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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Promotional poster for Paul Gilmore. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
GILMORE, Paul Howard. (Milwaukee, WI, July 14, 1873--Palm Springs, FL, Dec. 29, 1962). Gilmore was a popular stage actor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who also appeared in at least than ten silent films. For many years, he also owned and managed the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City giving work to such future stars as Robert Walker Sr., Jennifer Jones, and Carl Reiner.

Paul Howard Gilmore was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents intended him to pursue a law career, but Gilmore developed an interest in acting when he performed in amateur plays at Milwaukee's Grand Opera House. Theatrical producer Jacob Litt saw Gilmore perform and, in 1891, offered him a role in his traveling show, The Ensign. Gilmore accepted, intending to stay with the company for a few weeks and then return home to study law. He never did, instead continuing to perform with Litt's players in a number of successful productions that included Uncle Tom's Cabin and In Old Kentucky. (1)

Gilmore quickly rose to leading man status. By 1896 he had left Litt's Players and gained stature with Charles Frohman in plays such as The Wife, Americans Abroad, and Sweet Lavender.

In addition to his stage work, Gilmore participated in the early development of motion pictures in the United States. He acted in and helped produce the first silent movie in the United States, "Pillow Fight" which lasted one minute. (2) Starting in 1897, he performed short "character studies" on film for the American Mutuoscope Company (later to become the Biograph Company). He also performed for Thomas Alva Edison's company on a number of short (less than 60-second) works that included "The Vanishing Lady," "The Miser," "Herman the Great," and "Caught In the Act". He claimed to have appeared in one Edison feature, "The Artist's Model", in 1918, but is not listed as one of the main actors. (3)

On June 17, 1897, Gilmore married Regina Cooper, the daughter of millionaire wagon maker Augustin A. COOPER. (4) It was this couple for whom Cooper had REDSTONE (THE) constructed. Rumors persist that Cooper did not believe the marriage would last. When constructing the house, therefore, he had a tile floor placed in a room near the kitchen perhaps foreseeing the time when lodgers would need to be served breakfast. The home also had two entrances so that half of the house could be retained as a private home while renting out the other side. Two years later, on September 9, 1899, Gilmore's wife delivered twins – a boy, Paul; and a girl, Virginia. Regina Cooper Gilmore, however, died of heart failure two days after giving birth. Not wishing to give up his career, Gilmore allowed Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Cooper to assume custody of the children, give them the Cooper surname and raise them, while he continued to tour. (5)

Gilmore's son, Paul Gilmore Cooper, died in 1918 after leaping off a train on which he had hitched a ride. When Gilmore's daughter, Regina, reached maturity, she joined her father in New York, adopted the stage name of Virginia, and assisted him in his theatrical work for the rest of his life.

Three months after the death of his wife, Gilmore was nearly killed in a production of The Musketeers in Phoenix, Arizona. On December 16, 1899, Gilmore and two other actors were critically wounded when they were shot with live rounds that had accidentally been loaded into a stage pistol. Gilmore received six wounds, the most serious in his legs. Gilmore was at first not expected to live; when he did, doctors gave him little chance of being able to return to the stage. A bullet was removed from his knee in March 1900, after which he began to recover. By October of that year, he was again on the road, appearing in Under the Red Robe. (6)

"Captain Debonnaire" postcard
"Captain Debonnaire" postcard
Gilmore reached full star status in late 1900 with his performance in The Dawn of Freedom at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in New York City. He performed all over the country in scores of plays, often in roles that portrayed him as a swashbuckling lover. The San Francisco Call in 1905 ran a column entitled, "Paul Gilmore is Beautiful." (7) Audiences crowded theaters to see him in productions such as Captain Debonnaire, The Mummy and the Hummingbird and The Boys of Company B. (8)

In addition to operating his own touring stage company and acting in productions throughout the United States, Gilmore began making feature films in 1915. By 1920, he had starred or had major roles in nine movies and accumulated more than $225,000 in cash and assets, including 40 acres of land on Anna Maria Island in Tampa Bay, Florida. It was here that he hoped to build a movie colony – Paul Gilmore’s Oriental Film City – that would rival Hollywood. There was to be a Japanese hotel built over the water, bungalows in the style of Japanese houses for rent, and a motion picture studio and Japanese village for the Asian actors. (9)

Gilmore and Albert Plummer of Character Pictures began filming the South Seas adventure, Isle of Destiny, in the spring of 1920, on Anna Maria Island. Gilmore pumped huge amounts of his own cash into the production, footing the bill for the importation by boat (there was no serviceable road or bridge to the island) of cars, horses and some 200 actors. (10)

Cherry Lane.jpg
Isle of Destiny, a six-reeler, performed well when it premiered in New York theaters, and Gilmore planned at least two other films for production on Anna Maria Island. But his speculations in real estate failed, and Gilmore lost all his assets and most of his cash. He returned to New York City where he settled in Greenwich Village over a tobacco warehouse that he would transform into the Paul Gilmore Cherry Lane Theatre. He was joined in New York by his daughter, and together they ran the small theater and starred in many of its productions. (11)

In 1948, the Gilmores moved to Duluth, Minnesota, where they established the Gilmore Comedy Theatre in a 40- by 80-foot Quonset hut they constructed along Lake Superior. The theater opened on July 14, 1949, with a production of This Thing Called Love. Gilmore operated the theater until age and declining health forced him to sell it in 1955. (12)

Gilmore and his daughter retired to Dubuque, Iowa, where they resided at 418 Raymond Place. (13) He is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Key West, Iowa.

Virginia Cooper GILMORE died in Dubuque on September 22, 1981. Upon her death, the Gilmore estate, which was valued in excess of $1 million, was divided among relatives and the church, Catholic charities and ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL.



1. Tigges, John. They Came From Dubuque. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983, p. 74

2. Ibid., p. 75

3. "Paul Gilmore-Biography. IMDb. Online: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0319564/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

4. Tigges, John.

5. "Gilmore's Twins," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 25, 1902, p. 8

6. "Paul Gilmore-Biography."

7. "Paul Gilmore is Beautiful," San Francisco Call, February 6, 1905, p. 2. Online: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SFC19050206.2.21#

8. "Paul Gilmore-Biography."

9. "Paul Gilmore Is Here; To Appear at Plaza Theater," St. Petersburg Times, Apr. 3, 1921, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19210403&id=AJAmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9EwDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4580,242225

10. Ibid.

11. "Paul Gilmore-Biography"

12. Ibid.

13. "Early Actor, Gilmore, Dies," Telegraph Herald, December 31, 1962, p. 1