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William J. Butler (1860 27 January 1927) was an Irish silent film actor. He appeared in more than 260 films between 1908 and 1917.

William J. Butler
Dublin, Ireland
Died27 January 1927 (aged 66-67)
New York City, New York, USA
Years active1908–1917
Spouse(s)Emma Lathrop
Children2, including Larry Butler

An Irish immigrant to the United States, moved his family from Ohio to Hollywood, California, in 1908.

On Broadway, Butler performed in The Serio-Comic Governess (1904), The Great Divide (1906), and Pippa Passes (1906).[1]

At the age of 48, he wanted to get involved in a new industry called motion pictures. He appeared in more than 200 silent films. He made frequent appearances in films made by famed silent film producer/director D. W. Griffith, who made more than 500 films beginning in 1908. In addition to acting, Butler was a crew member and screenwriter of early films.

William's son, Larry Butler,[2] born in Akron, Ohio, just prior to the family's move to Hollywood. Larry grew up in the film business, dropped out of Burbank High School to work with his father on special effects projects. In 1940, Larry won his first of two Oscars. He was nominated five times for Oscars. His first Oscar was for special effects work done on The Thief of Baghdad. Larry is credited with inventing the blue screen and the traveling matte, both processes were necessary for all special effects and are used today.

Butler's grandsons, Michael C. Butler and David Butler, became highly respected cinematographers. William's grandson, Christopher Butler, is also a cinematographer. The Butler family which began with William Butler in 1908 have made movies for 100 years, and the generations span the silent era, the studio era, the independent director era and the current era.

Butler was married to actress Emma Lathrop, and they had a daughter, actress Kathleen Butler,[3] as well as their son. He died on 27 January 1927 in the Staten Island Hospital, aged 67.[4]

Selected filmography


  1. "William J. Butler". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  2. Eder, Bruce. "Lawrence Butler". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  3. "Mrs. William Butler, Ex-Actress, 89, Dead". The New York Times. 9 March 1935. p. 15. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  4. "William J. Butler, Actor". The New York Times. 29 January 1927. p. 15. Retrieved 1 May 2022.

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