MARILYN KNOWLDEN: Little Girl in Big Pictures

Marilyn Knowlden

Marilyn Knowlden, a child actress in the 1930s, played the daughter of many famous stars  in that decade, and appeared in 6 Oscar nominated films. She was born in 1926.


With Claudette Colbert in “Imitation of Life “(1934).


With Katharine Hepburn in “A Woman Rebels” (1936). Marilyn also appeared in two other Hepburn films, Morning Glory and Little Women.


With Lewis Stone ( playing her father) and Freddie Bartholomew in “David Copperfield” (1935).



As the young ‘Cosette’ in “Les Miserables” (1935)


With Allan Jones  in SHOW BOAT. Allan and Irene Dunne were her parents.


With Scotty Beckett and  Norma Shearer in “Marie Antoinette” (1938).
Marilyn revealed that she has an autographed photo of Norma Shearer, with the inscription:

“To remind you of the good old days at Versailles.”


Marilyn’s first role , aged 4, was in “Women Love Once” and she played the daughter of Paul Lukas.

In “The Conquerors”(1932), Marilyn was yet again in the role of a daughter – this time Richard Dix and Ann Harding were her parents.

Benita Hume was her mother in “Rainbow on the River” (1936), but for once Marilyn wasn’t the sweet young girl but a spoiled brat!

In “Angels  with Dirty Faces”, Marilyn played Ann Sheridan as a child.

In 1940, she was one of Bette Davis’ s students in “All This and Heaven Too.”


With Joan Bennett.

Marilyn had a small role in “Little Women”


In “The Cisco Kid”, Marilyn was described as ‘one of screendom’s youngest heart breakers.’


Marilyn’s mother kept scrapbooks of her daughter’s career.

When Marilyn married in 1946, she left the screen permanently.

From her comments over the years, her years in Hollywood were happy ones for her.




Marilyn in the 1930s and in 2010

Marilyn, in 2010 at the annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival,was presented with an career achievement award by Marsha Hunt.


Marilyn’s 2011 autobiography  covers her life in Hollywood and afterwards. Her father , an attorney , looked after her career. She was never contracted to one studio and went to public school rather than a studio school.

Marilyn has her own website which is

Her daughter has taken all the clippings and pictures Marilyn’s mother saved and digitised  them for the website.


An amazing autographed page by the cast of “DAVID COPPERFIELD..Marilyn signs herself as ‘Little Agnes’.  Other autographs include Lewis Stone: Elizabeth Allen;  Jessie Ralph; Freddie Bartholomew; Edna May Oliver: Madge Evans; Jean Cadell; Lionel Barrymore; W.C.Fields; Roland Young; Basil Rathbone; Hugh Williams; Una O’Connor; Maureen O’ Sullivan.

What a cast!

Each star put their character name after their signature.

Other signatures – George Cukor, David Selznick, Cedric Gibbons , Douglas Shearer and names from make-up( Jack Dawn),camera (Oliver Marsh), Hal C. Kern ( not listed as the film’s editor but he was a supervising editor), Edwin B. Willis (Art Dept.) and   lights, props.

What a rarity! Wonder if it survived.
At the top it says, “For the Use of Hugh Walpole.” Walpole was a novelist who adapted David Copperfield for the screen. The film was his only acting credit, as the Vicar.


15 responses »

  1. Oh dear, it seems so many talented people become bitter – or at any rate, have trouble counting their blessings. Just read that Stockwell also did the original play of “Compulsion”, before starring in the movie.

      • That IS interesting to learn! I like McDowall’s work though it’s initially hard to see him as handsome “jock”, Loeb; however as the play and film openly took liberties from the original case, I’m sure he was fine as I’ve never seen him give a bad performance. Similarly Tony Randall originally played the cynical journalist in Broadway’s “Inherit the Wind” with Muni. In the film Gene Kelly gave in my view his best performance, in that role yet I’m sure Randall also did it well.

    • Yes! He won the Tony that year for it; Best Actress went to Ruth Gordon for her original Dolly Levi in “The Matchmaker”, which “Hello, Dolly!” was of coursed based on, nine years later.

      • Seems a shame Ruth didn’t get to repeat her performance in The Matchmaker film – though Shirley Booth was great.

  2. I agree with both points. A great performance by the first actor to play a role is such a singular experience, it’s hard to think of anyone else playing it. I knew Eugenie Leontovich in the 80s in New York, and although she never mentioned it, later in Helen Hayes’ book “My Life in Three Acts”, Hayes spoke of the abject terror she felt in daring to play the Dowager Empress in the film of “Anastasia”. In addition to being grief-stricken at the recent death of her husband, she also felt wrong for the role she’d been dazzled by when the actually Russian Leontovich played it. I’m sure Booth or others have felt similar pressure. Hayes went on to say she’d no regrets having done it, and that work helped lessen her bad state of mind and heart – yet as I recall, still implied the producers were nuts for having offered it to her!

  3. So did I, which made her comments surprising. Yet as I recall she not only implied but actually stated, 35 years later that she still felt it should have been given to Eugenie Leontovich. In some profile photos from the production she actually looks very much like Leontovich. Hayes could be odd about roles: she disliked Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie” (and the play itself, but for the “blue roses” scene toward end) yet played it successfully twice. Of course her best known role was Victoria, which she loved playing.

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