While her film career is well documented, her early life is somewhat clouded in mystery, including who her real parents were and what her birth name was. She was the adopted daughter of the La Badie family. Joseph E. La Badie, was believed to have been born in Montreal, Quebec, and is said to have been a prominent attorney there at one time. His wife, the former Amanda Victor, is said to have been born in Europe, possibly Paris. Her adoptive uncle, Oddiehon LaBadie, maintained an estate in nearby St. Lambert. Other sources have claimed that she was born in Austin, Texas and adopted by the La Badie family. One source states plainly that she was born in Montreal, another that she was born Florence Russ in Manhattan on April 27, 1888. Florence was educated in New York City schools and at the Convent of Notre Dame in Montreal.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), lists her birthplace as New York City, with the birth name of Florence Russ. While there is much evidence of her having been raised in Montreal, in an alleged sworn deposition on October 8, 1917, a New York woman named Marie C. Russ had claimed to be Florence’s biological mother and referred to a Russ family burial plot in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, with lot number 17187 being reserved for Florence Russ, aka Florence La Badie. This supposed legal deposition was dated five days before Florence’s death. There was evidence to support that she was the granddaughter of a Louisa Russ, who had purchased the family plot in Green-Wood.
Having completed her studies, she was offered work as a fashion model in New York City. Once there, in early 1908 she obtained a small part in a stage play. Following this, she signed to tour with one of the road companies and for the next two years appeared on stage in various places in the eastern part of the United States. During this period she met a fellow Canadian, the young actress Mary Pickford, who in 1909 invited Florence to watch the making of a motion picture at the Biographies studio in Manhattan. Given an impromptu bit part, Florence was invited back to Biograph’s studios to participate in another film later that year. She would go on to make several films under the renowned D. W. Griffith, with her first credited film being in the 1909 filmThe Politician’s Love Story, starring Mack Sennett and Kathlyn Williams.
When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Canada immediately joined the war, and as a result, several of Florence La Badie’s young male friends and relatives back home in Montreal were immediately shipped overseas. She had many movie fans in Canada and according to one New York newspaper, in 1915 a young soldier fighting in the trenches at the Front in Northern France wrote to her, sending dozens of photographs that graphically depicted the horrors of the war. Deeply affected, La Badie became a vigorous advocate for peace, traveling the United States with a stereopticon slide show of the soldier’s photographs, warning about the terrible dangers of going to war.
In August 1917, La Badie was at the height of her motion picture success. She had appeared in 185 films since 1909, 32 fewer than Mary Pickford’s 217 films during the same period. Her film The Woman in White had just been released in July 1917. Her latest two films, The Man Without a Country, a film adaptation of Edward Everett Hale’s The Man Without a Country, and War and the Woman, would also soon be released, both on September 9, 1917. Although the Thanhouser Corporation had been struggling since the 1914 automobile accident death of Charles J. Hite, her career was thriving and had been their saving grace. Less than a month earlier, she had announced that she was leaving Thanhouser, and she had several other film corporations willing to pick her up on contract immediately.
On August 28, 1917, while driving near Ossining, New York in the company of her fiance, Daniel Carson Goodman, the brakes on La Badie’s car failed and the vehicle plunged down a hill, overturning at the bottom. While Goodman escaped with only a broken leg, La Badie was thrown from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries, including a compound fracture of the pelvis. Hospitalized, she clung to life for more than six weeks and seemed to be improving, but suddenly died on October 13, from septicemia. She thus became the first major female film star to die while her career was at its peak, and the movie-going public mourned her death. After a large funeral, she was interred in an unmarked grave in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, the same cemetery included by Marie C. Russ in her legal proceedings days before her death, with Marie Russ claiming to have been her actual birth mother in sworn deposition. Obituary notices stated La Badie was survived by her mother, Amanda La Badie, with no mention of her having been adopted. This omission would have been customary at the time. Due to her death, it is unknown what her prolonged impact in films would have been. Although little-remembered now, she was once a top-billed star. Under New York laws, the property of her estate was divided between Mr. and Mrs. Joseph La Badie.
In 2014, Ned Thanhouser, the grandson of Edwin Thanhouser, raised money for a proper headstone for La Badie, which was installed on April 27 of that year, on what would have been her 126th birthday.