The damsel in distress is a common plot device that is still used in movies today. Back in 1914 Pearl White made a career out of it by starring in several serials in which her character was constantly put into dangerous peril only to be rescued at the last minute.
Pearl White’s first big movie was the silent serial The Perils of Pauline. It was a 20 episode serial about Pauline who decides to go out and have some adventures after her guardian dies. Several episodes are considered lost. Out of the original 410 minutes only a 90 minute version of the film exists today.
Inspired by 1913’s The Adventures of Kathlyn – a film that was the first cliffhanger movie and is considered lost today – Perils didn’t quite use the cliffhanger approach that most think of when serials are mentioned. Each episode had a cliffhanger moment but it was resolved by the end of each episode. The Perils of Pauline was remade with Betty Hutton in 1947 and again in 1967. The 1947 version was more of a biography of Pearl White, while the 1967 version is a comedy. Neither can compare with the original.
Pearl White next made The Exploits of Elaine which was an even bigger hit than Perils. White continued to make movies up until 1924 when she quit the business. By the 1930’s she was an alcoholic (some say to help with the injuries she sustained while performing all those stunts) and managed to drink herself to death in 1938 at the age 49.