Best remembered for roles in Trouble in Paradise (1932), Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930) and Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Secrets of a Secretary
The Calendar/Bachelor’s Folly
Michael and Mary
The Faithful Heart/Faithful Hearts
Evenings for Sale
I Was a Spy
The Solitaire Man
Four Frightened People
The Good Fairy
The Flame Within
Accent on Youth
The Dark Angel
If You Could Only Cook
The Lady Consents
Till We Meet Again
A Woman Rebels
Make Way for a Lady
Breakfast for Two
Mad About Music
Woman Against Woman
A Bill of Divorcement
Adventure in Washington
The Little Foxes
The Moon and Sixpence
Forever and a Day
Flight for Freedom
Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble
The Enchanted Cottage
Monuments of the Past
Duel in the Sun
Black Jack/Captain Blackjack
The Underworld Story
Anne of the Indies
Riders to the Stars
The Black Shield of Falworth
The Virgin Queen
Wicked as They Come
A Fever in the Blood
Five Weeks in a Balloon
The List of Adrian Messenger
The Third Day
Herbert Marshall was never nominated for an Academy Award.
Herbert Marshall was born in London in 1890, as the only child of stage actors Percy F. Marshall and Ethel May Turner. As a child, Marshall was primarily brought up by his three maternal aunts, while his parents toured in theatrical productions. During school vacations, however, they took him with them. These early experiences initially gave him a negative view of the theatre.
Marshall graduated from St. Mary’s College in Old Harlow, Essex and worked for a time as an accounting clerk. After being fired for the slow speed of his calculations, he took a job as an assistant business manager of a theatre troupe run by a friend of his father’s. He later had a series of different backstage jobs at various theatres and acting companies. When a troupe he worked for reformed, he was laid off. He then tried his hand at acting.
On April 9 1917 he was shot in the left knee by a sniper at the Second Battle of Arras in France. After a succession of operations, doctors were forced to amputate his left leg. Marshall remained hospitalized for thirteen months. He later recalled in private that after his injury, he had initially over-dramatized his loss and was wrapped up in self-pity and bitterness. Before long, however, he decided he wanted to return to the theatre and learned how to walk well with a prosthetic leg in order to do so. Throughout his career, Marshall largely managed to hide the fact that he had a prosthetic limb, although it was occasionally reported in the press.
Marshall suffered from his war injury for the rest of his life, both from phantom pain common to amputees and from the prosthesis. The pain in his leg became more pronounced later in life, including bothering him on film shoots in ways noticeable to others and exacerbating his usually very slight limp.
Marshall had a long and varied stage career. In 1913, he made his London debut in the role of Tommy in Brewster’s Millions. Actor-manager Cyril Maude was so impressed with his performance that he recruited Marshall for his US and Canadian tour of Grumpy. When war was declared, the company returned to London and the 24-year-old enlisted.
Following the Armistice, Marshall joined Nigel Playfair’s repertory troupe and by 1922, Marshall was making regular appearances on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1927, Marshall debuted onscreen opposite Pauline Frederick in the British silent film Mumsie. He made his first Hollywood appearance as the husband of Jeanne Eagels’s character in The Letter two years later. After The Letter, in Britain once again, he notably starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930). The following year, he returned to Hollywood to make Secrets of a Secretary for Paramount Studios. After a few additional British films in the early 1930s, he primarily made films in the United States for the remainder of his life. As a Hollywood leading man, the suave, gentlemanly actor played romantic roles opposite such stars as Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.
The 1932 film, Blonde Venus, brought him to fame among the general American public. Later that same year, he played Gaston Monescu, a sophisticated thief involved in a love triangle in Ernst Lubitsch’s suggestive light comedy, Trouble in Paradise. In interviews, Marshall expressed a preference for playing this sort of witty comedy role.
Marshall, who often played kind and proper husbands betrayed by their wives, told several reporters that he was tired of such “gentleman” roles. Although another cuckolded husband, he appreciated his part in The Painted Veil (1934) with Garbo because his character was able to show “intestinal fortitude.” For the rest of the 1930s, he continued to be typecast in romantic melodramas, including The Dark Angel (1935) with Fredric March and Merle Oberon, Angel (1937) with Marlene Dietrich and Always Goodbye (1938) with Barbara Stanwyck, although he also appeared in the screwball comedies If You Could Only Cook (1935), The Good Fairy (1935) and Breakfast for Two (1937), as well as the musical Mad About Music (1938).
By mid-decade, the press noted how popular he was as a romantic actor. Besides his early romantic roles, Marshall was especially associated with the onscreen works of British author W. Somerset Maugham. In addition to performances in both filmed versions of Maugham’s The Letter, Marshall also starred in adaptions of The Painted Veil (1934), The Moon and Sixpence (1942) and The Razor’s Edge (1946). In the latter two, he portrayed the author himself, first as Maugham stand-in Geoffrey Wolfe and later as Maugham (formally), serving as both a narrator and a character within the film.
In 1941, he starred as Bette Davis‘ maltreated, principled husband, Horace Giddens, in The Little Foxes, which received nine Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. Over the course of the 1940s, he began to move into character roles, including parts in such classics as Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Secret Garden (1949). Also in the immediate post-war years, he appeared in the film noirs, Crack-Up (1946), Ivy (1947), High Wall (1947), The Underworld Story (1950) and Angel Face (1953). During the 1950s and 1960s, he periodically performed in period films, including The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, The Virgin Queen (1955) with Bette Davis, science-fiction films, foremost The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price, and crime thrillers, like Midnight Lace (1960) with Doris Day and Rex Harrison.
During the Second World War, using his own money for travel, Marshall visited many military hospitals during the war. He focused on encouraging soldiers with amputations to keep a positive attitude and not to think of themselves as handicapped or limited. Despite his usual reluctance to discuss his own injury, he talked freely about his personal experiences to give these amputees tips on how to use and adjust to their new artificial limbs. Although mostly kept private, a 1945 article in Motion Picture Magazine reported, against Marshall’s wishes, on his work at military hospitals
Marshall, a quiet-spoken man who was one of the pillars of the Hollywood British community, was widely respected and well-liked due to his talent and professionalism, pleasant and easygoing demeanor, sensitivity, gentlemanly and courteous manner, witty sense of humor, and his “very great personal charm”. Among the affable actor’s many friends in the British community were Edmund Goulding, Eric Blore, Ronald Colman, Clive Brook, Merle Oberon, Sir C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven, Basil Rathbone, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Brian Aherne. Other friends included Raymond Massey, Rod La Rocque, Vilma Bánky, Kay Francis, Mary Astor, Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas, Bette Davis and Grace Moore. Although popular and likeable, Marshall suffered from bouts of depression through much of his life. In his free time, he especially enjoyed sketching and fishing
Marshall was married five times and divorced three. In 1914, he appeared with Mollie Maitland (whose real name was Hilda Lloyd Bosley) in The Headmaster; the following year, they were married. Five years later, he first appeared with Edna Best, who would become his most frequent stage co-star; they also made three films together (The Calendar, Michael and Mary and The Faithful Heart). Marshall and Best were married in November 1928, following their respective divorces (they had been cohabiting for the previous three years). In 1931, Best broke a lucrative contract with MGM and walked off the filming of The Phantom of Paris with John Gilbert in order to be with Marshall in New York, where he was performing in a play.
During a return trip to London in late November 1932, Marshall and a pregnant Best gave an interview in which they stated their intention to briefly return to Hollywood the following summer. They would bring a nanny to help look after their daughter. At some point, Best and young Sarah returned to London while Marshall received more film offers. They continued making trips to see each other. In late 1933, actress Phyllis Barry had tea with Marshall and Claudette Colbert after they returned from Hawaii, where they had been filming Four Frightened People. She remembered that Marshall “insisted on my talking all the time because he said I sounded just like his wife”. By the time Marshall was filming Riptide in early 1934, he was reportedly drinking heavily due to his problems with Best and increased phantom pain. (Director Goulding and co-star Norma Shearer successfully convinced him to curb his consumption of alcohol.) Not long after, Goulding would introduce him to Gloria Swanson.
In 1940, after a long separation from her husband and wanting to marry someone else, Best divorced Marshall on grounds of desertion (he lived in Hollywood, while she lived in Britain). She remarried almost immediately. Twenty days later, he married actress and model Elizabeth Roberta “Lee” Russell, a sister of film star, Rosalind Russell. Two years prior to their marriage, Russell’s recently divorced ex-husband, songwriter Eddy Brandt, initiated an alienation of affection suit for $250,000 against Marshall, whom he accused of stealing his wife. Brandt later told the press that he and the actor settled out of court for $10,000. Marshall publicly denied this claim. In 1947, Russell divorced him in Mexico. They parted on amiable terms.
He was married to his fourth wife, former Ziegfeld girl and actress Patricia “Boots” Mallory, from 1947 until her death in 1958. They were wed in August 1947, with Nigel Bruce acting as best man. After a sixteen-month illness, Mallory died of a throat ailment at age 45. Marshall was deeply troubled by her death and had to be hospitalized for pneumonia and pleurisy less than two months later. He married his final wife, Dee Anne Kahmann, on 25 April 1960, when he was almost 70 years old. She was a twice-divorced, 38-year-old department store buyer. They remained married until his death.
Marshall had a daughter, Sarah, by Edna Best, and another daughter, Ann, by Lee Russell. Sarah Marshall followed her parents and grandparents into the acting profession, appearing in many of the most popular television shows of the 1960s, including Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, F Troop and Daniel Boone. Herbert and Sarah Marshall acted together in a television version of J. B. Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, in 1951. His younger daughter, Ann Marshall (often called “Annie”), worked for many years as Jack Nicholson’s personal assistant. He also had at least four step-children, two from his marriage to Best and two from his marriage to Mallory. His grandson, Timothy M. Bourne, Sarah Marshall’s only child, is an independent film producer. Bourne was the executive producer of the Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side (2009).
With the increasing public demand for grittier films after the Second World War, the remaining members of the Hollywood British “colony” began to part ways, with some returning to Britain while others stayed in Hollywood. Marshall, like many of his contemporaries who stayed in Hollywood, began to receive far fewer acting offers and, especially toward the end of his life, had to take whatever he could get due to financial reasons. In May 1951, while in the hospital recuperating from corrective surgery, he suffered a “pulmonary embolism around his heart”. After NBC aired three episodes of The Man Called ‘X’ that were previously transcribed, Marshall’s friends Van Heflin, John Lund and Joseph Cotten filled-in (one episode each) until Marshall’s return in June 1951.
Marshall appeared in his last significant film role in The Caretakers (1963) with Joan Crawford, who was happy to act with him again 22 years after they made When Ladies Meet. Noting his poor health and heavy drinking, she worked with the film’s director to minimize the time Marshall had to be on the set. In late 1965, after his final, brief film appearance in the thriller The Third Day, Marshall was admitted to the Motion Picture Relief Fund Hospital for severe depression. Eight days after his release, he died on January 22 1966 in Beverly Hills, California, of heart failure at the age of 75. He was interred at Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.