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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Sylvia Breamer, c. 1920

Witzel Studios

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 18.0 cm x 12.8 cm, image: 16.2 cm x 11.2 cm)

Sylvia Bremer (also Breamer) (1897–1943), actor, was born in Double Bay, Sydney, in June 1897 into a British-Australian naval family. She was thirteen years old when her mother took her to a theatre agent who recommended elocution lessons – something of a stepping stone to the stage for daughters of the moneyed, socially-prominent classes. Bremer began her training for the theatre with the Scottish-born Shakespearean specialist Walter Bentley at his School of Elocution and Dramatic Arts and later studied at the Ancelon-Chapman College of Dramatic Art. By 1912 she was appearing in various ‘dramatic entertainments’ with Ancelon-Chapman and winning prizes for recitations at the Commonwealth Eisteddfod in Sydney and the Lismore Music Festival. Shortly thereafter she began working for JC Williamson’s and toured with the company in Australia and New Zealand during 1913 and 1914. A major breakthrough came in 1915 when Bremer stepped in to play the female lead in Bought and Paid For, replacing the American drawcard Muriel Starr who had taken ill unexpectedly. ‘The substitute actress is said to be very good looking’, wrote one reviewer, while another praised Bremer’s ‘clear voice, graceful presence and subtle methods.’ It was around the same time that she married her producer, EW Morrison, with whom she left for the USA in 1916 to try her luck on Broadway. She was soon afterwards signed instead by the Triangle Film Corporation in California. Her first movie and the first of several comedies she appeared in for Triangle, Pinch Hitter, was released in late April 1917, not long before Morrison returned to Australia without her. Changing the spelling of her name to the less German-seeming Breamer, she went on to appear in a further 48 films for various studios and producers between 1917 and 1936. These included The Narrow Trail (1917); Cecil B DeMille’s We Can’t Have Everything (1918); My Lady’s Garter (1919); Unseen Forces (1920) and The Girl of the Golden West (1923). In 1922, one local Australian newspaper reported that Bremer ‘is one of the screen stars in the movie world of the United States, and in gracefulness and beauty is a good advertisement for this country. She often yearns for Australian sunshine and our beaches, but she has won out and is booked ahead for years.’ Her sister, mother and stepfather had joined her in the USA by the mid-1920s, but by this time Bremer’s star was waning and she made very few films following her second, short-lived and rancorous marriage to a dubious, hard-drinking ‘Hollywood physician’. She died of a heart condition in New York in June 1943, three years after her third marriage had ended in divorce.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017

Accession number: 2017.123

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Witzel Studios

Sylvia Breamer (age 23 in 1920)

Related portraits

1. Sylvia Breamer, c. 1917-19. All an unknown artist.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.