Orval Hixon

Portrait of Jack Clifford

Jack Clifford, born Virgil James Montani, was originally from Geneo, Italy. Clifford’s vaudeville fame came from his live performances, both as an actor and dancer. Clifford was noted for his marriage to Evelyn Nesbit in 1916, and after a fifteen year separation ended in divorce in 1933. Clifford died on November 10, 1956, at the age of 76, in New York. In this portrait Clifford is captured in a relaxed atmosphere, seated with an opened newspaper on his lap. Clifford is attired in casual clothing, a white shirt, a black ribbon bow tie, suit vest and pinstripe pants.

Portrait of Orval Hixon in Light Suit (Self-Portrait)

Orval Hixon was a Kansas City photographer whose artistic abilities out rivaled those of his contemporaries. Hixon was a master of his craft, summoning all his skill set to produce works capturing his subjects in profound poses. Hixon from an early onset pursued an interest in the arts. After learning he was color blind as a child, he followed a path into photography with his first camera purchased in 1898. In 1905 he paid a local photographer five dollars to work as an assistant for one month.

Portrait of Sessue Hayakawa Holding a Helmet

During Hollywood’s silent screen era, Japanese film actor Sessue Hayakawa rivaled Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore in popularity. Hayakawa was one of the highest paid Hollywood stars of his time, making over $5,000 a week in 1915, then two million a year through his own production company during the 1920s. Handsome and flamboyant, Hayakawa gave lavish Hollywood parties that would become legendary. Hayakawa was Paramount’s first choice for the role of the "The Sheik" that launched Rudolph Valentino’s career in 1918.

Portrait of a Figure Study with Grace Darling

The figure in this study is speculated to be Grace Darling. Grace Darling was a silent film actress best known for her leading role in "Beatrice Fairfax" (1916) as Beatrice herself, the editor of a love advice column. The film's significance comes with it being inspired by "Ask Beatrice Fairfax" the first newspaper advice column of its kind introduced in 1898 by Mary Miller, and as it was of the first film series consisting of 15 independent episodes that aired weekly. This shot captures Darling in the opening of stage curtains standing against a burlap-sheathed wall.

Portrait of a Man as an Artist

The identity of this man is unknown, but his persona is not. He is dressed here as the archetypal French painter in an exaggerated beret, precise mustache, painters frock, paintbrush, and wooden paint palette. Although there is no paint on his materials, one can assume that he is in the midst of working on the piece hanging on the wall behind him. He stands poised with brush to palette and head turned to the side, offering a dramatic profile of his character.

Portrait of a Noble Soul

This photograph is of an elderly man seated outside of Hixon's studio. The man is purportedly a former KC Star newspaper vendor. He appears worn with disheveled hair imprinted by a hat once worn, long wiry beard, and deeply wrinkled hands. He also appears to be resting for a moment as he has closed his eyes and propped his chin on his chest. One can presume the number of stories and knowledge he has garnished over time which may explicate his worn disposition, but one can expect none less than a wealth of wisdom to accompany it too.

Portrait of Ada Forman

In 1915 and 1916, Ada Forman danced with Florence O'Denishawn on tour and partnered with Ted Shawn in numerous works including Danse Javanese and Nature Rhythms. The duo also performed in exhibition ballroom performances such as Dance Vogue. She eventually left O'Denishawn to appear solo in vaudeville on the Keith-Albee circuit. Forman successfully performed in Broadway revues, roof garden shows, and in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1922. She also appeared often in London during the 1920s to great acclaim. In this portrait, she sits on the floor and gazes thoughtfully off to her left.

Portrait of Al Jolson in Tweed Suit

Asa Yoelson-Al Jolson was born in Lithuania. He changed his name to Al Jolson once he started to perform. Jolson was a celebrated singer and dancer on Broadway prior to gaining worldwide fame as the star of "The Jazz Singer". This 1927 film signaled the transition from silent pictures to sound. Known as "The World's Greatest Entertainer," Jolson's legacy is complicated by the modern-day controversy over his frequent use of blackface. Jolson extended his career by becoming a popular recording star and the singing host of radio shows.

Portrait of Al Jolson with a Smile

Born in Lithuania, Asa Yoelson-Al Jolson, known professionally as Al Jolson was a celebrated singer and dancer. He was a Broadway attraction prior to gaining worldwide fame as the star of "The Jazz Singer." This 1927 film signaled the transition from silent pictures to sound. Jolson was known as "The World's Greatest Entertainer;" however, his legacy is complicated by the modern-day controversy over his frequent use of blackface. Jolson extended his career by becoming a popular recording star and the host of radio shows.

Portrait of Al Jolson with Smile

Al Jolson was called the greatest entertainer of his era. He was born in Imperial Russia and traveled to America with his family. He and his brother learned ragtime songs and performed in the streets. They were determined to break into show business. Assuming a common trend of the time, Jolson started performing in blackface in 1904. His performances grew more expressive: he danced, stamped, cried real tears, improvised risqué jokes, and outrageous physical gags—even sashayed about with wildly effeminate gestures.

Portrait of an Unknown Actress

This photograph features a woman in an elegant gown and an ornate headpiece. Her necklaces drape over her chest in a way that mirrors the parabolic shape of her headpiece, emphasizing her face against the dark background. Hixon often manipulated his photographs as they were developing, which he appears to have done to the drapery in the background. Scratch marks in the drapery reveal the whiteness of the photographic paper that echoes the highlights in the actress's embellishments.

Portrait of an Unknown Vaudevillian Actress

This photograph captures a frontal view of an unknown actress. She is reminiscent of famed actress Bessie Love with her wide-eyes and her pursed lips. The woman is draped in a bright cloth, her left hand clasps the material at the center.

Portrait of an Unknown Vaudevillian Actress as Joan of Arc

This portrait features an unknown vaudevillian actress dressed as Joan of Arc. She is shrowd in a linen garmet and head wrap that leave only her hands and face exposed. She turns away from the camera, offering a profile that is distinct against the black background. She holds a few long-stalked lilies to her torso with the flowers themselves positioned around her head. The two lilies, one out of focus behind her head and the other in focus hugging the curve of her chin, work to frame her face while also appearing as extensions of her head wrapping that creates a peculiar overall look.

Portrait of an Unknown Vaudevillian Starlet

In this portrait a vaudevillian starlet strikes a bashful pose, positioning her hands over her chest and the scarf of sheer material draped over it. She wears a headscarf and haircut typical of the flapper style. Although she turns her face away from the camera, she keeps a sensuous eye directed at it. Photo manipulations applied by Hixon in the development process emphasize her eyelashes while other markings obscure the bottom edge of the photograph and consequently her breast.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Shadowland

In this photograph stands an unknown woman against a stark black background holding an issue of Shadowland, a popular theater magazine that circulated in the 1910s-20s. The figure wears a tattered shirt and skirt and polka-dotted headscarf as a pirate-inspired outfit. She holds a large issue of Shadowland that covers her midsection and that has been perhaps brightened by Hixon in the development process to stand out against the figure and the photograph as a whole, appearing almost as if it was transposed onto it.

Portrait of an Unknown WWI Pilot

This portrait is of a WWI pilot; however, Hixon plays with the notion of the identity of the man. There is no information as to if this man is a true pilot or a silent film actor dressed as pilot. Regardless of his status, the intimate shot captures the deep emotion residing in his facial expression, perhaps pondering all that he has seen over a burning cigarette. The pilot gear framing his face makes the profession appear as a part of him, claiming him as inseparable from his experience.

Portrait of Ann Pennington

Hixon's portrait emphasizes Ann Pennington's (1893-1971) magnetic appeal and big stage presence, but the diminutive star was actually less than five feet tall. A mainstay of Broadway musical revues such as the Ziegfield Follies and George White's Scandals, Pennington became famous for her youthful, vibrant dance performances. Unlike many other white stars of the day, Pennington acknowledged the contributions of black performers like Freddie Taylor, who taught Pennington her signature dance, the Black Bottom Charleston.

Portrait of Annette Kellerman

Australia-born Annette Kellerman took up swimming as treatment for a childhood condition that may have been mild polio and became a world-record holder in the sport. A pioneer of the one-piece bathing suit, she was famously arrested in Boston for indecency in 1907. The "Australian Mermaid" parlayed her notoriety into a successful career in Vaudeville and on the screen, making her feature film debut in 1914's "Neptune's Daughter." MGM turned her life story into a movie "Million Dollar Mermaid" starring Ester Williams in 1952.

Portrait of Annette Kellerman in Dance

Australian dancer and swimmer Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) gained international fame and a long-lasting place in American vaudeville scene as the "Siren of the Sea." Kellerman had to wear leg braces as a child, but as an adult she was known as both a health advocate and a sex symbol. While Kellerman's dancing was secondary to her swimming and diving feats, she nevertheless integrated dance into her shows, which often featured performers posing as water nymphs.

Portrait of Armand Kaliz

Armand Kaliz was born in Paris, France in 1892. He made his Broadway debut in "The Hoyden" in 1907 and became successful in vaudeville and silent films. He appeared in films such as "The Temptress" (1926) with actresses such as Greta Garbo, making some 82 film appearances between 1917 and 1941. Many of his appearances were small so there are a number of films that exist where he is uncredited for his performance. In this portrait, he stares outward under a stern brow and is fixated on a captivating subject.