Although she later professed to have preferred her stay with Columbia Pictures, Marian Marsh did her best work at Warner Bros., not only in her star-making turn opposite John Barrymore inSvengali (1931), but also with Warren William in the wry, unfairly neglected Beauty and the Boss (1932). A beauty contest winner of German descent, Marsh (born Violet Krauth) began her film career in 1930 through her sister Jeanne Morgan, a former Ziegfeld girl turned movie starlet. Howard Hughes gave her the moniker "Marilyn Morgan" and assigned her a brief but attention-grabbing turn in the aviation melodrama Hell's Angels (1930). Although little more than a walk-on role, it led to her being voted a 1931 Wampas Baby Star and securing the contract with Warner Bros.
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The studio changed her name to Marian Marsh, in honor, it was said at the time, of silent-era actress Mae Marsh, and launched her as Trilby in Svengali , Warner Bros.' screen version of Gerald du Maurier's Victorian novel about a villainous mesmerist and his innocent victim. (Despite updated versions of the story years later, Marsh remained the quintessential screen Trilby in the wonderfully florid melodrama.) Although not quite as powerful, Warners' follow-up, The Mad Genius (1931) -- again opposite Barrymore at the zenith of his powers -- also proved quite popular. Marsh was perfectly cast as the once-timid stenographer who proves eminently capable of taking care of herself in Beauty and the Boss (1932), a typical pre-Production Code comedy drama.
The pace at Warner Bros. was hectic and Marsh happily left in favor of the smaller Columbia Pictures, where, she later explained, she was treated with all the trappings of stardom. Some of her films there were, indeed, worth the effort, including The Black Room (1935) opposite Boris Karloff and Crime and Punishment (1935) as Sonya opposite Peter Lorre's Raskolnikov. She may have been slightly miscast in the latter, but Josef von Sternberg's direction easily overcame this minor flaw and she emerged unscathed. The actress was not so lucky with such subsequent fare as Republic's Prison Nurse (1938), directed by that old hack James Cruze; Monogram's Murder by Invitation (1941); and, her final film in 1942, PRC's House of Errors, all low-rent programmers and hardly worth her while.
Twice elected honorary mayor of her small San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth, Marsh left Hollywood behind with hardly a backward glance, retiring at the age of 30. She was widowed in 1984 by her second husband, Clifford Henderson (an aviation pioneer and the founder of Palm Desert) but remained the energetic president of Desert Beautiful, a Coachella Valley preservation society. Retaining only good memories of her past screen career, the former actress spoke with admiration of the legendary Barrymore, who, in Marsh's eyes, could do no wrong. "He was always so helpful and so inspiring to me," she stated in a later interview. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi