“The new Trilby, Svengali’a victim, is Marian Marsh, a newcomer to featured screen roles. A few months ago she was an extra girl in Hollywood,” New York Times review, April 26, 1931.
Oh, how I love this photo. Unlike the highly posed publicity shots featuring Mitzi with a movie star like Harlow in her beautiful bedroom, or Judy Garland chatting on a movie set couch, this one looks like two girlfriends caught having lunch when the paparazzi dashed in and grabbed a shot.
There’s a crust left on Marian’s plate and a full glass of crushed ice in front of Mitzi, who is mid-bite. Their smiles are conspiratorial and the family in the booth behind them have no idea what’s going on. What, movie stars? Cameras? And there’s someone else in the booth on Marian’s right. A publicist? Another actress?
As caught-in-the-moment as this image might seem, more than likely it was from a series of photos taken to promote Marian’s major role starring opposite John Barrymore in the 1931 melodrama Svengali. This photo, or perhaps the more posed one that I don’t have in the collection, would have accompanied Mitzi’s article in Photoplay or Variety magazines. Mitzi certainly had the best gig in LA. No wonder she’s laughing.
As for “doll faced” Marian – she had it sweet too. In fact, her parents owned a chocolate factory in Trinidad, West Indies and her father was reputed to have invented a way to keep chocolate bars from melting in your hands. Born Violet Ethelred Krauth on October 17, 1913, she became Marilyn Morgan when she went to Hollywood to join her older sister who had renamed herself Jean Fenwick. As Marilyn Morgan she had a small role in Howard Hughes’ 1930 war drama Hell’s Angels.
At some point she changed her screen name again to another MM combination, this time to Marian Marsh and as a teenager was plucked from the ranks of the “bit players” by mega star John Barrymore who handpicked her for the role of Trilby, the virginal young singer who succumbs to Svengali’s control. In one scene, quite shocking for the time, Trilby runs naked across a room. This was performed by a body double who would have been chosen from the hundreds, possibly thousands of young women desperate to break into the movie business. Not much has changed in 70 years.
Marian also played across Edward G. Robinson in Five Star Final in 1931, and played Sonya to Peter Lorre’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment in 1935. In all, she appeared in dozens of films and then left the picture business behind in the 1940s.
Marian married twice, first to Albert P. Scott, which ended in divorce. Then in 1960 she married Clifford W. Henderson, a prominent developer who was a founder of Palm Desert in Arizona, and she retired to raise a family and became involved in environmental causes, founding Desert Beautiful, a conservation group.
Marian Marsh Henderson died at 93 in 2006 leaving behind a large family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.