The full-faced, raven-haired California-born actress was christened Lena Baskette, the daughter of Frank Baskette, a drug store owner. Lina trained in dance while very young and at the San Francisco World's Fair of 1915, the eight-year-old was featured as a baby ballerina for the Victor Talking Machine Company's exhibition. Movie maker Carl Laemmle saw her perform and signed her to a long-term contract with his Universal Pictures company at $50 a week. Lina headlined her very own short programs, the "Lena Baskette Featurettes," between 1916-1917, and also garnered young leads in a number of full-length features including What Love Can Do (1916), Shoes (1916), A Prince for a Day (1917), The Weaker Vessel (1919) and, more notably, Penrod (1922).
In 1916, Lena's father died and mother Gladys remarried. Gladys and her new husband, dance director Ernest Belcher, had a daughter together who became Lena's half-sister and future dancing star Marge Champion. Lena's mother was an avid stage mother and eventually, with Belcher's help, managed to prod Lena into the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923. She stayed with the Follies for a couple of years. Billed third as "America's Prima Ballerina," Lena's marquee name was changed to the more exotic spelling of "Lina Basquette." Her act was caught by the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who offered to take on Lina as her protégée. Lina's mother nixed the offer, wishing to make bigger bucks for her daughter with the Follies and other shows, Texas Guinan's notorious speakeasies notwithstanding.
At age 18, Lina married 38-year-old Warner Bros. mogul Sam Warner. Lina greatly influenced Warner to pursue sound pictures and even encouraged him to star Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927). Sam died unexpectedly at age 40 of a brain hemorrhage the night before the film's premiere. This heartbreak jump-started an avalanche of problems for Lina. She not only became embroiled in a series of legal battles with her in-laws over her husband's estate, she lost custody of her daughter Lita in the process. She would not see her daughter for another 30 years. This crisis led to Lina's first attempt at suicide.
Lina valiantly returned to films and made such silents as Ranger of the North (1927), The Noose (1928) and Wheel of Chance (1928), while scoring two noteworthy roles in Frank Capra's The Younger Generation (1929) and Cecil B. DeMille's The Godless Girl (1929). In the latter she played an avowed atheist. This powerful film should have made Lina a sultry star had it not been released as a silent film right at the advent of talkies.
Within a very short time Lina married twice more -- a quickie union to cameraman J. Peverell Marley, and in 1931 the widow (once again) of third husband, actor Ray Hallam, who suddenly died at the age of 26 after only a few months of wedded bliss. Lina subsequently started up a highly publicized affair with famed boxer Jack Dempsey. Their stormy breakup led to her second suicide try and a rebound marriage to his personal trainer Theodore Hayes in December of 1931. This fourth marriage was not valid as it was discovered that Hayes was already married. The couple remarried in 1933 and had a son, Edward Alvin, in 1934 before divorcing the following year.
At this juncture Lina's private life received more interest from the public than her films. Her career had down-sized to "B" westerns opposite such stars as Buck Jones and Hoot Gibson and a few mellers here and there. After touring the stages of Australia, New Zealand and various South African cities in the plays "Private Lives," "Black Limelight" and "Idiot's Delight" in 1938 and 1939, and after appearing in the films Rose of the Rio Grande (1938), Four Men and a Prayer (1938) and A Night for Crime (1943), she called it quits.
Misfortune, however, continued to follow her. In August of 1943 she brought up assault and rape charges against a 22-year-old Army GI. The soldier was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in the brig. Completely retired, she found emotional solace with her new post-war profession -- the breeding and handling of Great Danes. In 1949, she became the owner of Honey Hollow Kennels, a 25 acre estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There she bred and raised champion dogs for best-in-shows and also became a respected judge. More marriages came and fell by the wasteside and at least one of her later unions lost out to an either/or ultimatum with her Great Danes. Lina also wrote the non-fiction book "Your Great Dane" in 1972. She moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1975 and lived there until her death of lymphoma at age 87 on September 30, 1994.
Out of nowhere, the octogenarian grandmother had one last chance to bask in the limelight when she was touchingly cast as Nada in Daniel Boyd's independent feature Paradise Park (1991) playing an Appalachian trailer park granny who dreams that God is coming and granting a wish on all its residents. The film also featured country music stars Porter Wagoner and Johnny PayCheck. Boyd had met the actress at a West Virginia film festival. She has been married nine times. She was a half sister of Marge Champion. Well after her movie career ended, she became one of the leading United States dog show judges. Adolph Hitler's favorite actress. She also enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the Soviet Union, due in part to her film The Godless Girl (1929).
Outside affairs with the rich-and-famous included fighter Jack Dempsey, singer Nelson Eddy and operatic baritone Lawrence Tibbett. Basquette attempted suicide in 1930, following the widow's custody battle with her late husband's brothers. In the litigation she lost custody of her daughter, Lita, to the Warner family. Lena did not see her daughter again for more than thirty years. The actress obtained $40,000 from a life insurance policy, a car, and $85 a week from one of Warner's trust funds. Among the rich and famous who owned Lina Basquette Great Danes were Raymond Burr, Mike Nichols and the Crown Prince of Iraq.
A run down of her many marriages -- She married Husband No. 1, Warner Bros. co-founder Sam Warner, at age 18; the man dubbed "The Father of Talking Pictures" was 20 years older than his bride and died two years later of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 40. She had one daughter, Lita Warner (born in 1926), by this marriage. Husband No. 2 was cinematographer J. Peverell Marley and they divorced about a year later. She was also widowed by Husband No. 3, actor Ray Hallam (1905-1931), who married her in 1931 and died that same year at age 26. Husband No. 4 and 5 was Theodore Hayes, former boxing trainer to prizefighter Jack Dempsey. They married in December of 1931 but it was annulled when it was found he was a bigamist; they remarried in 1933 but divorced two years later after having one son, Edward Alvin Hayes (born in 1934). Marriages to Husband No. 6, British actor Henry Mollison, No. 7, Warner Gilmore, and No. 8, Frank Mancuso, ended in divorce. During a standstill in her career in America, she was invited to Germany to appear in films for the Third Reich. She turned down the offer.
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