Virginia Weidler was a better child actress than Shirley Temple.
There I said it, and you may call me blasphemous if you would like, but let me explain.
Historically, Shirley Temple is more important. She made filmgoers happy during an economically difficult time. Even President Franklin Roosevelt was quoted as saying America couldn’t have gotten through the Depression if it hadn’t been for Shirley Temple.
But aside from that, what does Shirley have besides being adorable with dimples, giggles and curls?
While 1930s and 1940s child stars like Shirley Temple, Sybil Jason and Juanita Quigley (or Baby Jane) were merely cute, Virginia Weidler was a bona fide actress at a young age.
Actresses like Jason acted with Warner Brothers’ top star Kay Frances but merely as Frances’s daughter with minimal screen time. Shirley Temple also acted with big named stars such as Alice Faye or Randolph Scott, but they were generally window dressing for a Temple extravaganza.
Weidler held her own (and arguably stole the scene) in films with top celebrities like Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer in “The Women” (1939); Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart in “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) and even as Warren Williams’s sidekick in “The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt” (1939).
Take “The Women” (1939): Virginia Weidler (as Little Mary) is staying with her father and new stepmother Joan Crawford (Crystal Allen). Crawford is in the tub and wants Weidler to help her scrub her back. Weidler shows her disdain and isn’t as obedient like most children of her era would have been expected to be. Later Crawford shoos her out of the bathroom when she gets a phone call. Weidler quips, “I don’t understand grownups on the telephone. They all sound silly.”
In another scene Weidler’s mother, Norma Shearer (as Mary Haines) says:
Mary Haines: I’ll be doing the cooking so you know what father will get.
Little Mary Haines: I know – indigestion.
Weidler’s comedic comebacks in her films are as quick and sophisticated as adult lines.
Several child actors of the time only played small roles as sons and daughters or predominately in children’s movies, such as the Andy Hardy series.
While some of Weidler’s later films were teen fluff like “Babes on Broadway” (1941), “The Youngest Profession” (1943) and “Born to Sing” (1942), Weidler’s early films were more serious. She even acted alongside The Great Profile, John Barrymore, in one of his last films, “The Great Man Votes” (1939).
Though Weidler grew up to be a lovely young woman, her film career ended with musical “Best Foot Forward” (1943) at the age of 16. According to IMDB, her career was partially shortened when budding teen beauty Shirley Temple was signed to MGM, where Weidler was under contract.
In 1947, Weidler married naval officer Lionel Krisel and she retired from show business.
“[When asked about her career in later years,] Virginia would always change the subject as quickly as possible without being rude. She never watched her old movies or replied to requests for interviews. Although she was never one to criticize, I think our boys got the impression that their mother didn’t think very much of the motion picture industry,” said her husband.
Weidler suffered from a heart ailment for many years and died of a heart attack in 1968 when she was only 41 years old.
Though she had long since been retired from films, her snappy comebacks and wisecracking characters will always be remembered with film greats including Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis and Myrna Loy.
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Awesome post. I love The Philadelphia Story and I’ll have to rewatch it since I get so wrapped up in Cary Grant I don’t notice other actors. Great post and I’m happy to be a participant in this blogathon!
No reason to dish Shirley
Virginia, Shirley and Mary Wickes were all terrific child actors
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Thank you for reading.
I do like Shirley Temple (Read more: https://cometoverhollywood.com/2014/02/21/baby-take-a-bow-remembering-shirley-temple/) I simply prefer Virginia Weidler, who is my favorite child star. I believe you were referring to Jane Withers 🙂 She is a delight. I love to see her in interviews; she’s adorable and giggly. Mary Wickes is an adult character actor, who also always brings something special to the screen.
I enjoyed your post, Jessica! How sad that Virginia Weidler died so young – I had no idea. I absolutely loved her in The Women, which is one of my favorite movies, and I thought she was a total delight in The Philadelphia Story. Congratulations on an awesome blogathon!!
I did not know this gal until your post. Thank you for sharing about her. And thanks also for hosting this wonderful blogathon. I think it was very successful.
She was an awesome actress. I just loved her in “The Youngest Profession” where she plays an avid film fan and autograph collector. She more than held her own with the greats, she was one of them!
As soon as I saw your first photo of her, holding the puppy, I remembered her from The Philadelphia Story. “Oh, it won’t rain,” her Dinah said confidently. “Tracy won’t stand for it!” There are precious few child performers who didn’t … well, suck. Some are memorable just for how bad they were. Remember Cammie King in Gone with the Wind? Thank you for tossing the spotlight on a very talented little girl. I’m sorry her career and her life ended so soon, but I hope her short life off screen was a happy one.
PS Thanks for letting me join your blogathon party!
THING WITH VIRGINIA WAS THAT SHE DID NOT “BLOSSOM” INTO A BEAUTY AS SHE GREW OLDER…(SEE “BEST FOOT FORWARD”) AND HOLLYWOOD ADORED LOOKS MORE THEN TALENT….STILL DOES. QUESTION???? WHEN DID SHE DIE…IT DIDN’T COME CLEAR IN YOUR WEB POST.
I remember her for The Philadelphia Story, a movie we have on hand for occasional viewing. Never really knew her story or the other films. Nice post.
Nice profile. She did have good comedic timing. I often remember her when I think of The Women.
So nice of you to think of this wonderful child actress. She was a pip in “The Philadelphia Story”! Glad that she had a happy adult life, but tragic that it was cut short.
Great story. I never knew she died so young.
But Virginia is ugly, I mean not cute, or pretty, she was a great little actress, but in “the Women” you can see her “ethnic” look as Norma Shearers daughter they matched as Norma was also Jewish. I do not agree that she was better than Temple who was dancing and singing much younger, They are both great young Talent of Yesteryear.
I love “The Philadelphia Story” and “The Women”, and I think she was great, an amazing scene stealer. But I didn’t know anything about her life. A little sad, considering that she had a lot of talent. Shirley Temple was under contract on MGM, but did few movies, they should have kept Virginia.
Thanks for hosting this blogaton, Jessica! I’ve had a lot of fun!
I loved her in both the Women and the Philadelphia Story. Great post!
I think that Shirley Temple had more charisma, but Weidler was definitely a superior actress. I can’t believe how young she was when she died! The woman made her mark though. Nice post!
Definite high five…she had more talent in her little finger tha Temple had in over a dozen films. Temple was good for what she did when she was little but I always appreciated her a l;ot more in the films she made as young adult The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Fort Apache. If the right director had been behind her, she could have gotten more roles and increased her talent. And it’s so bad that Weidler lost her career due to Temple’s studio move.
Oh boy, I can’t stand her in Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, but I do like her a lot in the others you mention as well as The Great Man Votes and even her Hardy movie appearance (though she grates some there!). I actually got a big kick out of The Youngest Profession.
Thanks for the post and thanks for such a great blogathon, I think we all served the web especially well with this one!
I didnot recognize Virginia Weidler’s name but as soon as I saw the picture of her I remembered her from The Women and The Philadelphia Story. My she was a quick one with her lines, handling herself quite well when acting alongside the adults. Thanks for the post on her as I enjoyed reading about her.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I’ve taken an interest in trying to find out more about Ms. Weidler and the premature end to her career. It seems odd that such a talent wasn’t able to get a deal at a new studio after MGM dropped her.
If one searches the internet for a wonderful photo of Ginny on the beach with her red setter, you’ll see she wasn’t ugly AT ALL. A very pretty girl next door, at least I would have liked her to live next door.
Virginia Weidler was great in everything she was ever in. Talent like hers is all too rare.
This article was one of the first I read when I first started researching the life of this wonderful actress. It is partially responsible for encouraging me to start the Virginia Weidler Remembrance Society fan page on Facebook and at TCM.com’s Classic Film Union. Please drop by!