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Anna Q. Nilsson

Anna Q. Nilsson
Anna Q Nilsson, silent film actress in 1925 - (SAYRE 7680) (cropped).jpg
Nilsson in 1925
Anna Quirentia Nilsson

(1888-03-30)March 30, 1888
Ystad, Sweden
DiedFebruary 11, 1974(1974-02-11) (aged 85)
Years active1911–1954
(m. 1916; div. 1917)

J. Marshall Gunnerson
(m. 1922; div. 1925)

Anna Quirentia Nilsson (March 30, 1888 – February 11, 1974) was a Swedish-American actress who achieved success in American silent movies.[1]

Early life

Nilsson was born in Ystad, Sweden in 1888. Her middle name Quirentia is derived from her date of birth, March 30, Saint Quirinius' Day. When she was 8 years old her father, Per Nilsson, got a job at the local sugar factory in Hasslarp, a small community outside Helsingborg in Sweden where she spent most of her school years. She did very well in school, graduating with highest marks. Due to her good grades, she was hired as a sales clerk in Halmstad on the Swedish west coast, unusual for a young woman from a worker's family at the time, but she had set her mind on going to the United States.

In 1905, she emigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. In the U.S., she started working as a nursemaid and learned English quickly.


Silent films

Nilsson in Raoul Walsh's film Regeneration (1915)
Nilsson in Raoul Walsh's film Regeneration (1915)

In 1907, Nilsson was named "Most beautiful woman in America".[citation needed] The noted cover artist Penrhyn Stanlaws chose her one of his models, which led her to getting a role in Kalem's 1911 film Molly Pitcher.

She stayed at the Kalem studio for several years, ranked behind its top star Alice Joyce, then branching out to other production companies. Films of special note are Regeneration (1915) Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917), Soldiers of Fortune (1919), The Toll Gate and The Luck of the Irish (both 1920), and The Lotus Eater (1921).[2][3] In 1921, while on a rare vacation return to Sweden, she was asked to film Värmlänningarna, her only Swedish movie.[4]

Nilsson, 1923
Nilsson, 1923

In the 1920s, she freelanced successfully for Paramount, First National and many other studios and reached a peak of popularity just before the advent of talkies. In 1923, she was severely burned while filming a scene in which she drove a locomotive through a forest fire for Hearts Aflame;[5] she required a week to recuperate, but that did not impede her career.[6] That year, she made nine movies,[6] including portraying "Cherry Malotte" in the second movie based upon Rex Beach's The Spoilers, a role that would be played in later versions by Betty Compson (1930), Marlene Dietrich (1942), and Anne Baxter (1955).[7] In 1926, she was named Hollywood's most popular woman. She welcomed royalty when the Swedish Crown Prince Gustav Adolf (later King Gustaf VI Adolf) and his wife Louise Mountbatten visited Hollywood. In 1928, she set a record for fan mail, some 30,000 letters per month, and in that year Joseph P. Kennedy brought her to his newly formed film company RKO Radio Pictures. The following year, as she was horse riding, she fell off the horse, was thrown against a stone wall and broke her hip. After a year of hard training, she was on her feet again.[8] In 1928, Anna Nilsson made her last film of the silent era, Blockade.

Sound films

With the introduction of sound films, Nilsson's career went into a sharp decline, although she continued to play small, often uncredited parts in films into the 1950s. Between 1930 and 1950, she participated in 39 sound films in smaller roles. She played the role of the Swedish immigrant mother of Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). Her best known performance in a sound film is arguably her turn as herself, referred to as one of Swanson's "waxworks" in Sunset Boulevard (1950), where she has one line.

Nilsson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6150 Hollywood Boulevard for her contribution to motion pictures. She was the first Swedish-born actress to receive such an honor.

Personal life

Nilsson was married to actor Guy Coombs from 1916 until 1917 and to Norwegian-American shoe merchant John Marshall Gunnerson from 1922 until 1925. She died in Sun City, California on February 11, 1974, of heart failure.[9]

Nilsson was a Lutheran[10] and a registered Republican who was supportive of Dwight Eisenhower's campaign during the 1952 presidential election.[11]

Selected filmography

Advertisement in The Moving Picture World for the film Who's Guilty? (1916)
Advertisement in The Moving Picture World for the film Who's Guilty? (1916)
Advertisement for Enemies of Children (1923)
Advertisement for Enemies of Children (1923)



  1. ^ Anna Q. Nilsson, biography (Rovi Corporation)
  2. ^ Anna Q. Nilsson ( Archived June 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Penrhyn Stanlaws (American Art Archives)
  4. ^ "Anna Q. Nilsson - SFDB".
  5. ^ "Hearts Aflame (1923)". American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films.
  6. ^ a b John Mackie (March 24, 2018). "This Week in History: 1923: The first 'super-picture' filmed in B.C. hits town". Vancouver Sun.
  7. ^ Anna Q. Nilsson's Silent Films
  8. ^ Featuring: Anna Q. Nilsson (The Silent Collection by Tammy Stone)
  9. ^ Anna Q. Nilsson, Swedish Star In Many Early Films, Dies at 85 (New York Times, Wednesday, February 13, 1974, p. 42)
  10. ^ Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2)
  11. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  12. ^ "National Film Preservation Foundation: The Darling of the C.S.A. (1912)".


  • Wollstein, Hans J. Strangers in Hollywood: the history of Scandinavian actors in American films from 1910 to World War II (Scarecrow Press. 1994) ISBN 978-0-8108-2938-1

Further reading

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Anna Q. Nilsson
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