Cullen Landis (July 9, 1896 – August 26, 1975) was an
American motion picture actor and director whose career began in the early
years of the silent film era.
James Cullen Landis was the middle of three siblings (two
sons and a daughter) raised by Lulan and Margaret (née Cullen) Landis in
Nashville, Tennessee, where his father supported his family as a stock broker.
As a boy, James was a train enthusiast and dreamed to be an railroad engineer.
Though the ambition eventually faded, his interest in railroads did not, and
some years later he helped design for himself a model train set powered by
steam. He began working in the fledgling film industry at age 18 around the
time his older sister, Margaret Landis, appeared in her first film.
In 1928 Cullen Landis starred in the first ‘all talking’
motion picture, Lights of New York. He once confided in a friend that talkies
were perfect for musicals and that he was no "song and dance man". He
left Hollywood for Detroit in 1930 to produce and direct industrial films for
automobile companies. Landis began as a movie director, only turning to acting
after his lead player broke a leg and it was discovered that the actor’s
costumes fit him.
He went on to become one of the more popular lead actors of
the silent era, appearing in some one hundred films over 14 years.
During World War II, he served as a captain with US Army
Signal Corps producing training films in the South Pacific. By war’s end he was
twice decorated and promoted to major. In the post war years he made
documentaries for the US State Department that took him to the far corners of
James Cullen Landis died on August 28, 1975, aged 79, at a
nursing home in Bloomfield, Michigan, three months after the death of his wife,