film industry did not begin in Hollywood it began in New York. Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor who tirelessly pursued new ideas.
His most famous invention was the phonograph which recorded and played back sound. He also invented the kinetoscope which was a moving picture machine but it could only be viewed by one person. In 1895 the Lumiere Brothers invented the means to project the images onto a screen and cinema was born.
The first cinemas, called Nickelodeons, opened in 1905 and were located mainly in converted stores. The movies were often made by The Edison Company in New Jersey.
The actors in these movies were viewed by the acting profession as low-level and ‘real’ actors were sought by the film producers to legitimise their movies. Actors like Ed Coxen who had a stage reputation were seen as a big prize by the movie makers.
Thomas Edison always enforced his invention of film and insisted that every movie and cinema had to pay him royalties. Smaller companies could not afford to pay the Edison fees and looked for a new place to make movies. They went as far away as they could from New York. They went to Hollywood, Southern California where they were beyond the reach of Edison.
So the Hollywood story begins.
In 1912 Edward Coxen moved to the American Film Manufacturing Company’s Studios and started his motion picture career. He was among their ‘Flying A’ stars and remained there until 1917.
This was a period when he was very popular with the public and in 1912 alone he made an incredible 34 films. Described in ‘The Moving Picture World’ magazine of December 1913,
“A good-looking virile young man, a manly lover, and thoroughly at home on horseback”
In 1914 at the age of 33 he married Edith Borella, a 24-year-old film actress who had played minor parts in his films.
His popularity continued such that in August 1915 his photograph featured on the front page of ‘Pictures and The Picturegoer’ with the period up to 1920 being his peak times.
As he entered his 40’s he ceased to star and became a supporting actor usually playing villains but he did work with the stars of the 1920’s such as Buster Keaton.
In the 1930’s when he was over 50 years old he was often a supporting actor in B-westerns and continued working well into the 1940’s with walk on parts.
Edward Albert Coxen was born on 8th August 1880 in Southwark, London. Died in 1954 aged 74 in Los Angeles. Buried in the movie stars cemetery at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. He married Edith and they had no children.
[Acknowledgements and References: IMDb, findagrave.com, imgur images, US National Archives, New York Times Archives, New York MOMA.]
APPENDIX – List of Edward Coxen Movies
Edward Coxen was a prolific movie star (peak), supporting actor (later) and extra (at the end) with 289 film credits. In his early career he was a Director with 3 film credits.
Mesquite’s Gratitude (1911)
He Who Laughs Last (1911)
A Hospital Hoax (1912)
The Pony Express Girl (1912)
A Rose of Old Mexico (1913)
The Shriner’s Daughter (1913)
The Power of Light (1914)
A Soul Astray (1914)
The Lure of the Sawdust (1914)
The Butterfly (1914)
This Is th’ Life (1914)
The Song of the Sea Shell (1914)
The Wrong Birds (1914)
The Redemption of a Pal (1914)
A Slice of Life (1914)
Spider Barlow Cuts In (1915)
The Water Carrier of San Juan (1915)
Spider Barlow Meets Competition (1916)
A Modern Sphinx (1916)
The Bearded Fisherman (1917)
The Curse of Eve (1917)
Madam Who? (1918)
A Man’s Man (1918)
The Bells (1918)
Desert Gold (1919)
More Deadly Than The Male (1919)
In Old Kentucky (1919)
The Amazing Woman (1920)
Witch’s Gold (1920)
Honor Bound (1920)
No Man’s Woman (1921)
Desperate Trails (1921)
The Veiled Woman (1922)
The Stranger of the Hills (1922)
The Flying Dutchman (1923)
A Man’s Man (1923)
One Glorious Night (1924)
Flashing Spurs (1924)
The Man Without a Country (1925)
Cold Nerve (1925)
Return of Grey Wolf (1926)
The Test of Donald Norton (1926)
The Man in the Shadow (1926)
Galloping Glory (1927)
Galloping Fury (1927)
The Spoilers (1930)
Young Blood (Uncredited, 1932)
The Fighting Champ (Uncredited, 1932)
The Trail Drive (Uncredited, 1933)
Gun Justice (Uncredited, 1933)
Wheels of Destiny (1934)
Smoking Guns (1934)
Five Bad Men (1935)
Westward Ho (Uncredited, 1935)
Code of the Range (1936)
The Sunday Round-Up (Uncredited, 1936)
Riders of the Dawn (Uncredited, 1937)
Thunder Trail (Uncredited, 1937)
West of Rainbow’s End (1938)
South of Arizona (1938)
Texas Stampede (1939)
Down the Wyoming Trail (1939)
Pioneers of the Frontier (1940)
One Million B.C. (1940)
Across the Sierras (Uncredited, 1941)
King of Dodge City (Uncredited, 1941)
[Acknowledgements: IMDb, Wikipedia]