Herbert Brough Falcon Marshall (23 May 1890 – 22 January 1966) was an English stage, screen and radio actor who, despite losing a leg during the First World War, starred in many popular and well-regarded Hollywood films in the 1930s and 1940s. After a successful theatrical career in the United Kingdom and North America, he became an in-demand Hollywood leading man, frequently appearing in romantic melodramas and occasional comedies. In his later years, he turned to character acting.
The son of actors, Marshall is best remembered for roles in Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), Alfred Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), William Wyler's The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941), Albert Lewin's The Moon and Sixpence (1942), Edmund Goulding's The Razor's Edge (1946), and Kurt Neumann's The Fly (1958). He appeared onscreen with many of the most prominent leading ladies of Hollywood's Golden Age, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis.
From 1944 to 1952, Marshall starred in his own radio series, The Man Called 'X'. Often praised for the quality of his voice, he made numerous radio guest appearances and hosted several shows. He performed on television as well. The actor, known for his charm, married five times and periodically appeared in gossip columns because of his sometimes turbulent private life. During the Second World War, he worked on the rehabilitation of injured troops, especially aiding amputees like himself. Marshall received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
Early years and the First World War
Marshall was born in London in 1890, as the only child of stage actors Percy F. Marshall and Ethel May Turner. Theatrical critics praised his father for his comic flair and "rich voice." In addition to acting, Percy wrote and directed some plays in which he appeared. Most popular in the 1880s and 1890s, Marshall's father retired from acting in 1922 and died on 28 December 1927 at the age of 68. Marshall later recalled: "My father was a grand actor—better than I could ever dream of being." His mother was the sister of journalist and drama critic, Leopold Godfrey-Turner (born Leopold McClintock Turner). Marshall's grandfather, Godfrey Wordsworth Turner, wrote several books and articles on art and travel. In an article about his love of the theatre, he noted that one of his uncles was an actor. Godfrey was also the grandnephew of influential businessman Edward Wollstonecraft, who was the nephew of women's rights activist and author Mary Wollstonecraft and first cousin of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who wrote the horror classic Frankenstein.
—Herbert Marshall recalling the inspiring example of his uncle after the First World War
As a boy, Herbert's mother gave him the nickname "Bart" because she feared he would be known as "Bertie," a name then in vogue that she disliked. His family, friends and personal acquaintances continued to call him Bart for the rest of his life. He was also periodically referred to by his nickname in the press. While introduced by his given name, he was usually addressed as Bart on the radio. His parents gave him the middle name, Brough (pronounced /ˈbrʌf/ BRUF), after his godfather, comedic Shakespearean actor Lionel Brough.
As a child, Marshall was primarily brought up by his three maternal aunts, while his parents toured in theatrical productions. During school vacations, however, they took him with them. These early experiences initially gave him a negative view of the theatre:
I used to tour the provinces in England with my mother and father, you know, when I was a small lad. And I was often tired and cold, there seemed to me to be so much heartache and poverty and disappointment that the glamour and applause and tinsel of the theatre escaped me, quite...No, I had no reason to love the theatre...I spent most of my time trying to forget those tired faces which the footlights served only to illumine, mockingly.
Marshall graduated from St. Mary's College in Old Harlow, Essex and worked for a time as an accounting clerk. After being sacked for the slow speed of his calculations, he took a job as an assistant business manager of a theatre troupe run by a friend of his father's. He later had a series of different backstage jobs at various theatres and acting companies. When a troupe he worked for reformed, he was laid off. He then tried his hand at acting. In a 1935 interview, he claimed that he only became an actor out of necessity because he did not know how to do anything else. To another reporter, he recollected how he had initially vowed never to go on the stage.
Marshall recalled his time on the Western Front: "I knew terrific boredom. There was no drama lying in the trenches 10 months. I must have felt fear, but I don't remember it. I was too numb to recall any enterprise on my part." On 9 April 1917 he was shot in the right knee by a sniper at the Second Battle of Arras in France. After a succession of operations, doctors were forced to amputate his right leg. Marshall remained hospitalised for 13 months. He later recalled in private that after his injury, he had initially over-dramatised his loss and was wrapped up in self-pity and bitterness. Before long, however, he decided he wanted to return to the theatre and learned how to walk well with a prosthetic leg in order to do so. While he was recovering at St. Thomas' in London, King George V visited the hospital. When asked to pick which of the actor's legs he thought was artificial, the king chose the wrong one. Throughout his career, Marshall largely managed to hide the fact that he had a prosthetic limb, although it was occasionally reported in the press.
Marshall suffered from his war injury for the rest of his life, both from phantom pain common to amputees and from the prosthesis. One friend remembered that he kept holes in his trouser pockets so that he could inconspicuously loosen a strap on his prosthetic leg in order to ease sudden discomfort. The pain in his leg became more pronounced later in life, including bothering him on film shoots in ways noticeable to others and exacerbating his usually very slight limp.
Marshall had a long and varied stage career, appearing with such notables as Sir Nigel Playfair, Sir Gerald du Maurier, Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Edna Best (his second wife), Cathleen Nesbitt, Mabel Terry-Lewis, Marie Löhr, Madge Titheradge and Edmund Gwenn (his future film and radio co-star). While his stage debut is usually listed as The Adventure of Lady Ursula (1911), some sources place it in 1909. Furthermore, Marshall remembered playing a footman alongside Eric Blore in Robert Courtneidge's The Arcadians; his mention of Blore added an appearance in November 1910. In 1913, he made his London debut in the role of Tommy in Brewster's Millions. Actor-manager Cyril Maude was so impressed with his performance that he recruited Marshall for his U.S. and Canadian tour of Grumpy. When war was declared, the company returned to London, and the 24-year-old enlisted.
Following the Armistice, Marshall joined Nigel Playfair's repertory troupe, appearing in Make Believe (December 1918), The Younger Generation (1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1919). In 1920, he made his first known appearance opposite Edna Best in Brown Sugar. He also appeared in John Ferguson and the Shakespearean plays The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. Marshall recalled "Jacques in As You Like It has given me more pleasure than any part I have played". The following year, he toured North America with Australian star Marie Löhr and starred in A Safety Match in London. By 1922, Marshall was making regular appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, debuting on Broadway in The Voice From the Minaret and starring in Coward's The Young Idea (with then-wife Maitland) and The Queen Was in the Parlour. Among his other successes were Aren't We All? (1923), The Pelican (1924–25), Lavender Ladies (1925), Interference (1927–28), S.O.S. (1928) and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1931). His greatest hits with Edna Best were the aforementioned Brown Sugar, The Charming People (1925–26), The High Road (1928–29), Michael and Mary (1930), The Swan (1930) and There's Always Juliet (1931–32).
In 1927, Marshall debuted onscreen opposite Pauline Frederick in the British silent film Mumsie. He made his first American film appearance as the lover of Jeanne Eagels's character in the first version of The Letter, produced at Paramount Pictures' Astoria studios two years later. After The Letter, in Britain once again, he notably starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Murder! (1930). The following year, he returned to Paramount to make Secrets of a Secretary. After a few additional British films in the early 1930s, he primarily made films in the United States for the remainder of his life. As a Hollywood leading man, the suave, gentlemanly actor played romantic roles opposite such stars as Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.
The 1932 film Blonde Venus brought him to fame among the general American public. Later the same year, he played Gaston Monescu, a sophisticated thief involved in a love triangle in Ernst Lubitsch's suggestive, light comedy Trouble in Paradise. In interviews, Marshall expressed a preference for playing this sort of witty comedy role. He discussed his two early films in a 1935 interview:
I am strongly of the belief that if there had been another 'Blond Venus'—my first picture (sic), with the acute direction of von Sternberg—I would have been thrown off the screen! By the grace of God and Lubitsch, against the wishes of his company, I was next cast in a good role in 'Trouble in Paradise' for which Lubitsch seemed to think me peculiarly suited and would have been very unhappy if he had had anyone else.
Marshall, who often played kind and proper husbands betrayed by their wives, told several reporters that he was tired of such "gentleman" roles. Although another cuckolded husband, he appreciated his part in The Painted Veil (1934) with Garbo because his character was able to show "intestinal fortitude." For the rest of the 1930s, he continued to be typecast in romantic melodramas, including The Dark Angel (1935) with Fredric March and Merle Oberon, Angel (1937) with Marlene Dietrich and Always Goodbye (1938) with Barbara Stanwyck, although he also appeared in the screwball comedies If You Could Only Cook (1935), The Good Fairy (1935) and Breakfast for Two (1937), as well as the musical Mad About Music (1938).
By mid-decade, the press noted how popular he was as a romantic actor. Syndicated columnist Edwin Schallert wrote: "The demand for Herbert Marshall's talents continues to spread far and wide. Even the newer and younger leading women, it is felt, need to have his proficient romanticism displayed in their pictures." Another reporter referred to him as the current "vogue in leading men" and noted that the top actresses often asked for him to appear with them.
Besides his early romantic roles, Marshall was especially associated with the onscreen works of British author W. Somerset Maugham. In addition to performances in both filmed versions of Maugham's The Letter, Marshall also starred in adaptions of The Painted Veil (1934), The Moon and Sixpence (1942) and The Razor's Edge (1946). In the latter two, he portrayed the author, first as Maugham stand-in Geoffrey Wolfe and later as Maugham (formally), serving as both a narrator and a character within the film.
In 1941, he starred as maltreated, principled husband Horace Giddens in The Little Foxes, which received nine Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. The film's review in Variety noted "Marshall turns in one of his top performances in the exacting portrayal of a suffering, dying man." Over the course of the 1940s, he began to move into character roles, including parts in such classics as Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Secret Garden (1949). Also in the immediate post-war years, he appeared in the film noirs Crack-Up (1946), Ivy (1947), High Wall (1947), The Underworld Story (1950) and Angel Face (1953). During the 1950s and 1960s, he periodically performed in period films, including The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, The Virgin Queen (1955) with Bette Davis, science-fiction films, foremost The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price, and crime thrillers, like Midnight Lace (1960) with Doris Day and Rex Harrison.
Radio and television
In 1936, Marshall began lending his talents to radio, appearing on such programmes as Lux Radio Theatre (at least 19 appearances), The Screen Guild Theatre (at least 16 appearances), The Jell-O Program (three appearances, including one as host), The Burns and Allen Show (two appearances), Birds Eye Open House, The Pepsodent Show and Hollywood Star Time (taking over as host in October 1946). He made radio history in July 1940 as the narrator of "The Lodger", the first audition show of the Suspense series (making 20 appearances on the program). His most famous role was as globetrotting intelligence agent Ken Thurston in The Man Called 'X' (1944–52). The series, first aired on CBS as a summer replacement for the Lux Radio Theatre, introduced Thurston as an employee of an agency known only as "The Bureau". His boss, dubbed "The Chief", tasked him with dealing with some of the world's most hardened, sophisticated criminals, including smugglers, murderers, black marketeers, saboteurs, kidnappers, various types of thieves, corrupt politicians and rogue scientists. Thurston's sidekick/nemesis Egon Zellschmidt was played by character actor Hans Conried during the first season. From 1945–52, Russian comic and musician Leon Belasco appeared in the same role as Pegon Zellschmidt. The show was broadcast not only for the sake of entertainment but it also "alerted an anxious war-weary world to the inherent dangers of resting on its laurels during the brief peace after war."
Beginning in 1950, Marshall performed periodically on television, including two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and several adaptations of plays and films, such as The Philadelphia Story and Now, Voyager. In the 1950s, he hosted a series of half-hour dramatic stories titled The Unexpected (a.k.a. Times Square Playhouse). He appeared as the "mystery guest" on an episode of the popular game show What's My Line? in November 1954. His most notable guest role in the 1960s was as Father Anthony on 77 Sunset Strip.
Second World War
During the Second World War, Marshall made numerous appearances on the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS), hosting The Globe Theatre and guest-starring on Command Performance and Mail Call, among other programmes. He was also one of the leaders of a Hollywood British committee that helped organise the community's contributions to British war relief. In 1940, Marshall co-starred with Rosalind Russell in Noël Coward's Still Life (from Tonight at 8.30) at the El Capitan. The proceeds went to the British Red Cross. In 1943, he appeared briefly in the RKO film, Forever and a Day. The profits from the film funded a variety of war charities. That same year, Marshall penned a public letter of encouragement to his Hollywood colleagues serving overseas. He also performed in the short film, The Shining Future (1944), later condensed and renamed Road to Victory, which was intended to sell Canadian war bonds. Marshall and twenty-five other actors each received a plaque from a representative of the Canadian government for their participation in the film.
Work with amputees
Using his own money for travel, Marshall visited many military hospitals during the war. In particular, he focused on encouraging soldiers with amputations to keep a positive attitude and not to think of themselves as handicapped or limited. Despite his usual reluctance to discuss his own injury, he talked freely about his personal experiences in order to give these amputees tips on how to use and adjust to their new artificial limbs. Although mostly kept private, a 1945 article in Motion Picture Magazine reported, against Marshall's wishes, on his work at military hospitals. The author, Patty De Roulf, insisted that his story needed to be told to help injured veterans and their families and to show that "Marshall is doing one of the finest war jobs any human being can do." She interviewed one young officer, who recalled:
Herbert Marshall gave me back my life. When I found out I had a metal claw instead of a hand, I was completely broken...Then one day, while I was in the hospital, we were told Herbert Marshall, the film star, was coming to talk to us. I was disgusted with the idea. A collar ad, I thought, coming to give us a Pollyanna speech!
It turned out to be anything but that. Mr. Marshall talked real sense into us. He followed it up with demonstrations, actually showing us what he could do. Before he left, we were convinced that if he had been able to lead a normal life, we could do the same.
The article also quoted a veteran with a double amputation (left leg and right foot), who praised Marshall for showing him how to dance with a prosthetic leg. He considered the actor's advice and example to be his Ten Commandments. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Head of the Allied Forces in Europe, noted in private that, of all the film stars he met in Europe during the war, he was most impressed with Marshall and Madeleine Carroll (who worked as a nurse at field hospitals).
Marshall, a quiet-spoken man who was one of the pillars of the Hollywood British community, was widely respected and well-liked due to his talent and professionalism, pleasant and easygoing demeanor, sensitivity, gentlemanly and courteous manner, witty sense of humour, and his "very great personal charm". Among the affable actor's many friends in the British community were Edmund Goulding, Eric Blore, Ronald Colman, Clive Brook, Merle Oberon, C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven, Basil Rathbone, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Brian Aherne. Other friends included Raymond Massey, Rod La Rocque, Vilma Bánky, Kay Francis, Mary Astor, Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas, Bette Davis and Grace Moore. Although popular and likeable, Marshall suffered from bouts of depression through much of his life. In his free time, he especially enjoyed sketching and fishing.
—Reporter Alma Whitaker describing Marshall in The Los Angeles Times, 1932
Marriages and family
Marshall was married five times and divorced three. In 1914, he appeared with Mollie Maitland (whose real name was Hilda Lloyd Bosley) in The Headmaster; the following year, they were married. Five years later, he first appeared with Edna Best, who became his most frequent stage co-star; they also made three films together (The Calendar, Michael and Mary and The Faithful Heart). Marshall and Best were married in November 1928, following their respective divorces (they had been cohabiting for the previous three years). In 1931, Best broke a lucrative contract with MGM and walked off the filming of The Phantom of Paris with John Gilbert in order to be with Marshall in New York, where he was performing in a play. In response to a press inquiry, he said: "I'm sorry if Hollywood is annoyed, but Edna and I happen to be in love with each other and we want to be together."
During a return trip to London in late November 1932, Marshall and a pregnant Best gave an interview in which they stated their intention to briefly return to Hollywood the following summer. They would bring a nanny to help look after their daughter. At some point, Best and young Sarah returned to London while Marshall received more film offers. They continued making trips to see each other. In late 1933, actress Phyllis Barry had tea with Marshall and Claudette Colbert after they returned from Hawaii, where they had been filming Four Frightened People. She remembered that Marshall "insisted on my talking all the time because he said I sounded just like his wife". By the time Marshall was filming Riptide in early 1934, he was reportedly drinking heavily due to his problems with Best and increased phantom pain. (Director Goulding and co-star Norma Shearer successfully convinced him to curb his consumption of alcohol.) Not long after, Goulding introduced him to Gloria Swanson.
In 1940, after a long separation from her husband and wanting to marry someone else, Best divorced Marshall on grounds of desertion (he lived in Hollywood, while she lived in Britain). She remarried almost immediately. Twenty days later, he married actress and model Elizabeth Roberta "Lee" Russell, a sister of film star Rosalind Russell. Two years prior to their marriage, Russell's recently divorced ex-husband, songwriter Eddy Brandt, initiated an alienation of affection suit for $250,000 against Marshall, whom he accused of stealing his wife. Brandt later told the press that he and the actor settled out of court for $10,000. Marshall publicly denied this claim. In 1947, Russell divorced him in Mexico. They parted on amiable terms. Instead of explaining the reasons for her divorce, she told the press at the time: "I will never say anything against Bart. He is one of the most charming people I have ever known."
He was married to his fourth wife, former Ziegfeld girl and actress Patricia "Boots" Mallory, from 1947 until her death in 1958. They were wed in August 1947, with Nigel Bruce acting as best man. After a 16-month illness, Mallory died of a throat ailment at age 45. Marshall was deeply troubled by her death and had to be hospitalised for pneumonia and pleurisy less than two months later. He married Dee Anne Kahmann, his final wife, on 25 April 1960, when he was almost 70 years old. She was a twice-divorced, 38-year-old department store buyer. They remained married until his death.
Marshall had a daughter, Sarah, by Edna Best, and another daughter, Ann, by Lee Russell. Sarah Marshall followed her parents and grandparents into the acting profession, appearing in many of the most popular television shows of the 1960s, including Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, F Troop and Daniel Boone. Herbert and Sarah Marshall acted together in a television version of J.B. Priestley's play An Inspector Calls in 1951. His younger daughter, Ann Marshall (often called Annie), worked for many years as Jack Nicholson's personal assistant. He also had at least four step-children, two from his marriage to Best and two from his marriage to Mallory. His grandson, Timothy M. Bourne, Sarah Marshall's only child, is an independent film producer. Bourne was the executive producer of the Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side (2009).
Affair with Gloria Swanson
In the early 1930s, Marshall was commonly rumoured within Hollywood social circles to have had affairs with both his Trouble in Paradise co-stars Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins. In January 1934, Marshall, while still married to Best, began a serious affair with actress Gloria Swanson, who recounted their relationship in her memoirs, Swanson on Swanson (1980). She described Marshall at the time of their first meeting as "a handsome man in his early forties with a gentle face and soft brown eyes", who had "one of the most perfect musical voices I had ever heard". Swanson also wrote that the actor was "sweet beyond belief" and "a nice man", who "utterly charmed" her and her children. He constantly wrote her love notes, and when she was out of town, he sent her romantic telegrams almost hourly. (Many of these personal documents now reside at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center archives, as part of the Gloria Swanson Papers.) Newspapers and film fan magazines widely discussed his affair with Swanson at the time, which he made little attempt to keep secret.
In November 1936, Swanson left him once she accepted that he would not divorce Edna Best to marry her. Although insisting they were "madly in love," she believed that he would not demand a divorce because of his typically docile nature, reluctance to deliberately hurt people, and guilt over his separation from his young daughter. "He would always turn to alcohol rather than face a painful scene," she remembered. Despite an emotional parting, near the end of her life Swanson, who was married six times, wrote: "I was never so convincingly and thoroughly loved as I was by Herbert Marshall."
A few months into their relationship, Marshall became a subject of media gossip after a confrontation at El Morocco in New York City. A photographer snapped pictures of the couple dining together. The photos were published in newspapers and magazines. When Marshall saw that Swanson was annoyed by the photographer, he "went into one of the most spectacular rages of all times," according to Modern Screen. In a syndicated column, Ed Sullivan wrote that he watched Marshall "rise violently" from his seat and chase the cameraman down the aisles between the nightclub's tables.
Around two months after this incident, Marshall again received substantial publicity after screenwriter John Monk Saunders (husband of actress Fay Wray) punched him in the face and knocked him to the floor at a dinner party given by director Ernst Lubitsch. According to a wire report, Marshall took exception to something Saunders said about Gloria Swanson. Later that night, after Marshall called Saunders a derogatory name, Saunders hit him while he was, in his own words, "seated...and looking in an opposite direction". Wray later added details unreported at the time. According to her, Marshall referred to Saunders as a "bestial bastard" after the screenwriter ogled Swanson's décolletage. Articles about the incident commonly mentioned Marshall's prosthetic leg, which had only very rarely been talked about in the press up to that point.
With the increasing public demand for grittier films after the Second World War, the remaining members of the Hollywood British "colony" began to part ways, with some returning to Britain while others stayed in Hollywood. Marshall, like many of his contemporaries who stayed in Hollywood, began to receive far fewer acting offers and, especially toward the end of his life, had to take whatever he could get due to financial reasons. In May 1951, while in the hospital recuperating from corrective surgery, he suffered a "pulmonary embolism around his heart". After NBC aired three episodes of The Man Called 'X' that were previously transcribed, Marshall's friends Van Heflin, John Lund and Joseph Cotten filled in (one episode each) until Marshall's return in June 1951. Marshall appeared in his last significant film role in The Caretakers (1963) with Joan Crawford, who was happy to act with him again 22 years after they made When Ladies Meet together. Noting his poor health and heavy drinking, she worked with the film's director to minimise the time Marshall had to be on the set.
In late 1965, after his final brief film appearance in the thriller The Third Day, Marshall was admitted to the Motion Picture Relief Fund Hospital for severe depression. Eight days after his release, he died on 22 January 1966 in Beverly Hills, California of heart failure at the age of 75. He was interred at Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.
|1941||The Jell-O Program||2 February episode; substitutes for Jack Benny as master of ceremonies|
|1946||Hollywood Star Time||Intermezzo|
|Hollywood Star Time||Bedelia|
|1951||The Jell-O Program||16 February episode; at surprise birthday party for Jack Benny|
|1953||Suspense||The Mystery of Edwin Drood|
|Suspense||The Dead Alive|
- Audition program for the Suspense radio program.