Colleen’s early career was characterized by many years working hard to find work in an industry that prized youth and beauty above all other qualities in its actresses. Acting chops often came secondary to the ability to look good on camera. This was a period in history that saw the beginnings of the youth culture, and this gave rise to the meteoric successes of such young actresses as Mary Miles Minter, Mary Pickford and Mildred Harris, among others. Some went onto great fame (such as Mary Pickford) and others faded after controversy (Minter after the scandal around the murder of Wiliam Desmond Taylor and Harris after a brief stretch as Charlie Chaplins child bride).
Colleen was not born a ravishing beauty, but always referred to herself as plain and ordinary, and so there were no easy categories for her to slip into. If she was going to be a sucess in Hollywood, which was her goal, she was going to have to work hard for it and fight every step of the way. Nothing would be handed to her. This being the case, her early roles often reflect the roles women were seen in society at large. Her parts were varied, from comedy to drama. Her famous bobbed haircut wold not come until after the first third of her career was completed.