Helen Gardner became a star playing Becky Sharp in Vitagraph’s great VANITY FAIR (1911). In early 1912, she launched her own independent production company, Helen Gardner Picture Players, and established a studio on the border between Old Tappan, New Jersey and Tappan, New York.
Gardner was the first United States actress to strike out on her own to form her own movie production company. Hers was the first company formed around a single star and the first dedicated solely to the production of full-length feature films, then a new and controversial idea.
Her first production was CLEOPATRA (1912), in which she also starred. CLEOPATRA was the country’s first full-length, 6000′ feature film. It won critical and popular acclaim and played for many years throughout the United States, Britain, Europe and Russia.
A SISTER TO CARMEN (1913), Gardner’s third production, was recently restored by her granddaughter, Dorin Gardner Schumacher, with the help of a grant from New York Women in Film and Television.
Because of the roles Gardner played in CLEOPATRA, A SISTER TO CARMEN and her other features, she is considered the screen’s first vamp. She was one of the earliest women scenarists, directors and film editors.
From 1910 to 1924, Gardner appeared in at least sixty-two films, including the ten features she produced. Eighteen of the films in which she appeared are known to survive,in whole or in part.