The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
BAKER O'BRYAN, NELLIE BLY (1895?–1984).
A motion-picture actor during the 1920s and 1930s, Nellie Bly Baker was born in Oklahoma Territory on her parents' homestead on September 7, 1895 (some sources say 1893). It was located in present Yukon Township, Canadian County, south of present Lake Overholser. Her parents, Jasper Newton and Margaret Baker, had arrived in Indian Territory in the late 1880s and moved west after the Unassigned Lands (Oklahoma Territory) opened in 1889. By 1903 the family had relocated to Wagoner County, where she was raised. She reportedly attended business school and college in Oklahoma. Afterward, she worked as a stenographer in Tulsa before joining her sister, Ollie May, in Oklahoma City, where both worked as stenographers.
Nellie Bly Baker followed Ollie May to Hollywood, California, in 1918. They worked for a movie studio and had other jobs. In 1918 Nellie Baker attended the California School for Movie Operators and became California's first woman to be licensed as a motion-picture projectionist. She became a secretary at First National Pictures, where Charles Chaplin produced his own films, and she is credited with being on nine of his "film crews." In 1921 he cast her in The Kid and in 1923 in A Woman of Paris, both uncredited. In 1923 director-producer Constance Talmadge put Baker in The Goldfish, with a credit. Over the next eleven years she appeared in ten more movies for various studios that included Warner Brothers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and First National Pictures. In 1919 Baker married John Henderson O'Bryan, a film technician (some sources say they married in Oklahoma before World War I).
In 1935 (some say 1937) Nellie Baker O'Bryan (and perhaps her husband) relocated to Mono County and opened a summer resort. She became an entrepreneur and also a skilled wilderness guide. Circa 1966 she quit the resort but spent the rest of her life in the area. She is credited with building a local tourist attraction, the "Upside Down House." In late life she wrote a column for an area newspaper. After suffering a stroke in 1982, she entered a convalescent home in Lone Pine. She died on October 12, 1984.
Dianna Everett, "The Other Half: Oklahoma Women in the Movies," in Oklahoma @ The Movies, comp. Larry O'Dell (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).
"First Girl Movie Operator on Job So Boys Can Hit Hun," Los Angeles (California) Herald, 2 October 1918.
Barbara Moore, "High Sierra Nellie," The Album: Times and Tales of Inyo/Mono 5 (July 1992).
"Nellie Bly Baker O'Bryan," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Baker O'Bryan, Nellie Bly,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=BA049.
© Oklahoma Historical Society