Bartholomew, Frederick Llewellyn (“Freddie”)
Bartholomew, Frederick Llewellyn (“Freddie”)
(b. 12 February 1924 in London, England; d. 22 January 1992 in Sarasota, Florida), famed motion picture child actor of the 1930s, especially remembered for David Copperfield (1935), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and Captains Courageous (1937).
Bartholomew was one of three children born to Cecil Llewellyn Bartholomew, a wounded veteran of World War I and minor civil servant, and Lillian May Bartholomew, a home-maker. At the age of three, Bartholomew was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Warminster, England, and was placed under the immediate care of his father’s sister, Myllicent Mary Bartholomew, or “Aunt Cissie.” Speaking with impressive diction at about the age of three, Bartholomew reputedly made “stage” appearances and gave recitations at church-related gatherings and received early dramatic training with Italia Conti (an actress in England who from 1911 developed expertise in training young children as actors). He went on to appear in several British films, including Fascination (1931) and Lily Christine (1932). His aunt, looking ahead to a film career for him, took him to New York City in 1934 and arranged for a Hollywood representative to present them to the movie executive David O. Selznick at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios in Culver City, California. At that time Selznick was searching among ten thousand applicants for the perfect boy to play young David Copperfield for his film production of Charles Dickens’s great novel. (Another version of this story says that Bartholomew was discovered by Selznick and the MGM director George Cukor in England.)
Selznick immediately signed Bartholomew for David Copperfield (1935) and gave him a seven-year contract with MGM at a starting salary of $175 dollars a week, soon to reach $500. The studio was forced to slow down its original shooting schedule to comply with laws that limited child actors to four hours of studio work a day. On the set of David Copperfield, Bartholomew was only allowed to associate with his guardian (Aunt Myllicent), a state-appointed welfare worker, and a tutor because it was feared that a child of his young age would quickly lose his accent if he came in contact with non-English children. In the successful motion picture, which had a cast that included Basil Rathbone, W. C. Fields, Lionel Barrymore, and Edna May Oliver, Bartholomew became a “child star.” Bartholomew’s weekly salary increased to $1,000 after his appearance as Sergei, the only child in a loveless marriage between Greta Garbo and Rathbone in MGM’s stunning rendering of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1935). The role of the loving, curly-haired Sergei, whose first appearance in the film showed him tiptoeing near his mother with a pledge to protect her always, intensified the tragic love story.
Bartholomew played the lead in Sir James Barrie’s Peter Pan in his only performance on Cecil B. DeMille’s Lux Radio Theatre (23 February 1936). His next film was Professional Soldier (1936), in which he played a young king who befriends the soldier of fortune sent to kidnap him. He then appeared as Ceddie in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) as the epitome of the noble-minded young boy, devoted to his mother, docile, and obedient—in sharp contrast to Mickey Rooney’s athletic, street-smart character. This Selznick International Pictures production cost $600,000 to make but grossed $1.7 million. Another film, The Devil Is a Sissy (1936) focused on the three young male child stars best known at that time—Bartholomew, Roo-ney, and Jackie Cooper—who together in one film tried to rival the box-office potency of Hollywood’s top child actress, Shirley Temple. Bartholomew soon was loaned to Twentieth Century—Fox to play the youthful Jonathan Blake (played as an adult by Tyrone Power) in Lloyd’s of London (1936). Bartholomew’s next motion picture was Captains Courageous (1937), from the novel by the British writer Rudyard Kipling. Bartholomew’s role of Harvey is often considered his best performance. The film starred Spencer Tracy, who won an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in it as Manuel, a Portuguese fisherman.
Perhaps because of Batholomew’s fame and his salary ($2,500 a week after Captains Courageous), his personal life underwent a period of emotional stress as his parents took legal action to become, along with Bartholomew’s two teenage sisters, beneficiaries of his Hollywood success and to challenge his aunt’s guardianship rights. In late October 1935, a California court had approved Aunt Myllicent as Bartholomew’s guardian. In April of 1936, Bartholomew’s mother appeared in court in California to file a petition to nullify the aunt’s guardianship, but a superior court judge denied that petition. Attorneys for both sides met to offer compromise measures, which were approved by the judge in June. According to their agreement, some of Bartholomew’s money would be reserved for him in a trust fund; a 10 percent portion would be paid out to his father and 5 percent portions to each of his two sisters; and the rest was directed toward supporting Aunt Myllicent and Bartholomew.
In 1937 Aunt Myllicent filed suit to challenge the validity of her nephew’s contract with MGM. In a settlement agreement, MGM offered a new contract at $2,000 a week for forty weeks of film work in addition to $300 a week for six weeks of personal appearances. But Bartholomew’s family troubles persisted. In late 1937, his parents presented another unsuccessful court challenge to Aunt Myllicent’s authority as guardian. The court gave Aunt Myllicent complete control over Bartholomew’s finances and investments. Without counsel, on 19 June 1939 his parents filed a $1 million suit against Aunt Myllicent and their own former attorney for compensation for Bartholomew’s earnings and lost companionship. His sisters also initiated their own lawsuit in September 1939. In late September 1939 Bartholomew sought recourse through the courts, requesting that his parents, sisters, and other relatives stop suing him; by that time he had already paid $83,000 in legal fees.
Three films released in 1938 highlighted Bartholomew in his last starring roles: Kidnapped, a well-received rendering of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure; Lord Jeff, in which Bartholomew swindles jewels until sent to a mariners’ academy and is reformed by Mickey Rooney and others; and the musical Listen, Darling, where his teenage interest in Judy Garland helps her find a suitable prospect. In his two 1939 releases, Bartholomew played secondary roles to Jackie Cooper: in Spirit of Culver, filmed in part at Culver Military Academy in Indiana, Bartholomew still retains a rather elitist, helping role; but in Two Bright Boys, the opportunism of his on-screen father slowly evolves into humanitarian concerns. He did make his Broadway debut as a vaudeville headliner (13 October 1938) at the Loew’s State Theatre for one week. Having grown to six feet tall, Bartholomew finished his teens with two films released in 1940, The Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Brown’s School Days, and one film each in 1941 and 1942, Naval Academy and Cadets on Parade, respectively. His final MGM contract film was at Eton (1942). Junior Army (1943) and The Town Went Wild (1945) were his final films during the war years. Bartholomew became a U.S. citizen in 1943. He enlisted in the Army Air Forces on 13 January 1943 and was assigned to maintenance work on B-17 bombers in the United States. While he was at the Amarillo Army Air Field in Amarillo, Texas, an old back injury became so aggravating that extensive hospitalization was required. He received a medical discharge from the military in January 1944 as a private first class. After his discharge, Bartholomew returned to acting; he started with summer stock and acted with and directed small theater groups in California. He returned to Hollywood to appear as himself in Sepia Cinderella in 1947.
On 25 April 1946 Bartholomew married Maely Daniele, the publicity director of his theater group; they had no children and divorced in 1953. Later that year he married Aileen Paul, star of Manhattan television’s New York Cool show; they had two children. He later divorced Aileen and married Elizabeth Grabill. In 1949 Bartholomew hosted an afternoon film presentation on New York City television and soon became the associate station director. He also began working as a director and producer of videos and commercial advertisements. In 1951 he appeared as a priest in a final comedy film, St. Benny the Dip. In 1954, now known in the business world as “Frederick C. Bartholomew,” he joined Benton & Bowles, a leading advertising agency; on 16 November he became the vice president of its radio and television staff. Among the various Hollywood and network television accounts handled under his immediate attention was the Andy Griffith Show; he served as one of the executive producers of As the World Turns and Search for Tomorrow, and as one of the directors oí Edge of Night. He rarely granted interviews, though he did appear as a commentator in the documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992). In 1989, on the recommendation of his doctor, Bartholomew moved from Long Beach Island, New Jersey, to Bradenton, Florida. He died of emphysema at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and was cremated.
Bartholomew will be remembered as one of the handful of outstanding child actors from the 1930s who projected such unique personalities in film classics that their names and faces will never be forgotten. For years and even decades after his initial and most popular film work, Bartholomew epitomized the kind-hearted little gentleman who was stylishly neat in his dress and well versed in the best of manners and who spoke in the most beautifully precise English. Generally, the hardships of the young characters that he played were overcome in uplifting, redemptive endings. Yet his own life, particularly the legal clashes over his fortune and affections, resolved itself in a heartrending manner. People who met him later in life immediately commented upon his kindness and joviality, as captured in photographs of those later years. Still, the adult “Frederick C. Bartholomew” distanced himself from the fame and pain of his childhood.
The D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles Archives, 1929–1989, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, contain archives of the advertising agency where Bartholomew worked. For an excellent biographical summary, see David Shipman, The Great Men Stars: The Golden Years (1979). There is a good article in James Robert Parish and Ronald L. Bowers, The MGM Stoc^ Company: The Golden Era (1973). See also the entry in David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (3d ed., 1994). For information about articles in the Hollywood journals, see Mel Schuster, Motion Picture Performers: A Bibliography of Magazine and Periodical Articles, 1900–1969 (1971), and Supplement No. 1, 1970–1974 (1976). Most of the available information about Bartholomew, especially his legal difficulties, can be found in the New York Times (27 Oct. 1935; 9, 19, 23 Apr. 1936; 26 May 1936; 5, 9, 26 June 1936; 4 Apr. 1937; 2 Nov. 1937; 10 Dec. 1937; 12 Feb. 1938; 22 Nov. 1938; 17 Jan. 1939; 20 June 1939; 6, 28 Sept. 1939). Articles in theNew Yor^ Times that include discussion of Bartholomew in relation to the cluster of other child actors of the time are Eunice Fuller Barnard, “Children of Hollywood’s Gold Rush: A New Get-Rich-Quick Scheme Dazzles Their Parents, But Prizes Are Won by the Few” (4 Oct. 1936), and “What Price Glory for Screen Starlets? Their Hollywood Work-Routine Is Exacting and There Are Long School Hours Also” (11 Oct. 1936); and Douglas W. Churchill, “Life of the Child Star: A Hollywood Fairy Tale” (29 May 1938). An appreciation is in the London Times (1 Feb. 1992). Obituaries are in the New York Times (24 Jan. 1992), London Times (25 Jan. 1992), and Variety (27 Jan. 1992).