Interviewed in Growing Up on the Set,
By Tom Goldrup and Jim Goldrup, McFarland & Company, 2002
Played Bratty and Bullied Equally Well
Who knows? If it weren't for Shirley Temple, Bonita Granville, or Jane Withers, Marcia Mae Jones might have been better known today or would at least have had meatier roles. She did seem to get the choice second part to a bigger box office child actor, however, and always turned in an admirable, and often excellent, performance.
I first came to know her as the mean Lavinia in The Little Princess (1939), and since (sorry) I'm not the biggest Shirley Temple fan, I was kind of rooting for the brat. By that time, 15-year-old Jones had already been in about 25 pictures, pushed into show business by one of those mothers, who pushed her siblings into movies as well, Like Baby Peggy, Marcia Mae Jones was the family breadwinner at an early age and also had to contend with the professional jealousies of her brothers and sister when her career outpaced theirs.
Perhaps her best and most famous performance was as the tormented Rosalie Wells in the 1936 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play, "The Children's Hour." Retitled These Three, the film starred Merle Oberon, Joel MacCrea, and Miriam Hopkins, with Bonita Granville as the evil child, Mary. The film was remade in 1961 under the play's original title, with Veronica Cartwright (also excellent and not as famous as she should be) in the part played by Jones.
By the 1940s, Marcia Mae Jones had gone from playing decent secondary roles to kind of crummy teenage starring roles with titles like Lady in the Death House * (1944) and Street Corner **(1948). She made a number of appearances on television comedies and dramas throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She also had a part in the 1973 film The Way We Were, but I honestly can't remember her in it.
As an adult, Jones was plagued by personal and emotional problems, which she attributed in part to her stage mother. Her second husband, television writer Bill Davenport (Hogan's Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, All in the Family, Maude), struggled with drugs and alcohol and eventually committed suicide. Jones herself fought alcohol addiction, overcoming her dependency later in life.
She remained lifelong friends with Jane Withers since they appeared together in the film Gentle Julia (1936).
Marcia Mae Jones died September 2, 2007 of pneumonia at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community at the age of 83.
* A film I totally need to see.
** Not about prostitutes as the name implies, but about a young girl who gets pregnant on prom night and seeks an illegal abortion. Six of one, I suppose, in the late 40s?