Riders of the Purple Sage (1925)

In 1925, Tom Mix became the second actor to play the gunman Lassiter in a movie about Zane Grey's novel, Riders of the Purple Sage.  In 1918, William Farnum was the first to play the role.  These two versions were the only silent movies about the Grey classic which told the story of a man seeking revenge for the death of a loved one in a Mormon community along in the Utah Territory.  In the process, he found both revenge and love. 

As is the case with all Zane Grey movies, the film's posters are brilliant.  However, perhaps more significant, is the role the lobby cards play in telling the story.  We are fortunate that you can choose to watch the original film here, read the novel here or listen to it here. In most novels, the hero, in this case Tom Mix shares billing with a single female protagonist.  Riders of the Purple Sage is somewhat unique in that there are three actress who are worth of note.

Millie Erne (Beatrice Burnham) and Lew Walters (Werner Oland) Riders of the Purple Sage (1925)

Beatrice Burnham had twenty-six movie credits between 1916 and 1925, her most famous being Riders of the Purple Sage.  Unlike the novel, her character (Millie Erne) plays a much larger role.  Not only are her scenes the first you see in the movie, but they set the stage for the rest of the movie.  In the film, Lassiter is her brother.  Her appearance was relatively brief, as opposed to Jane Withersteen, but acted passionately and sympathetically.  It sad that her career ended soon after the movie.  Perhaps she married and raised a family or just didn't survive the move to "talkies".

Mabel Ballin plays Jane Withersteen in Riders of the Purple Sage (1925)

Mabel Ballin had thirty-two movie credits.  Her career very much paralleled that of Beatrice Burnham in that it also lasted from 1916 to 1925. Ballin was a trained dressmaker who left her trade for the movies.  However, before making it into films, she played a tambourine at a Salvation Army Hall.  Before Riders in the Purple Sage, Mabel had roles in Jane Eyre (1921) and Vanity Fair (1923). Zane Grey fans became well acquainted with Mabel Ballin in 1925 when, in addition to Riders of the Purple Sage, she appeared in The Rainbow Trail and The Code of the West

Bess (Marian Nixon) looking out across wild country in Riders of the Purple Sage.

Marian Dixon was the most successful of the actresses appearing in The Riders of the Purple Sage.  She had 75 film credits, all but one being between 1923 and 1936.  She made a final, uncredited bow in 1985.  While she was the heroine in The Last of the Duanes, Marian received second billing in the 1925 classic as the young Masked Rider, Bess, who fell in love with the cowboy, Bern Venters (Harold Goodwin).  Between Burnham, Ballin and Dixon, Zane Grey's movies likely never had a more beautiful cast of heroines.


"Movie lobby cards are a uniquely American creation. They are a hybrid of movie posters and, usually, movie star photos. Back in the early 1910’s, the small nickelodeons, where films were first shown, started morphing into larger, more permanent, and more elegant venues. As a result of this growth, more advertising was needed to promote the movies these new movie palaces were offering. So, in addition to the beautiful, colorful lithographic movie posters, there came a need for photographic images. (Walter Film)"

Certainly this was the case with the following lobby cards from The Riders of the Purple Sage:

 There are two uncredited actors in Riders of the Purple Sage.  The most important of the two for purposes of the film was Dawn O'Day, who played the child, Fay.  Dawn later changed her stage name to Anne Shirley after starring as the character of the same name in Anne of Green Gables.  During her 76 movies, Dawn shared the play bill with the greatest of her era including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Loretta Young, Will Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck and Dick Powell.  She was nominated for a Best Supporting Acress for Stella Davis (1937).

The other uncredited actor was voted as the 18th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.  In Riders of the Purple Sage, he is credited only as "a rider".  This actor went on to Oscar-winning roles in 1952's High Noon (rated the #5 movie of all time) and 1941's Sergeant York (rated as the #35 movie of all time).  He is, of course, Gary Cooper.