Summer 2014

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 48 of 51

HERBERT MARSHALL: AMPUTEE MOVIE STAR W O R L D WA R I at 1 0 0/ 19 1 4 -19 1 8 46 SAG-AFTRA | Summer 2014 | British World War I veteran Herbert Marshall and Lady Tsen Mai in his American film debut The Letter, shot in New York in late fall of 1928 at Paramount's Astoria Studios in Long Island. After his scenes wrapped, Marshall commuted to New York City by subway to appear in the Broadway comedy The High Road. T he leg had to come off. The young English soldier was 26 and serving in the 14th Battalion, London Regiment, the "London Scottish," when the gunshot shattered his right knee in France on April 9, 1917, in the midst of the Great War. He was sent home to recuperate but the leg would not heal properly, finally leaving no choice but amputation. He was discharged from the army the following year on May 17, 1918. But Herbert "Bart" Marshall refused to let the loss of a leg keep him from the acting profession he loved, and through the use of a painful prosthetic leg and the force of his own will, returned to the stage to resume an acting career that would take him from England to Broadway and Hollywood over the next 14 years. In April 1932, Paramount Pictures producer Jesse L. Lasky signed Marshall to a movie contract that brought him to Hollywood. The following year, fan magazine Modern Screen declared that "... it is well to remember that, having lost one leg in the war, Herbert Marshall, never seeing himself as incapacitated is … as attractive and fit and able as any man!" Over the next decade, Marshall starred opposite legends and goddesses of the silver screen like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis, and continued as a character actor through the early 1960s. Marshall was a model to follow for performers with disabilities. After his death in January 1966, Reginald Denham, who acted with him in a London production of the play Abraham Lincoln in early 1919, described his admiration in Variety: "We had rehearsed for three weeks and it was not until the dress rehearsal when we were taking off our clothes that we discovered that 'Bart,' as we called him, had only one leg ... Bart ... had one of the latest mechanical ones for which there was a growing demand. These postwar contraptions were extremely clumsy and would cause the wearer great pain. Several years later, Bart told me that he had played most of the run of Lincoln in agony." Marshall's part also called for three costume changes, and the third floor dressing room required that he ascend and descend stairs eight times each day — double on matinee days. Denham marveled, "Through all this crippling discomfort, I never heard Bart utter a word of complaint. Of course, we all tried to help him in his quick change when circumstances allowed. His one reaction, apart from gratitude, was apologetic. He hated being such a 'bloody nuisance.'" Denham also witnessed one of Marshall's young actor friends suggest that "because of Bart's disability, he was fighting a losing game in trying to resume his acting career [and] advised him to try front-of-the-house desk work if he was still stage struck. Bart told this popinjay what to do with himself in terms that would have won the approval of [famous theatrical critic] Kenneth Tynan … In most of his obituary notices, he seems to be remembered as having been a superb exponent of elegant 'perfect gentleman' parts, which indeed he was. However, my own main memory of him is as a young eagle, a wounded eagle with indomitable courage." Snapshot by Valerie Yaros

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of SAG-AFTRA - Summer 2014