Queen Silver (Yes, that was her real name) was born in 1910 – the only child of Grace
Silver, one of the original Suffragettes. Grace was in the middle of a lecture tour when
Queen was almost literally “born in a trunk.”  She attended her first political rally when
she was six days old – where her mother railed against unfair labor laws and supported
the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World).

Home educated by her mother, Queen turned out to be a child prodigy. By the time she
was eight years old, she was giving lectures of her own – to huge crowds. She was
sponsored by the
London Society of Science to give a series of six lectures, ranging
from Darwin’s theory of evolution to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Newspapers dubbed
her “The Girl Wonder” and “The Girl Scientist.” Luther Burbank, the famous botanist,
said that her scientific explanations were among the clearest he had ever heard.

By the time she was 13 years old she was writing, editing, and publishing her own
periodical – called
Queen Silver’s Magazine - which she continued publishing until she
was 21. She had more than 5,000 subscribers, worldwide. During that time, the Scopes
Monkey Trial was held. William Jennings Bryan had served as prosecutor against a
high school teacher for including a section on evolution in his science classes. So one
of Queen’s most popular speeches was titled “Evolution: from Monkey to Bryan.” She
publicly challenged Bryan to a debate, but Bryan declined – which led to national
publicity, and many more subscribers.

There was one particular preacher in Los Angeles who kept heckling Queen during her
speeches – which eventually led Grace to punch him in the nose. When the assault case
went to trial, Queen acted as her mother’s own defense attorney.  
The Los Angeles
Evening Express
published a story titled, “Modern Portia of 14 Fights for Mother
Before Court.”

And more remarkably – she won the case!

When she was seventeen, Queen organized a club called
The Junior Atheist League.
On June 2, 1927, the front page of the
Los Angeles Examiner ran the headline, “School
Atheist Clubs in City Laid to Soviets
,” with the sub-heading: Minister, addressing P.T.
A., tells how Russian propaganda perils youth of U.S.

The article began:

“Does the hand of the United Socialist Soviet of Russia reach across the ocean and aim to hold
tightly within its grip the youth of this country? Is there a bond between the atheistic society known as
The Junior Atheists - a thriving organization – and the Young Pioneers of Russia, embracing all boys
and girls from one to seventeen years of age?”

On June 10th, 1927, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story, reporting that

“Leaflets inviting students to a meeting of the Junior Atheist League this afternoon were found
scattered around the grounds of Hollywood High School. These state that the purpose is to combat
the disgusting and evil influences of religion in public schools.”

There was another article the next day with the headline: ATHEIST MOVE ENDS IN
FIASCO. It reported that:

“The meeting was held in a dingy office on Spring Street. A group of religious high school students
confronted the Junior Atheist League leader, a girl lecturer, who owns, edits and publishes an
atheistic magazine, demanding that she quit trying to shake the faith of a Christ-loving school.”

Cecil B. DeMille read this story and decided it might be a good basis for a film – the
age-old conflict between science and religion. One of his biggest hits had been
King of
Kings
- about the life of Christ,  released in April of 1927. The lesson was not lost on
him: Promoting religion is highly profitable. And especially after all the publicity
generated by the Scopes trial, in which Clarence Darrow, the atheist, made a monkey
out of William Jennings Bryan, DeMille started to work on this film with the working title
of THE ATHEIST. He thought this would give him an opportunity to ridicule atheism with
all the popular clichés – and make lots of money.

Remember, also, this was during the time of the Hayes Office – when any actual
criticism of religion on the screen was forbidden.

DeMille had produced and directed more than 50 silent films before this one, and this
would end up being one of his most expensive, and his last Silent. The version we are
going to see, finally titled
THE GODLESS GIRL, was released in August of 1928.  It
turned out to be a flop. Not because it was a bad movie, but because
The Jazz Singer
had been released the previous year, and suddenly people only wanted to see Talkies.
The studio added a few sound sequences and re-released the film in 1929 – which also
turned out to be a failure – because, by then, too many people had already seen the
silent version.

When World War II started, free speech became a thing of the past, and Queen had to
retire from freethought activities. She got a high school diploma through night school,
majoring in Secretarial Studies. She became an expert in shorthand and spent the rest
of her life as a well-paid court reporter.

I first met Queen in the early 1970s, when a Los Angeles chapter of American Atheists
was first organized, and we used to meet at Queen’s house in Hollywood – a cozy little
cottage on one of the residential side streets.

When the chapter broke up in November of 1981, Atheists United was organized a few
months later, in 1982. Queen was secretary and served on the board of directors for
many years. She died in 1998, at age 87.

Just a few weeks before she died, she made an impromptu speech from her wheelchair
at the Solstice Banquet of Atheists United - and it was an amazingly powerful  speech!

Wendy McElroy, who wrote a biography of Queen said that the two most important
women in 20th century freethought were Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Queen Silver.

At some time during the period that I knew her there was a special screening of
The
Godless Girl
held at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Av. I remember that it was a
brand new print, played with live music, to a full house. Both Queen and Lina Basquette,
the actress  who played her in the movie, were guests of honor. It was a very glamorous
evening.

When Ms Basquette published an autobiography, she titled it:
Lina: The Godless Girl.
Wendy McElroy’s biography is called
Queen Silver: The Godless Girl.

During the Silent Era, DeMille had made a lot of films about social issues. And this film
is not only about the conflict between science and religion, but also about the issue of
juvenile justice.

The first few minutes of the film, therefore, are based on fact – although highly
exaggerated - but then it lapses into cornball melodrama. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find
it amusing, as high camp.

Here now is the 1928 version of The Godless Girl.
The Godless Girl
Introduction to the 1928 classic by Cecil B. DeMille
Delivered at the Atheists
United Meeting in Hollywood,
May, 2009
Home
Other Works Site Map