Freddie Bartholomew Is Dead; Child Star in Films of the 1930's
By WILLIAM H. HONAN
Published: January 24, 1992
Freddie Bartholomew, a Hollywood child star whose name became synonymous with the proper, curly-haired little English boys he played in "David Copperfield" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy," died yesterday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla. His age was variously reported as 69 and 70. He lived in Bradenton, Fla.
Mr. Bartholomew died of emphysema, said his stepdaughter, Celia Paul of Manhattan.
Born in Dublin, Mr. Bartholomew was brought up by an aunt in Warminster in southern England, where he made his performing debut at age 4, reciting a poem at a church social. He later told interviewers that his aunt, Mylicent Mary Bartholomew, was so impressed by his stage presence and his ability to memorize that she took him on the rounds of British film studios and helped him get bit parts. Overnight Success at 10
M-G-M discovered him when he was 10 and signed him to play the title role in "David Copperfield." The film opened in 1934, and Master Bartholomew, as he was then reverentially called, became an overnight star.
After the success of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1936), in which he played a poor boy from Brooklyn who travels to England to gain his rightful inheritance, and "Captains Courageous" (1937), in which he played Kipling's spoiled boy who falls in with hard-bitten fishermen, his salary soared to $2,500 a week, making him the highest-paid child star after Shirley Temple.
So great was his fame in the late 1930's that it made headlines when he had his customary curls sheared off because he thought them "too sissified."
His years of stardom were also plagued by headlines generated by the efforts of his parents, Cecil and Lillian Mae Bartholomew, to regain custody of their son. The dispute was finally resolved in 1936 when it was agreed that he could continue to live under the guardianship of his aunt. His parents were given allowances for their living expenses from his salary. Life After Stardom
By 1939, when he was a gangling teen-ager, his days of stardom were over and he returned to school, having been adopted by his aunt.
In World War II he served with scarcely any public attention as a maintenance worker for a group of B-17 bombers. After his discharge, he appeared in vaudeville and nightclub shows, performed in summer theater and traveled widely, but he was never able to re-establish his acting career. Eventually, he moved into directing television shows in the United States.
In 1954, he went to work for the Benton & Bowles advertising agency in New York, eventually becoming a vice president. He handled the company's involvement in "The Andy Griffith Show" and other shows.
The millions of dollars he earned as a child had long since disappeared, he told an interviewer in 1951. Between the lawsuits involving his parents and movie studios, he said, "I was drained dry."
In all, he made 24 films. Looking back on his life as a star, he said the movie he most enjoyed making was "Captains Courageous." The film took a year to make, with much of it shot off the coasts of Florida and Catalina Island in California. "For a kid," he said, "it was like one long outing. Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Mickey Rooney, Melvyn Douglas and I -- we all grew very close toward one another in those 12 months. When the shooting was finished, we cried like a bunch of babies as we said our good-byes."
In addition to his stepdaughter, he is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; a daughter, Katie, of Santa Fe, N.M.; a son, Frederick, of Coral Springs, Fla., and three grandchildren.
Photo: Freddie Bartholomew with W. C. Fields in "David Copperfield." (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1934)
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