Francis Xavier Bushman (January 10, 1883 – August 23, 1966) was an American film actor and director. His career as a matinee idol started in 1911 in the silent film His Friend’s Wife. He gained a large female following and was one of the biggest stars of the 1910s and early 1920s. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young man he joined the Maryland Athletic Club and began a body building regimen that would give him his famous film physique. He cited Eugen Sandow as one of his body building influences. In New York City, he worked as a sculptor’s model, often posing in the nude in sessions. In 1902, he married seamstress Josephine Fladine Duval. By the launch of his film career, the couple had five children.
Bushman eventually retained the talented services of Harry Reichenbach as his agent. When Bushman noted that he would be well suited to starring in the upcoming 1925 film, Ben-Hur, Reichenbach had a plan to increase his client’s marketability. From a railway station, Reichenbach took Bushman to see studio executives, while dropping pennies to the street from his pocket. Many people followed the two, picking up the coins along the way. The crowd gave the studio executives an impression that Bushman was very popular and they cast him as Messala. Bushman was concerned that playing a villain would affect his career, so he asked the advice of William S. Hart, who had played the part on stage for years. “Take it”, Hart advised—”It’s the best part in the play!” Unlike Ramon Novarro, the star of the picture, Bushman knew how to properly drive a team of horses and a chariot without getting severely injured or killed in the process. When Ben Hur was remade in 1959, Charlton Heston had to learn the technique and quipped “The only man in Hollywood who can drive a chariot is Francis X. Bushman—and he’s too old!”
At the peak of his career, Bushman was advertised as “The Handsomest Man in the World”. He was also known as “the King of Photoplay” or “the King of Movies” before those titles were more popularly attached to Clark Gable.
Bushman was paid large salaries during his screen career, and donated the land upon which Sid Grauman erected his famous Chinese Theater. But his fortune was wiped out in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and his career as a movie star had had its run. After his film career had waned, Bushman made his broadcasting mark on the CBS Radio network’s long-running dramatic serial entitled Those We Love. In the soap opera, which ran from 1938 to 1945, he played the role of John Marshall, father of the twins (played by Richard Cromwell and Nan Grey). Robert Cummings rounded out the cast. Bushman took small roles in pictures and attempted to run a few small businesses, all of which lost money. On viewing one of his early films, Bushman is said to have remarked, “My God, look at that! I’m putting all my emotion into my chin!”
In later years, Bushman made assorted guest appearances on American television in the 1950s and 1960s. On February 6, 1958, he and his wife Iva Millicent Richardson appeared on the quiz show You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx and won $1,000 by successfully answering questions in a geography quiz. He also performed on weekly sitcoms and television dramas, including Burns and Allen, Peter Gunn, Make Room for Daddy, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Perry Mason, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Dr. Kildare.
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