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Freddie Bartholomew
    by John Cech

One of the great child stars of the 1930s, Freddie Bartholomew, was born today in London in 1924. He had a glowing presence, cherubic good looks, and a natural gift for acting -- something his Aunt Cissie noticed right away. She became the boy's tutor, and she had him on stage by the time he was three years old; she presided over his career (and a generous third of the profits) from the start. Freddie was in a few English movies in the early thirties, which quickly added to his reputation. In 1934 Aunt Cissie took him to Hollywood to audition for David O. Selznick's and George Cuko's new production of Dickens' David Copperfield, and Freddie's career really took off the following year when the movie was released. the film, which also featured W. C. Fields as Mr. McCawber, was an immediate success, and Freddie soon was making the princely sum of $1,000 dollars a week, and in exchange leaving us with a string of unforgettable performances -- with Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina, as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and in the crowning role of his career, in 1937, as the spoiled rich kid who is transformed into a stalwart little Gloucester fisherman in Captains Courageous.

Meanwhile, as Freddie was earning a milliion dollars, Aunt Cissie was helping herself to a good portion of the fortune, and in a plot twist worthy of a tabloid exposé, she took legal action in California to have herself appointed Freddie's guardian so that she would have control of everything. There were more than two dozen lawsuits between Aunt Cissie and Freddie's parents in the late 1930s, and this ate up most of Freddi's fortune while the the time was running out on those child roles which made him famous but that had also type-cast him.

After World War II, in which Bartholomew served in the air corps with distinction, Freddie's career in movies was all but over. Still, he soldiered on, hosting a television show and, later, working in advertising. He died in 1992, having left a legacy of unforgettable performances. They're waiting for you and your children to find together at your local video store or public library. -- just look in the "Classics" section.


Copyright 2005 John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."