Bruce Fessier;The Desert Sun
November 9, 2006
Marian Marsh Henderson, a 1930s movie star who became a living symbol
of old Palm Desert, died at her Palm Desert home this morning at age
Henderson, who was featured in the 1930 Howard Hughes film, "Hell's
Angels" as Marilyn Morgan, married Palm Desert founder Cliff Henderson
In the 1960s Marian founded Desert Beautiful, a non-profit, all
volunteer conservation organization to promote environmental and
beautification programs. That organization continues today. "We planted
palm trees along the west coast and were the first to plant palms in
the lower valley (Coachola) to Palm Springs. If you want to leave
something behind, plant a tree!" she told author Dan Van Neste in a
Services by the Fitzhenry Funeral Home are scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov.
16 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Palm Desert, her daughter, Cathy
Scott of West Arkansas said this morning.
One of the early sound era's most attractive young leading ladies,
doll-faced Marian Marsh enjoyed a short yet significant film career as
the star of several memorable 1930s melodramas opposite some of the
cinema's best, most charismatic lead actors. Her youthful wide-eyed
innocence combined with an innate delicacy to make a storybook heroine,
the perfect counterbalance to the licentious characters who often
menaced her on film. So successful was she as a fair damsel in distress
she quickly became typecast which impeded her development as an actress
and helped bring her film career to a premature end.
Born Violet Ethelred Krauth on October 17, 1913 in Trinidad, West
Indies, she youngest of four children of a German chocolate
manufacturer and his British wife. When World War I ruined her father's
business Mr. Krauth moved the family to the U.S. in Massachusettes,
where all of his children developed an appreciation for the arts and
During the mid 1920s Violet's older sister Jean became a student at
Paramount's Astoria studio; later a Paramount contract player. When
Jean signed a contract with F.B.O. Studios in Hollywood, the Krauth
family moved to the west coast where Violet attended La Conte Junior
High School then later Hollwyood High.
In 1928, sister Jean helped her strikingly attractive, golden haired
sister secure a screen test with Pathe who promptly signed her but
dropped her after a short film appearance. After another short pact
with Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Violet, now known as Marilyn Morgan opted to
study acting and voice with Nance O'Neil. In 1929 Warners signed the 16
year old actress who changed her name once again to Marian Marsh.
Despite appearances in 30 short films starring 'James Gleason' and a
small part in Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels" (1930), Marian's career
seemed headed to oblivion when she won the role of her life in Svengali
(1931), Warners film remake of the 1895 British romantic play,
"Trilby", the tragic tale of an innocent milkmaid who becomes a great
singing diva under the hypnotic tutelage of the malevolent Svengali
(charismatically portrayed by John Barrymore). According to Miss Marsh
she was tested for the plum role several times before being selected by
Barrymore apparently because she resembled his wife, Dolores
The immense critical and financial success of the film combined with
young Miss Marsh's rave reviews to raise her Hollywood stock. Selected
as one of the W.A.M.P.A.S. Baby Stars of 1931, she became one of
filmdom's top up and coming actresses. Hoping to exploit her growing
popularity and capitalize on her ability to project warmth, sincerity,
and inner strength on screen, Warners cast her as virginal heroines in
a series of films. Of special note were her compelling performances as
the daughter of a woman driven to suicide by amoral newspaper editor
Edward G. Robinson in Five Star Final (1931), a ballerina menaced by
evil club-footed puppeteer John Barrymore in _The Mad Genius (1931)_ ,
a sexy teen smitten with mature 'William Powell' in The Road to
Singapore (1931), and as the fast talking Cinderella secretary of skirt
chasing financier, Warren William in Beauty and the Boss (1932).
Just when it appeared as if Marian was on the verge of super stardom,
she seemed to fall out of favor at Warners. After the critical failure
of the much ballyhooed Warners drama, Under Eighteen (1932), a
disappointed, exhausted Marian rebelled against the studio and they
reciprocated by not picking up her option. Her career never fully
After she departed Warners, the 19 year old freelance actress
compounded her problems and further diminished her reputation by
accepting film work overseas and at minor studios. Although her
performances in such films as _Sport Parade(1932), the British comedy
Over the Garden Wall (1934), and "Girl of the Limberlost" (1934)_ were
admirable, low budget production values and other assorted problems
doomed the projects.
In 1935 Marian signed a two year pact with Columbia trying with some
success to resurrect her foundering career. Of the eight Columbia
pictures she made during the period 1935-36, four were memorable. She
was excellent if typecast as a young girl mixed up with crooks and
gangsters in the entertaining melodrama, Counterfeit (1936), as the
bespectacled daughter of a retailer in love with a shyster salesman in
the charming B comedy _Come Closer Folks(1936)_ , as an accursed young
woman forced to marry murderer Boris Karloff in the fondly remembered
suspense classic, _The Black Room (1935)_ , and notably as the
beautiful prostitute, Sonya in 'Josef Von Sternberg's' controversial
film version of Dostoievsky's timeless novel, _Crime and Punishment
(1935)_ starring Peter Lorre. Her performance in the latter is without
a doubt one of, if not the best of her career.
When her Columbia contract expired in 1936 Marian once again squandered
her momentum and talent by appearing in routine second features. In the
period 1937-38 she made seven mostly forgettable films, the best of
which was Republic's B- drama, Youth on Parole (1937) in which Marian
was poignant as a girl suffering the rejection and prejudice associated
with being a parolee.
In March, 1938 Miss Marsh, long one of Hollywood's most eligible
bachelorettes, wed stockbroker Albert Scott, the former husband of
actress, 'Colleen Moore' . After the marriage she made only five more
feature films. "I loved acting," she told author Richard Lamparski,
"but I had become a professional because we needed the money. In 1938 I
married a businessman and just drifted away from acting." PRC's money
starved comedy, House of Errors (1942) is her last film to date.
In the late 1950s Marian, now a widowed mother of two was briefly lured
back to acting; appearing in a television pilot with 'John Forsythe',
and an episode of Shlitz Playhouse of Stars before retiring in 1959.
One year later she married aviation pioneer, wealthy entrepreneur,
Clifford Henderson and moved to Palm Desert, California, a tiny
desert-town Henderson founded near Palm Springs, in the 1940s.
Henderson was on the Amercia's most prominent air show promoters. His
life long pursuit of encouraging and designing faster and more
maneuverable aircraft for air shows led to great advances in aircraft
design. Henderson is an inductee into the International Council of Air
Shows Foundation Hall of Fame. The National Aviation Club named one of
their most prestigious awards the Clifford Henderson Award For
Achievement, after his passing in 1984. He is buried in California's
Glendale Forest Lawn Cemetery.
After Cliff Henderson died in 1984, Marsh continued to live in the
Henderson ranch house while presiding over his financial affairs and
continuing her charitable work.
Her actress sister Jean Fennick died at age 91, on December 5, 1998 at
Woodland Hills Actor Home in California.
In 2005, in her early 90s Miss Marsh remained in Palm Desert, less
active but still committed to her beloved Desert Beautiful. She
retained fond memories of her filmmaking years and expressed
appreciation for the continuing interest in her career.
When asked how she'd like to be remembered in 1998 the modest, ever
gracious star simply replied,
"...For doing my best. I think anything I've ever tried, I tried to do
my best. In the end, that's all you can do!"
Mss Marsh came and signed over
200 autographs. She also was greeted
by loud applause in the Blossom
Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. There
she told several stories about her
Hollywood days, including one about
Boris Karloff and his pet pig---which
brought down the house.
She said after her experience at Cinecon that she felt what it was like
a star again.
I will never forget this, though apparently everyone else on the Cinecon
at that time as well as some members of this group.
You know what they say, "No good deed
What makes you think we've forgotten? I even used a picture of her
signing an autograph for you in the subsequent Cinecon newsletter.
>What makes you think we've forgotten? I
>even used a picture of her signing an
>autograph for you in the subsequent
I'm not talking about 15 years ago, I'm
talking about currently. It surprises me
that no Cinecon personality responded
to her death--except me.
But OK, let's talk about 15 years ago...
You didn't have your blue banquet dress
hung in a closet in the hotel room and have it attacked by the "female"
treasurer of Cinecon, because you were involved with the Vice President,
who conveniently hung it there==which put me in the direct line of fire.
You didn't have your personal life gossiped about and judged
needlessly. Or your personal credit card records at the Roosevelt delved
So that was what I got for my trouble.
A lot people have made a lot of ignorant
assumptions, but they haven't walked
a mile in my high heels!