Fauntleroy Movies: Freddy Barthlomew, 1936

Figure 1.--The 1936 version with Freddy Barthomew is one of the best know versions of "Little Lord Fauntleroy, but the costuming was not in keeping with the book and drawings.

The 1936 version of Little Lord Fauntleroy is perhaps the classic version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. In part because it was bade during the classic period for studio child stars. However, the film was far from accurate in terms of costuming and hair style. Freddy Bartholmew played Little Lord Fauntleroy in this black and white film. The producer clearly sought to downplay the hero's sissy reputation. Freddy was an extremely popular child actor and probably had some say in the costuming. The studio was also probably concerned with Freddy's image. If he acquired a sissy image it might have adversely affected his future box office appeal.


The third film version of the classic, Little Lord Fauntleroy was preceded by silent adaptations from 1914 and 1922.


I am not sure at this time just where the film was shot. A reader wtites, "I have always wanted to know which British castle was used for the 1936 version of Little Lord Fauntleroy."


We also do not know much about the music used in the film. Ax reader writes, "I wish I could discover the title and composer of the majestic piece of music that is played when Ceddie is escorted into the castle to meet his Grandfather.


Freddy Bartholomew of course dominated this film as the title character. There were also some strong supporting performances.

Freddy Bartholomew

Young Freddy Bartholomew, who was adept at playing exuberant, well-spoken children ("David Copperfield", "Captains Courageous") was well cast for the lead role of Cedric. He gives a good performance. British-born Bartholomew was launched in America in 1935 with his portrayal of David Copperfield and that of Anna Karenina 's son in the eponymous movies. Freddy's career began when MGM decided to remake David Cooperfield. Freddy was selected for that role when his Aunt Cissie virtually pushed him into the Selznick's office in 1935 wearing David Cooperfield attire, including a beaver hat. "I am David Cooperfield, Sir!" entoned the ever so polite Freddy in his English accent. Freddy landed the role and launched his career in Hollywood. Refined and gentle mannered despite a humble hupbringing, Freddy eas able to use his good diction and hubrinning to great advantage in playing classic boy heros, which was a fashionable genre during the 1930s. Selznick then selected him to play opposite Gretta Garbo in the remake of Anna Karenina. Selznick was the son-in-law of Louis B. Meyer of MGM, but left MGM to form his own company. Somehow he managed to get Freddy who was under contract to MGM for his first production, Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1936, despite protests from Meyer. Freddy for a few years he was the most celebrated male child actor, just as Shirley Temple was among little girls. He was especially good in Captains Courageous (1937), opposite Spencer Tracy.

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney, whose considerable acting talent peaked while still a teenager, has an enthusiastic supporting role. He was well suited for the good-hearted Irish tough imposter.


The supporting cast adds substantially to the production. C. Aubrey Smith, the crusty, venerable British character actor, plays his grandfather. It is hard to think of anyone who could have done a better curmudgeon. Dolores Costello, recently divorced from John Barrymore and the future grandmother of Drew Barrymore, plays Cedric's saintly mother ("Dearest") beuatifully.

Figure 2.--This is Freddy in his velvet and lace collar, but he rarely appears dressed in it during the movie.

Classic Films

The film was well directed by John Cromwell, with matching production by David O. Selznick of Mrs. Burnett's Little Princess). Generations of children grew up with these books and films, but hardly anyone under 40 seems to have hear of today. Productions of these and other classics were enormously popular in the 1930s, the first decade of "talkies", sound movies.


The classic story of the lovable little All-American boy, Cedric Erroll, the son of a poor widow, who inherits his grandfather's fortunes and Estates in England is presented n the film. The film begins in New York City. A street gang did not like Cedric. They gang up on him but he is no cissy. He took them on and battled it out and then he is joined by the boot black who befriended him. The street kids are saved from a thrashing by the arrival of the local constabulary. Cedric is transported from a New York City street corner in 1888 to a sumptuous castle in England. Ceddie has a profound effect on all those he comes in contact with. He is generous to a fault. He doesn't understand why people have to suffer while there is relief near at hand, even in his own hands. But then a situation comes that tests him and proves he will be more than his forbears ever have been--the finest Earl of Dorincourt-- Lord Fauntleroy. In the process he teaches his bitter old grandfather how to love again, he shows his old friends loyalty and kindness.


Except for the costuming, this is a surprisingly good production of Little Lord Fauntleroy. The costuming dies not follow the illustrations in Little Lord Fauntleroy very closely. Perhaps Freddy who as now a star had some inflience on the costuming or the Hollywood moguls wanted a costume that would not be to objectionable to American boys. Many of his outfits are rather hundrum like Eton suits which certainly were not mentioned in the book. Freddy does have a velvet suit with lace colar, I have seen studio stills of it. It looks, however, more like an Eton suit with a small lace collar than a true Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. The lace collar is not elaborate nor is there matching wrist sleeve trim. Freddy does not appear in it extensively in the film. He does appear in a rather odd looking sailor suit and other non-descript suits. Hollywood certainly did not strive for period accuracy in costuming during those days. Interestingly while Freddy did not wear his velvet suit and lace collar frequently in the movie, posters advertising the film did often picture him in it. Why this was the outfit used to publicize the film, but not extensively worn in the production is an interesting question. The thing about the costuming in the film is that the hair and outfits are not very elaborate. I'm not sure why. I think the producers may have thought that real Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits would have turned off American boys. Also Freddy Bartholomew was a big star and may not have liked the idea of wearing ringlets and a fancy Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit. Unfortunately I do not have details on the costuming decesions for the film, but these issues must have been discussed.

Hair Styling

There is no attempt to emulate the long curls Little Lord Fauntleroy was remembered for. Probably Freddy would have objected. He wears a regular boys' haircut, perhaps cut a little long but nothing even remotely similar to the hair mentioned in the book and depicted in the original Reginald Birch drawings.


Smooth, warm, not excessively sentimental film is surprisingly undated.

Based on the 1886 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy has a title that evokes old-fashioned, 19th century English stuffiness. But if you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a film by its title, either. Slow and sentimental, those who expect action will be disappointed. However, the film is completely charming, with a fine cast and excellent script and direction.

Sweet, angelic Cedric (Bartholomew) lives in relative poverty with his widowed mother (Costello) in Brooklyn, near the turn of the century. Although street toughs take him for a sissy, he has swell pals in shoeshine boy Dick (Rooney) and grocer Mr. Hobbs (Guy Kibbee). Hobbs is an emotional middle-aged man who considers Cedric almost to be his son, but he has a Yankee disdain for English nobility.

This prejudice must be changed when it is revealed that Cedric is the long-lost grandson of the wealthy Earl of Dorincourt. Cedric is sent to England to live with his grandfather (Smith), who turns out to be a bitter, tyrannical old man half-crippled with gout. But Cedric doesn't see him that way, and soon charms the Earl into a more benevolent character. But trouble arises for young Cedric, as his inheritance is threatened by an older, worthless boy (Jackie Searl) who claims to be the first grandson of the Earl.

While Costello is unable to overcome the stereotyped sweetness of her character, Bartholomew is much more successful. His character is also too good to be true, perfectly polite and generous. But Bartholomew has the talent to make his character convincing, and he is aided by the clear affection that the whole cast has for him.

Modern Reactions

A teacher in Serbia writes, "I showed the 1938 version of "Little Lord Falkenroy" to my class of 4th graders prior to christmas holidays. They watched the film with interest. The boys said they would like to wear similar clothes--sailor suits' as depicted in the film. The girls were not too sure. One pupil wanted to take the movie home for his dad to copy! The pupils are aged 8 to 10. One boy said he had a sailor suit. They liked the military feeling such clothes give. They also said they would wear the hat that Cedric wore. They liked the fight at the beginning of the film and the penny farthing bike facinated then, especially how such a bike could be ridden. I expected them to laugh when they saw such an old fashioned bike but they didn't."


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Last updated: April 28, 1999
Last updated: 10:36 PM 3/27/2007