Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 10:37 UK

Tribute to 'forgotten' film star

Hughe's family father and brother circa 1910. Father L-R: Gareth Hughes's father, John Ellias Hughes, Gareth Hughes, his brother Brynley, c. 1910
L-R: Gareth Hughes's father John, Gareth, his brother Brynley, c. 1910

The story of Wales' first major Hollywood star, who walked from Llanelli to London for his big break, is told in a new documentary.

Gareth Hughes starred in 45 silent movies and lived with all the trappings today's A-list celebrities enjoy.

But he suddenly turned his back on the limelight and became a missionary living with a Native American tribe.

The documentary, Desert Padre, made by his Welsh relative Kelvin Guy, was shown in Llanelli on Saturday.

Gareth Hughes

He had all the trappings - two houses, a stables, home help - everything you imagine the stars have today

Kelvin Guy

It has a been a three-year labour of love for Mr Guy, from nearby Burry Port.

"All the filming was done in America - I've been back and fore as I've discovered more people who knew Gareth," he said.

Apart from the serious film buffs, most people will not have heard of him, but during his 10-15-year stretch (as a film actor) he was a major star with the studios, earning 2,000 a week.

"He had all the trappings - two houses, a stables, home help - everything you imagine the stars have today.

"He came from a working class family in Dafen and walked all the way to London - he would have been 16 or 17 years old - to be an actor on the stage.

"He joined a group of Welsh players who went over to the States and although they were not successful and came back he remained behind.

"His career just took off because he was very successful on the stage in Broadway in New York.

"And there he was obviously seen by the right people and persuaded to get involved in the new-fangled picture business.

"He made 45 films - melodramas, comedies - he was part of the studio stable so did what ever they wanted him to do."

Gareth Hughes with a Native American
Gareth Hughes gave up the spotlight for life with Native Americans
Mr Hughes was Mr Guy's grandmother's cousin and counted fellow screen legends Mary Pickford and Bette Davies among his friends, along with business mogul William Randolph Hearst and Peter Pan creator JM Barrie.

Then as the era of the silent movie ended and "talkies" became all the rage, Hughes turned his back on Hollywood to become a missionary.

Mr Guy said some people had claimed it was because his strong Welsh accent made him difficult to understand.

But he said he had heard a recording of his voice and it reminded him of Anthony Hopkins, the Oscar-winning star of The Silence of the Lambs, who was born along the south Wales coast in Port Talbot.

"I think it was a choice on his behalf to leave the business," he said.

Mr Guy's documentary was shown at Saron Chapel in Furnace in Llanelli on Saturday night.

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