Herbert Marshall : a true Disabled film star
Disabled people have been represented in the media, as in society at large, in a wide range of ways that have changed over time (at least superficially). Martin F Norden argues that disabled people have gone through well-defined periods in which their representation reflects society’s view of disabled people. Hence we see a shift from the 'freak' imagery of the era before World War II, to the image of the 'noble warrior' and post-War images of rehabilitation before moving into the more mainstream imagery of the post-Vietnam War era. If we consider Colin Barnes' list of stereotypes we can see that the disabled and ill are often trapped within a limiting range of character types: the disabled person as pitiable and pathetic; as an object
of violence; as sinister and evil; as a curiosity; as 'super cripple '; as an object of ridicule; as their own worst enemy; as a burden; as sexually abnormal; as incapable of participating fully in community life.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the range of types for disabled characters on film is broader than that on offer for most other socially marginalised groups such as women, those . from ethnic minorities and gays or lesbians.
The only constant is the prevalence of disability imagery, which is as widespread now as it has ever been. Regard less of trends, whenever you look at disability imagery in any form of film you will encounter the full range of types outlined by Barnes. Disability imagery may be slightly more sanitised today but beneath the surface, beneath the image, most of the old assumptions still dominate film culture.
Although we may get less out right 'freak show' imagery today, there is no shortage of TV documentaries about the problems of conjoined twins. Alternatively, the subject is historicized: the old images are repeatedly shown but for th e hypocritical purpose of ostens ibly criticising past voyeurism.
The current trend is for disabled people to demand (and secure) ' positive images' of disability. But this is potentially both a creative dead -end and a very dangerous route for disabled people. In the main, 'positive' tends to mean pseudo-normal representations, i.e. a reinforcement of the very illusion that oppresses those who are 'abnormal'. Such 'positive' representations do not deal with disability; rather they continue to marginalise it for the sake of a sanitised
view of disability. In addition, ' positive' images are as unrealistic as 'negative' ones: disabled people may be poor, uneducated or unemployed. This is not because of their impairments but because of how society treats them: segregation, special schools, charity, institutionalisation. What we should all be arguing for is a broad range of images with more control given to disabled people to create images of themselves both for them and us (whoever 'we' may be).
Herbert Marshall - a true disabled film star
Herbert Marshall, a Londoner who was a pre-war stage star, lost a leg in World War I but went on to establish a long and successful career in Hollywood. His wooden replacement limb was known to trouble him considerably in later life. Marshall was one of the biggest stars of his day as a romantic lead and, later, as a character actor. His traditional good looks, impeccable British accent and urbane manner made him an ideal leading man and he played opposite such stars as Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932), Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934), Bette Davis in The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941), both directed by William Wyler. He also made two films for Hitchcock: Murder (1930) and Foreign Correspondent (1940). Towards th e end of his career he starred in the original version of The Fly (195 8) opposite Vincent Price.
Marshall was adept at comedy, as in Ernst Lubitsch's brilliant Trouble in Paradise (193 2), and played a blind pianist in The Enchanted Cottage (1945), but never played an amputee. The son of actors Percy F Marshall and Ethel May Turner, he was married five times, to the actresses Edna Best (1928-1940) and Boots Mallory and three other women. In a review Graham Greene argued that his screen persona represented an exportable British national characteristic, like tweed or tobacco. Represented in this Catalogue are Blonde Venus (1932), A Woman Rebels (1936), The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and The Secret Garden (1949).
D: Josef von Sternberg
Marlene Dietrich , Cary Grant,
USA-1932 • bw- 97 mins •
Amputee Marshall plays the ailing husband whose wife, Dietrich, in order to pay his medical bills, be comes a night club sin ger. She falls in love with debonair playboy Cary Grant and delivers her legendary rendition of 'Hot Voodoo', dressed in a gorilla suit.
D: Kurt Neumann
Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall
USA • 1958 • colour •
94 mins • Horror• NFTVA
A scientist invents a method of transmitting and reassembling atoms. He transmits himself and does not notice a fly in the compartment.
The Secret Garden
D:. Fred M Wilcox
Margaret O'Brien, Herbert Marshall,
USA• 1949 • bw/colour • 92 mins • 35mm-Drama
In this adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett 's classic story O'Brien stars as the orphan who transform s the lives of her embittered uncle and his bedridden son when she starts tending a garden in the ground s of their country mansion. The sobriety of black and white gives way to a blast of Technicolor.
A Woman Rebels
D: Mark Sandrich Katharine Hepburn, Herbert Marshall
USA• 1936 • bw • 88 mins • 16mm-Drama
A Victorian rebel against convention brings up her illegitimate child as her sister's orphan and, after many years as a campaigner for women's rights, finally marrie s the patient, understanding diplomat whom she had rejected as a young woman.