Classic Film Guide

Virginia Weidler

Given the many more famous child actors and actresses from the classic era, Virginia Weidler is a name you may not know unless you watch a lot of B movies on TCM. While playing overly inquisitive and sometimes too well informed siblings or daughters of John Barrymore, Warren William, Norma Shearer, Mickey Rooney, Charles Boyer, Katharine Hepburn, Frank Morgan, Ann Rutherford, Henry O’Neill, and Richard Carlson (among others), she often energized her roles with rambunctious tomboy behavior or a sharp-tongued knowing sarcasm. She personified the "spunky kid sister".

In one of her first credited roles as 'Little Sister' in director George Stevens’ Laddie (1935), Weidler is said to have stolen the picture from its leads (John Beal in the title role, and Gloria Stuart) by RKO Studios historian Richard B. Jewell, who called her "a disarming elf capable of evoking pathos or humour with equal dexterity." Born March 21, 1926 (or 1927, depending on the source), Weidler first worked for RKO and then Paramount Studios before she was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938. Perhaps the most notable film she appeared in for Paramount was Peter Ibbetson (1935) in which she and Dickie Moore played the fated lovers (Ann Harding and Gary Cooper) as children. But Weidler’s career didn’t really catch wind until she was at MGM, which continued to loan her out to RKO (a handful of times), and even once to Warner Bros. (for the Bette Davis nanny vehicle All This, and Heaven Too (1940); Weidler played one of Boyer’s and Barbara O'Neil’s daughters). In director Garson Kanin’s comedy drama The Great Man Votes (1939), Weidler plays Barrymore’s smart beyond her years daughter (Peter Holden plays his son), whom he’s taught to suffer no fools, which gets the former Harvard professor now drunken widower in trouble with the local political party demagogue (hilariously played by Donald MacBride). However, his children and their teacher (Katharine Alexander) help him to find himself again, and he sobers up in time to learn that he wields newfound power per his vote in the upcoming election.

Weidler then played the prankster daughter of William’s reformed jewel thief in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), the newly orphaned daughter of a high-wire circus artist for Lee Tracy’s Fixer Dugan (1939), the next door neighbor kid that wants to be like Tim Holt’s Rookie Cop (1939), featuring Ace the Wonder Dog (German Shepherd), Shearer’s namesake daughter in the all female cast of the original The Women (1939), and Morgan’s brother’s wannabe niece in the B comedy Henry Goes Arizona (1939), among three other films in that very busy year.

The following year, after playing the sassy but helpful and supportive sister of Rooney’s Young Tom Edison (1940), Weidler reached the pinnacle of her career as Hepburn’s busybody wise-cracking sister in The Philadelphia Story (1940), which for many moviegoers served as their introduction to the child actress. Unfortunately, the studio failed to capitalize on her success in that film, in part because it had signed Shirley Temple (whose only MGM film was Kathleen (1941)), and Weidler was relegated to providing comic relief by playing Rutherford’s meddling sibling in an unsuccessful B series (Keeping Company (1940) and This Time for Keeps (1942)). In the former, she plays a preteen obsessed with figuring out ways to get pistachio ice cream; in the latter, her character proves her father (the delightful Guy Kibbee) wrong every time he says "you'll never catch a child of mine doing something like that" and even wins a trivia contest, but is disappointed to receive the sponsor’s soap products instead of the $10 that an adult would have won (and that she needs). Weidler also played Carlson’s nosy kid sister in the B comedy The Affairs of Martha (1942) and appeared in black-face as O’Neill’s talented daughter in the Bowery Boys-ish B musical Born to Sing (1942), among few other roles, before she retired from making movies as an awkward (too old and too tall) teen after a 10+ year movie career. After a brief and unremarkable stage career, the actress retired, married and had two sons. Weidler is said to have politely refused all subsequent requests for interviews; she died (too young) of a heart ailment in 1968.

© 2007 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog

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