Dolly Desmond: Reporter and One-Time Ghost Hunter

Dolly Desmond was the lead character in a 1914 movie serial titled The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies. There were twelve episodes in this series, produced by the Edison Company and directed by Walter Edwin. In the title role was Mary Fuller, who also happened to star in what is considered the very first movie serial, What Happened to Mary (1912).

As were a few other serial heroines from the 1910s, Dolly Desmond was “noteworthy less for her extraordinary beauty than for her daring and resourcefulness. This woman would often perform her work in a male-dominated arena, winning the day with confident self-reliance and an imaginative capacity seemingly unavailable to her male peers.” Specifically, Desmond was a reporter in that era of brave, adventurous reporters carving a place for professional women, journalists who included Nellie Bly and Ida Tarball.

Mary Fuller
Mary Fuller (1888-1973)

Desmond only had one ghost hunt in her twelve adventures. It occurred in the episode titled “A Terror of the Night,” which has become lost — probably forever. (Sadly, only two of the Dolly of the Dailies films are extant: the fifth, “The Chinese Fan,” and the tenth, “Dolly Plays Detective.”) Still, a one-page promotion for this episode offers enough of a plot summary to show that Desmond didn’t hesitate to investigate a house whose tenants had left, saying it was haunted.

The landlady of this now-hard-to-rent house is contacted by a real estate agent named Boliver, according to that promotional piece. Boliver attempts to sway the landlady to sell him the property for much cheaper than it’s worth. The landlady asks Desmond to investigate. Without flinching, the reporter spends the night in the house, using the classic ghost hunter method to track a phantom.

Since the film isn’t available to watch, I’ll go ahead and share the spoiler that the promotion provides to movie theater managers:

Dolly slept that night on a sofa in the front hall, in the midst of a number of garden implements which had been stowed there for safekeeping. In the middle of the night, she was awakened by a slight noise. Looking up, a terrible sight met her eyes. A shrouded figure, clad in garments of ghastly white, was coming down the stairs toward her. Instead of shrieking and fainting, Dolly turned the hose on the advancing figure. It halted, wavered, and then ran out of the house, and into the arms of Malone, who had just arrived to investigate. . . . It was Boliver.

A bit too predictable to be much of a spoiler, huh? But I can’t say I know of any other ghost hunters who include a hose in their spectral arsenal.

I suppose if “A Terror of the Night” were available to audiences today, Desmond would be a contender for my Legacy of Ghost Hunter Fiction bibliography. It would be nice to include another female character there, but I don’t want to frustrate visitors to that list by adding characters whose adventures can no longer be enjoyed.

Instead, I’ll be content to daydream about what would’ve happened if Dolly Desmond ever crossed paths with Vera Van Slyke, my own ghost-hunting journalist from the early 1900s. Vera’s first case, “The Minister’s Unveiling,” is available for FREE in .pdf, .epub, or .mobi/Kindle formats for the rest of September, and I’ll be posting each of her remaining cases chronologically in the months to come. Van Slyke even has one more “episode” than Desmond, and all of them involve ghost hunting!

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