ginnyfan

In search of...Virginia Weidler

864 posts in this topic

This is my first post on this forum, so please be kind.

 

Last week I stumbled upon the movie "The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt" on OTA TV. Seeing Virginia Weidler in that film made me go back and look at this site, imdb, youtube, and several other places for more information on her. I've known the basics for years, regularly working child actress finds success in her early teens, hits the wall in late teens, retires, marries, dies young with no further public contact.

 

For some reason, this story really has bothered me this week. I don't know if it was the video clips that seemed to always show someone who liked her work (see her final clip from 1945 with Jane Withers as an example), or just the knowledge that this young mom died just as her sons reached adulthood and she never got to see what successes they both became, but her story has me wanting to know more than what I see on the internet.

Is there any source available with a little more detail on her career and life? I'd really like to know if she always found the industry difficult or if her disillusionment was totally a result of the way MGM dropped her. I'd also like to know if the rest of her short life was happy.

 

 

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From my understanding, things ended badly for her in Hollywood. MGM did drop her in the mid-40s. Fox had previously dropped Shirley Temple. Child stars who were no longer considered viable by studios were cut loose. They were forced to reinvent themselves.

 

In Weidler's case, she turned to theatre and did some musical shows around the country before retiring early. She did not come back to film and did not really do television. It is sad, because she was very talented.

 

During her glory years, she had some difficulties. John Barrymore threw her across the set in a rage on an RKO picture. He was drinking and out of control. If this happened today, the internet would go viral and a star, no matter how big, would find his career effectively ended due to child abuse.

 

One thing that worked against her is that she did not have conventional beauty. Shirley Temple found jobs as a teen and in her early 20s. But some of the child actors fade because they cannot, like Liz Taylor, transition into ingenue roles.

 

Remember Brandon De Wilde? He was a very talented child star who died young. His problem was that when he matured he had to take supporting roles, because he was very short and did not have those tall, imposing leading man looks that Hollywood wants. Some of these child stars are cute as kids, but they do not blossom into sexy adults. So they wind up leaving the business or becoming character actors.

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Thanks. I did find out some things I didn't know by searching the old discussions here, like the Barrymore story and that she apparently screen tested for Mildred Pierce. That screen test would have been around the same time as her appearance in a Warner Vitaphone short with Jane Withers and might explain why she was in that short at all.

 

Interestingly, I did find a site showing a 1944 Life Magazine cigarette endorsement by her (actually, she only endorsed the crush proof box and said nothing about the cigarette itself). The ad described her as going from pigtails to glamourous, so I guess her management was trying hard to change her image.

 

I think one of the reasons I feel bad for Virginia is because, to me, she came across as the most regular of the movie kids. Of course, that may have been only part of the act as she certainly had a mother who shopped her and all her siblings around at a very young age.

 

I still, of course, would be interested to know of an film buffs or historians have more info on her, what else her husband may have said when he gave the quote about Virginia not thinking much of the industry, and if her sons-one of whom was a Disney exec in the '80s and '90s-have ever commented on their mother.

 

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Please consider me a fellow Virginia Weidler fan. I think she is pitch perfect as Hepburn's kid sis in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. In a film otherwise owned by Kate, Jimmy & Cary, she gets this one moment to shine and when she sings that song the picture is all hers.

 

She is also very good as Mickey Rooney's sister in LOVE IS A HEADACHE. You know, the one where they latch on to actress Gladys George, because they want a mother.

 

As you said, she probably had a typical stage mother. When the Barrymore incident occurred, I am sure she was told by her mother, her agent, the director and the studio boss to just suck it up. There was always that fear they could be replaced by another up-and-coming child actor.

 

When we look at her work at MGM in the early 40s, I think we can make some general comments. She was in a unique position, because Judy Garland, the studio's previous young talent, was now maturing into adult roles. So for awhile, these sorts of roles went to Weidler. But within a year or two, she would be considered too old and these parts would start to go to Margaret O'Brien. After O'Brien outgrew these jobs, they went to Donna Corcoran.

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I have a book about MGM contract players. I thought Weidler was listed in it and sure enough she was. I will return later after work and provide a summary of what was written about her. She seems to have been under contract at MGM from 1938 to 1943, though she was also under contract at Paramount before this time...

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Musical:I don't know where the short was available. The guy on youtube recorded it handheld and we know he got it somewhere. Some of the Virginia clips on youtube appear to have been posted by Warner as promotional material for DVDs. I find the short fascinating because even though she's only the foil for Withers' bit she seems to be having a good time. It's also, to my knowledge, the last time the public ever sees Virginia on film. After this it's only her stage act and three weeks on Broadway in November.

 

Top Billed: I've been pleased to find that even though she was never a star there are a lot fans out there. I've always liked her, but didn't get drawn to her story until this week. I feel a little silly trying to find out more and more about a woman who made her last movie almost 70 years ago at either 16 or 17 (according to a movie mag clipping, MGM was trying to pass her off as 12 in 1941).

 

 

 

I agree with you about the succession from Garland briefly to Virginia, but I can't fathom why MGM couldn't find a place for a good, solid girl next door who lit up every movie she was ever in, with the possible exception of Best Foot Forward. She was pretty; I don't see why they thought she had to be glamourous, especially to do light comedy.

 

 

Thank you for offering to look up Virginia in your reference. I'm sure it will help me understand her career better. Now if I can only find some clue about her retirement (did Jean Porter or anyone else with whom she stayed friendly ever mention her publicly, for example?) so I can believe she was at peace with her life. Then the story won't seem quite so sad.

 

 

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> {quote:title=ginnyfan wrote:}{quote}

>

> Now if I can only find some clue about her retirement (did Jean Porter or anyone else with whom she stayed friendly ever mention her publicly, for example?)

>

There were articles on Virginia Weidler in "Classic Images" #56 and 345. One was even written by her friend Jean Porter.

I'm not sure how available these issues may be at this time, but here's a link to their website:

 

http://www.classicimages.com/past_issues/

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Thanks a lot. I never even knew about the magazine because while I love to watch old movies I never collected anything about them. I'm very new to this stuff.

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I too am a huge fan of Child star Virginia Weidler, Have tons and tons of original 8X10s of her, have LOTS of her movies, have some original movie mag articles on her. She has been a favorite of mine for many years!

 

 

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*I agree with you about the succession from Garland briefly to Virginia, but I can't fathom why MGM couldn't find a place for a good, solid girl next door who lit up every movie she was ever in, with the possible exception of Best Foot Forward. She was pretty; I don't see why they thought she had to be glamourous, especially to do light comedy.*

 

There was a foil to this succession, briefly, when Shirley Temple berthed at MGM for awhile following her Fox contract. Temple was MUCH better known and popular (she was still America's Sweetheart in the minds of most). Shirley and Virginia were both entering that awkward juvenile stage, which was not helpful to most child stars as the first step to (hopefully) transition to more adult roles. Virginia's image was more tomboyish than Shirley's, and she didn't have the knack for singing (unless you count "Lydia The Tattooed Lady") and dancing (some uncharitable individuals said the same about Shirley). (Weidler was more akin to Temple's erstwhile rival at 20th, Jane Withers, in her image and looks). Despite these differences, they (unknowingly) competed directly for roles, and even had films announced for one done with the other. In any event, Shirley soon moved on, and Virginia experienced more strong, and direct, competition with the arrival of Elizabeth Taylor (not Margaret O'Brien who was much too young to compete for similar roles), much more beautiful from the get-go.

 

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I agree that it wasn't Margaret O'Brien who replaced Virginia directly, but I doubt it was Taylor, either. She was at least five years younger than Ginny herself. I suspect Ginny was undone by a variety of things: as you stated she was more actress than musical performer, was "normal pretty" as opposed to Hollywood glamourous (I refuse to accept that the teenage Weidler shared anything with the teenage Withers in the looks department), and MGM had already established an image of her in the public mind and probably thought that public might not accept her in older roles.

 

Add to that the fact that they had a bunch of older "newcomers" like Allyson (there is one I never got, BTW) and Virginia's good friend Jean Porter and even Gloria DeHaven who had a smaller impact as a child and I can see how the decision came to be.

 

The bottom line to me will always be that Weidler was funny without being a clown, unlike Temple she could actually act, and that with all the product going out of Hollywood in the 1940s there should have been room for her on some studio's roster for coed, young adult, and family comedy roles. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of her.

 

Edited by: ginnyfan on Apr 17, 2012 9:18 AM, a person who cannot type or edit on android

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It wasn't Taylor who replaced Weidler. Taylor was still too young in the early '40s.

 

This book I have says that the MGM brass gave roles to O'Brien that required a lot of emoting, because Weidler and other girls at the studio could not turn on the water works as well as the more emotional O'Brien. As for Allyson, who could also emote, she and Nancy Walker were given more musical bits to do in BEST FOOT FORWARD which meant it became a showcase for them (and for Lucille Ball) instead of for Weidler.

 

Interestingly, Weidler's biggest role at MGM, in THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION, was intended for Judy Garland. Then, it was slated for Kathryn Grayson. But both of them had matured too much before it went into production. So a younger-looking Weidler was given the part.

 

As for Weidler's earlier work, before MGM, she was under contract at Paramount for a few years in the mid-30s, but she was often loaned out to RKO. At Paramount, she appeared in the original MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH and in PETER IBBETSON, portraying a young Ann Harding.

 

Paramount did not know what to do with her, but RKO did, and she made two hit movies for them which showed that she could help carry a film and be a box-office draw all on her own: FRECKLES and LADDIE. Both titles were based on stories by Gene Stratton Porter and were released in 1935. Weidler would return to RKO a few more times, the most noteworthy assignment occurring with Barrymore in THE GREAT MAN VOTES in 1939.

 

Sadly, she was nearly forgotten by the time she died. And many major newspapers did not carry her obituary.

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FRECKLES and LADDIE are the 2 Movies of Virginia's I have wanted to see since forever!!! AMC when they were showing the classic movies never had shown these and TCM never has-shown them. I have seen scene stills from these 2 movies but, these 2 movies never have been shown anywhere. Would be a nice surprise if TCM could show these,it would be like a dream come true for me!!!

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> {quote:title=TopBilled wrote:}{quote}

> Sadly, she was nearly forgotten by the time she died. And many major newspapers did not carry her obituary.

I think that was totally Virginia's own choice. Had she not avoided all publicity and refused all requests for interviews, she might not have been forgotten. Also, had she died in old age instead of 1968, she would have died after services like TCM and the old AMC had caused a revival in interest in classic movies. She would have been given more due by these services and maybe would have even finally relented to being interviewed (who can refuse Bob, for gosh sakes). She didn't even live long enough to be asked about working with Judy, who died the following year, or for the That's Entertainment revival.

 

This quest I've been on for the last week and a half is also totally a result of her post-career retreat. In my mind, I still see the 18 year old girl-her age when she did that last short-with talent who suddenly had the only life she had ever known denied her. My brother was a would be stage actor who never quite made it in the 1970s, and I know he couldn't even go to a play for about 15 years after he gave it up. I've seen the pain. Since there are no interviews, no posted family pictures, no reunions, I fear I'm never going to have the answer to my question as to whether she was at peace with her life. I'd like to think so, but the retreat from the public can mean that she just felt that portion of her life was over and she saw no need to look back or it can also mean overwhelming bitterness.

 

I have two possibly conflicting hints, the quote from her husband on IMDB that she wasn't one to criticize but her boys got the impression she didn't think much of the industry, and Hal Erickson's bio which states she "retired from show business in favor of a happy and enduring marriage."

 

I don't know what Erickson knew, but it certainly is what I'd prefer to believe.

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I think you are right about her not living long enough to see her achieve classic status. She bowed out of the spotlight, and she simply faded from view. Because she seems to have lived a relatively calm life post-Hollywood, without tabloid headlines, then it is easy to see how people would not remember her as much. That is, until they see her films and are reminded of her talent and her temporary stardom.

 

Supposedly KATHLEEN was purchased for her, then given to Temple. Temple was originally assigned to do BARNACLE BILL with Wallace Beery, with Temple playing Beery's daughter. MGM decided to have the girls swap the roles. KATHLEEN did not do well at the box office, but BARNACLE BILL, like most of Beery's pictures was a crowd-pleaser and money maker. So in a way, Weidler fared better losing KATHLEEN, but the part in the Beery picture was fairly routine and thankless and did not do much to bolster her screen image.

 

Weidler was known at MGM for being able to upstage Mickey Rooney, something that very few people could do. They did a few films together, one of them being an Andy Hardy picture. I think it would be great to see an evening of these on TCM. And I definitely think Virginia Weidler should be honored in August for Summer Under the Stars, especially since all her MGM films are in the Turner Library and presumably so are her RKO pictures.

 

Tomorrow if I get the chance, I am going to post her filmography by studio, so we can see where she worked most often and get a sense of her billing and major costars.

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> {quote:title=classicstarletsfan wrote:

> }{quote}FRECKLES and LADDIE are the 2 Movies of Virginia's I have wanted to see since forever!!! AMC when they were showing the classic movies never had shown these and TCM never has shown them. I have seen scene stills from these 2 movies but, these 2 movies never have been shown anywhere. Would be a nice surprise if TCM could show these,it would be like a dream come true for me!!!

Unfortunately you may never get to see those two movies. You're right that they've never been shown on TV. It's not just that prints of the two movies are rare, but there are legal problems that prevent them from being shown on TV or being released on video or DVD. This is also the situation with most other movies based on the writings of author Gene (Geneva) Stratton-Porter (1863-1924).

There's some further info regarding FRECKLES in particular, here (especially in the posts starting 10-27-10):

 

http://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4139&start=60

 

A rare print of FRECKLES was shown at Cinefest in Syracuse, NY in March 2010 and I got to see it then. I hope somehow the rights issues get straightened out and that all of the rest of Virginia Weidler's fans can finally get to see it, as it was a good one and a real treat for her fans.

I've still not seen the 1935 version of LADDIE but at Cinefest this year they showed the 1940 version (also very rare) so I'm still hoping Virginia's version will turn up somewhere.

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What a disapointment that is to know the reasons for FRECKLES and LADDIE. These 2 are the big ones I have wanted to see and also own for my collection of Virginia's child movies!!

 

I do have the 1940 version of LADDIE as I am a fan of the classic girl child stars and this one has Joan Carroll.

 

I have LOTS of Virginia's movies, even the very rare OUTSIDE THESE WALLS (1939) , and Virginia is quite different in this one, This is a Columibia film In this one she plays Ellen.

 

 

OUTSIDE THESE WALLS is another that has never been shown on AMC when they were showing all the great classic movies and TCM also has never shown it. My version comes from a 16MM print. I have all Virginia's child movies on DVD and the only ones I am missing are of course FRECKLES and LADDIE.

 

I have lots and lots of original child photos of her, and even have an original pressbook to her movie GIRL OF THE OZARKS and even an original lobby card of this movie. Many original and rare scene stills from this movie too and also scene stills from her other movies. Lots of portraits too!

 

I really hope that one day FRECKLES and LADDIE become available to TCM as I believe TCM is our only chance to ever see these.

 

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I, too, would love to see TCM devote some time to her work other than the obvious ones we see fairly regularly. Even though finding out more about Virginia has become a recent obsession for me I must admit to not knowing much about her work prior to the MGM period, be it for MGM or on loan. Prior to this, I watched her like I watched any other classic film actor. Her personal tragedy somehow sucked me in now even though I had known about it previously.

 

I saw Mrs. Wiggs many years ago, but that was before I was aware of her and I never even realized she was in it until recently.

 

I have learned a lot through this thread and through the archives here. It does seem that movie followers are fairly split on her career ending. I am, of course, of the opinion that MGM jumped the gun and that, with the exception of her lack of spark in her final film, she had carried out the material given to her in fine fashion. The Youngest Profession, while hardly a great work, made money for the studio and did show the type of vehicle she could have been successful in. Other probably more objective viewers seem to think it was time. It is likely that other studios agreed, since she never made another film. There could have been other offers for parts Virginia no longer wanted to play at that age such as dropping back from featured to pure comic relief, we don't know (or at least I don't).

 

I plan to order the magazines Musical Novelty suggested to me, although I suspect Jean Porter won't reveal anything other than life around the set even finding that out would be of some interest.

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I checked out the link you provided yesterday. Reading through the thread was quite an education in these copyright problems. Has anyone actually calculated the percentage of movies "lost" due strictly to this problem?

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Thanks for posting the link to "Peeks at Hollywood" -- it's great to see Ms. Weidler again!

 

Virginia adds a lot simply by being in a movie, like many of the best character actors -- I can't think of a picture where she wasn't great. (I'd say the same for Frank McHugh, Frank Morgan, James Gleason, and others among the greatest character actors.) As someone else pointed out, Virginia was able to steal a scene from Mickey Rooney, which is saying a lot. As a big Hardy Family fan, one of my favorite pictures of hers is OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS (included in the recent Hardy box set), in which she shares several highly enjoyable scenes with the great Mr. Rooney.

 

 

As she got older, Virginia reminded me of a much cuter, much younger sister of Mary Wickes, both in appearance and performing style. They both had tremendous comedic talent, and it's a shame that Virginia didn't have the kind of lengthy career that Ms. Wickes enjoyed (although maybe that wasn't Virginia's ambition). I've seen a couple of later Weidler appearances where "they" (the studio?) seemed to be trying too hard to make her look like a glamorous teenager, a la Gloria DeHaven and Elizabeth Taylor somewhat later. Frankly, I think this diminished Virginia's appeal, which always came her pure comedic acting talent, not her looks. She was cute, but she was never going to be conventionally pretty/beautiful like some of those other young actresses, and I think her career might have continued if she had developed more as a supporting actress in character roles -- which, for some character actors (e.g., Frank Morgan, Guy Kibbee), led to stardom, at least in B pictures. But I actually don't know that Virginia wasn't trying to be a character actress, so maybe the fading of her career was more complicated than just a question of her career path.

 

 

Anyway, I'd love to see a day/night or more on TCM devoted to her many great performances, even though many were supporting roles. In fact, my wife and I have frequently talked about how TCM should make character actors the "Star(s) of the Month," maybe featuring a different character actor each night, twice a week for a month -- and Virginia Weidler would have to be on the list of those being honored.

 

 

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Bing fan,

 

Thank you for adding your assessment to this thread. Part of the reason I'm trying to find out more about the end of her career and her life after is because the "she just couldn't get over the hump" explanation just doesn't quite mesh with my view of her work. At MGM she was taking rather tepid material and making it enjoyable. It just seems like there has to be a little more to the story.

 

When MGM dropped her, one would think that some other studio would have picked her up for something. But no one did. A year and a half later she tested for MILDRED PIERCE and according to one book I scanned was about to be picked when Ann Blyth was tested less than three weeks before shooting started. Other than that, I haven't seen what efforts she was making to stay in Hollywood.

I do know she spent a very short time-three weeks-on Broadway to personally good reviews (the show apparently wasn't much), and a decent amount of time touring with a stage act to generally kind reviews. A Life Magazine photo of her father building miniature sets for THE RAZOR'S EDGE published in 1946 still described him as the father of Hollywood starlet Virginia Weidler, and she hadn't made a feature in three years by then.

 

Was she not willing to move back to a more secondary role after MGM had spent a couple of years building her up to feature status? Or were there no offers at all?

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There is no great mystery here, no matter how talented, the vast majority of child stars do not transition successfully into adult stars; the only ones I can think of off-hand that were more successful as adults than as child stars were Liz Taylor and Natalie Wood, and more recently, Jodie Foster.

 

 

 

 

 

Most likely, Virginia saw the writing on the wall, and attempted other types of career advancement. When these didn't pan out, she retired. Hopefully, she had a happy and fullfilled life as housewie and mother.

 

 

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> {quote:title=musicalnovelty wrote:}{quote}

> > {quote:title=ginnyfan wrote:

> > }{quote}...Her appearance in a Warner Vitaphone short with Jane Withers and might explain why she was in that short at all.

> Here's the short:

>

> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uoA9iUbVBM

>

> IMDb says it was released on DVD in 2008. Was it an extra on a DVD of some Warner Bros. movie? Does anyone know?

Some digging on the web took me to Amazon, it's on the DVD San Antonio! (you can still grab it fairly cheap now, which might be a good idea, as you will see...

 

The sound of gunfire echoes through the Alamo once more in this two-fisted Errol Flynn western. Here Flynn plays a cattleman who sets out to break the hold rustler Paul Kelly has on the good folk of San Antonio. Alexis Smith provides the love interest, S.Z. Sakall the comedy relief. 106 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English, French; bonus shorts "Frontier Days" (1945), "Peeks at Hollywood" (1945), "Story of a Dog" (1945), "A Tale of Two Mice" (1945), "Wagon Heels" (1945); theatrical trailer. *NOTE: This Title Is Out Of Print; Limit One Per Customer.*

 

 

 

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> {quote:title=ginnyfan wrote:}{quote}

> Musical:I don't know where the short was available. The guy on youtube recorded it handheld and we know he got it somewhere. Some of the Virginia clips on youtube appear to have been posted by Warner as promotional material for DVDs. I find the short fascinating because even though she's only the foil for Withers' bit she seems to be having a good time. It's also, to my knowledge, the last time the public ever sees Virginia on film. After this it's only her stage act and three weeks on Broadway in November.

>

....People have to go that handheld camera route because WB is a pain in the you know what about anything ever being put up on youtube...it's also why SNL clips only last when shot with a camera at the TV.

I once tried to just put up a 1 minute clip from an old McCloud (Universal) via a dvd(just to show a pal a car in it) didn't mention Dennis Weaver, the name of the show, nothing to give it away, but there is clearly data from a DVD that shows up to Youtube, and they have to block it. So, you have to go VHS or the handheld camera route.

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