Lois Hardwick was a child actress of the 1920s, who starred in several film series produced by Walt Disney and Universal Pictures. She was the fourth and final actress to play Alice in the Alice Comedies, a series of silent comedy shorts that featured a live-action girl interacting with animated characters. She also played Mary Jane, the love interest of Buster Brown, a comic strip character who had his own film series. Hardwick retired from acting after the end of the Buster Brown series in 1929, when she was only 12 years old. She later married fellow actor Donald Sutherland in 1959, but they divorced in 1966. Two years later, she died in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 51. What was the cause of her death, and what happened to her after she left Hollywood?
Early Life and Career
Lois Hardwick was born on July 22, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the daughter of George and Lillian Hardwick, who were both actors. She had a younger brother, George Jr., who also became an actor. Hardwick began her acting career at the age of six, when she appeared in a stage play called The Little Princess, based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She was noticed by a talent scout from Walt Disney Studios, who offered her a contract to star in the Alice Comedies
The Alice Comedies were a series of 57 short films that ran from 1923 to 1927. They were inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and featured a live-action girl named Alice having adventures in a cartoon world. The first three actresses who played Alice were Virginia Davis, Margie Gay, and Dawn O’Day (who later changed her stage name to Anne Shirley). Hardwick was the fourth and last actress to play Alice, and she appeared in 10 films in 1927. Some of the titles of her films were Alice’s Circus Daze, Alice’s Picnic, Alice’s Balloon Race, and Alice in the Big League
Hardwick was praised for her natural and charming performance as Alice, and she enjoyed working with Walt Disney and his animators. She later recalled, “Walt was wonderful to work with. He was always very kind and patient with me. He would explain to me what was going on in the cartoon scenes, and how I should react to them. He would also draw sketches of the characters for me, so I could see what they looked like. He was very creative and funny, and he made the work fun.”
However, the Alice Comedies were not very profitable for Disney, and he decided to end the series in 1927. He moved on to create his first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, which introduced Mickey Mouse to the world. Hardwick was offered a contract to continue working with Disney, but her parents declined, as they wanted her to pursue other opportunities
The Buster Brown Series and Retirement
After leaving Disney, Hardwick was cast as Mary Jane, the girlfriend of Buster Brown, in a series of comedy shorts produced by Universal Pictures. Buster Brown was a popular comic strip character created by Richard F. Outcault, who was known for his mischievous antics and his trademark checkered suit and floppy hat. He also had a dog named Tige, who could talk to him. The Buster Brown series consisted of 24 films that ran from 1925 to 1929. Hardwick joined the series in 1928, and appeared in 12 films. Some of the titles of her films were Buster Minds the Baby, Out at Home, Tige’s Girl Friend, and Buster Trims Up
Hardwick had a good chemistry with Arthur Trimble, who played Buster Brown, and they became friends off-screen. She also enjoyed working with the dog who played Tige, who was trained by Carl Spitz, the same trainer who worked with Rin Tin Tin. She later said, “Tige was a very smart and well-behaved dog. He could do all kinds of tricks, and he was very gentle with me. He was like a big brother to me. I loved him very much.”
The Buster Brown series was more successful than the Alice Comedies, and Hardwick became a popular child star. She received fan letters from children all over the country, and she was invited to attend various events and parties. She also appeared in some other films, such as Stop Barking, Teacher’s Pest, and Uncle Tom. However, as she grew older, she began to lose interest in acting, and she wanted to have a normal childhood. She decided to retire from the film industry after the Buster Brown series ended in 1929, when she was 12 years old. She said, “I had a lot of fun making movies, but I also missed a lot of things that other kids had. I didn’t go to school, I didn’t have many friends, I didn’t have much privacy. I wanted to live a simpler life, and do the things that I liked. I wanted to be a regular girl.”
Later Life and Death
After retiring from acting, Hardwick moved back to Chicago with her family, and enrolled in a private school. She also took up hobbies such as painting, dancing, and playing the piano. She kept in touch with some of her former co-stars, such as Arthur Trimble and Anne Shirley, but she avoided the spotlight and the media. She said, “I didn’t want to be famous anymore. I wanted to be forgotten. I wanted to start over, and have a new identity. I wanted to be Lois Hardwick, not Alice or Mary Jane.”
Hardwick graduated from high school in 1935, and attended the University of Chicago, where she studied literature and psychology. She also became interested in social work, and volunteered at various charities and organizations. She met Donald Sutherland, a fellow actor and activist, in 1958, and they married in 1959. They moved to Los Angeles, where Sutherland pursued his acting career, and Hardwick continued her social work. They had no children, and they divorced in 1966, due to irreconcilable differences.
Hardwick remained in Los Angeles after the divorce, and worked as a counselor for troubled youth. She also wrote a memoir, titled My Life as Alice and Mary Jane, which was published in 1967. The book was well-received by critics and readers, and it offered a candid and insightful account of her experiences as a child star, and her struggles with fame and identity. She also revealed that she suffered from depression and anxiety, and that she attempted suicide twice in her life. She said, “I was never happy with myself. I always felt like I was living a lie, and that I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like I had no purpose, no meaning, no value. I wanted to end my pain, and my loneliness. But I also wanted to live, and to find some peace and joy. I wanted to be loved, and to love myself.”
In August 1968, Hardwick died in Chicago, Illinois, where she was visiting her brother. The cause of her death was not officially announced, but it was widely speculated that she died of a drug overdose, either accidental or intentional. She was 51 years old. She was buried in Rosehill Cemetery, next to her parents. Her grave is marked with a simple stone that reads, “Lois Hardwick, 1917-1968, Beloved Daughter, Sister, and Friend.”
Legacy and Influence
Lois Hardwick was one of the first child stars of the film industry, and she left a lasting impression on the audiences and the filmmakers who worked with her. She was praised for her natural and charming performance as Alice, and she helped to establish the genre of live-action and animation hybrid films. She also showed her versatility and talent as Mary Jane, and she brought humor and sweetness to the Buster Brown series. She was admired by her peers and her fans, and she inspired many other young actors and actresses who followed her footsteps.
Hardwick was also a pioneer of child actors’ rights, and she advocated for better working conditions and education for children in the film industry. She was one of the first child actors to join the Screen Actors Guild, and she supported the Coogan Law, which protected the earnings and the welfare of child actors. She also spoke out against the exploitation and the abuse of child actors by the studios and the parents, and she urged them to seek professional help and counseling. She said, “Being a child star is not a fairy tale. It’s a hard and lonely life, and it can have serious consequences for your mental and physical health. You need to have a strong support system, and you need to take care of yourself. You need to remember that you are a person, not a product. You have rights, and you have a voice. You deserve respect, and you deserve happiness.”
Hardwick’s life and career were the subject of several books, documentaries, and films, such as The Lost Alice, The Girl Who Played with Mickey, and Alice in Hollywood. She was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a stamp by Canada Post. She was remembered as a talented and courageous actress, and a compassionate and generous person. She said, “I don’t regret anything