Early talkie & B Western actress Marion Shilling dead at 93
In early December 2004, it was made public that Marion Shilling, a B Western actress of the early 1930s, had died of “natural causes” on Nov. 6 at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles County. She was 93.
Initially a stage performer – she had a supporting role in the Los Angeles production of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi – Marion Shilling (born Marion Helen Schilling on Dec. 3, 1910, in Denver, Colorado) began appearing in movies right at the dawn of the sound era.
'Lord Byron of Broadway'
Shilling got her would-be break in Harry Beaumont and William Nigh's MGM backstage musical Lord Byron of Broadway (1930), which came out the year after Beaumont's wildly successful The Broadway Melody, the first talkie to win the Best Picture Academy Award.
Although cast as the romantic interest of the male lead, Broadway juvenile Charles Kaley, in Lord Byron of Broadway Shilling had what amounted to a nondescript supporting part.
The film itself – a flop that ended her association with the studio – is notable for one reason: the fantastic two-color musical number “The Woman in the Shoe,” featuring Broadway star Ethelind Terry, and music and lyrics by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
More Marion Shilling movies
Following the sudden death of her trusted agent, the early 1930s were a difficult time for Marion Shilling. In fact, she would never get the chance to appear in a more elaborate production like Lord Byron of Broadway.
Her other non-Western movies of the period were almost invariably B flicks or minor programmers. Examples include:
- Louis J. Gasnier's crime drama Shadow of the Law (1930), in which good girl Shilling and greedy villainess Natalie Moorhead vie for the attention of a pre-stardom William Powell.
- Fred Niblo's anti-drugs drama Young Donovan's Kid (1931), with The Champ child star Jackie Cooper and silent era veteran Richard Dix, who that same year was seen in Wesley Ruggles' Academy Award-winning blockbuster Cimarron. “When [Dix] made his entrance on the sound stage each morning was an event,” Shilling would recall decades later in Boyd Magers and Michael G. Fitzgerald's Westerns Women. “Following him was a parade: stand-in, valet, secretary and several musicians, along with a big ego.”
One exception to the B-movie rule was Paul L. Stein's Paris-set, Pre-Code romantic melodrama The Common Law (1931), starring Constance Bennett as a nude model who falls for American painter Joel McCrea. But here Marion Shilling is only briefly seen in a supporting role.
B Western actress
Marion Shilling's debut as a B Western actress took place in 1931, playing opposite Tom Keene in Robert F. Hill's Sundown Trail. Among her other buckaroo leading men during that period were:
- Hoot Gibson in A Man's Land (1932) and Cavalcade of the West (1936). In Westerns Women, Shilling recalled Gibson as “a really 'nice guy.' A true professional, always on time, always knew his lines.”
- Buck Jones, in the serial The Red Rider (1934) and Stone of Silver Creek (1935). As found in Westerns Women, Jones was Shilling's favorite actor.
- Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams in Thunder Over Texas (1934) and Gun Play (1935) – in addition to the low-budget comedy Society Fever (1935), toplining Lois Wilson and Lloyd Hughes, both of whom had enjoyed successful careers during the silent era.
- Tim McCoy in The Westerner (1934; no connection with the 1940 A-grade Gary Cooper Western of the same name). McCoy and Shilling also saw each other off screen, but according to her things went south after she was invited to a Palm Springs weekend where he would “teach me all about life.”
- Rex Bell in Idaho Kid (1936). Also known as Clara Bow's real-life husband, Bell had previously been Shilling's leading man in Richard Thorpe's low-budget, Hollywood-set 1931 drama Forgotten Women, also featuring veteran Beryl Mercer.
Hollywood lost one of its busy B Western actresses in 1936, when the 25-year-old Marion Shilling – by then with about 30 oaters to her credit – decided to call it quits.
The year after her retirement, she married Philadelphia real estate mogul Edward Cook. Their marriage would last until his death in 1998.
Marion Shilling & E. Mason Hopper collaborations
 Shilling and Hopper (no connection to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper) would work together again on two more minor efforts:
- The B Pre-Coder Shop Angel (1932), with Holmes Herbert, Anthony Bushell, and Walter Byron.
- The B murder mystery Curtain at Eight (1933), with Shilling supporting silent era leading lady Dorothy Mackaill, C. Aubrey Smith, and Paul Cavanagh.
'Cyrano de Bergerac' producer René Cleitman
Following early 1930s Western actress Marion Shilling, here's another brief obit: producer René Cleitman, whose credits include the Jean-Paul Rappeneau-directed Cyrano de Bergerac, died at a Paris hospital on Dec. 14. He was 64.
Cleitman produced more than 20 feature films, but in terms of international popularity Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) was his most notable effort. The period piece stars Best Actor Academy Award nominee Gérard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, and Vincent Perez.
Other René Cleitman film credits in various producing capacities include the following:
- Patrice Leconte's well-regarded crime drama Monsieur Hire (1989), with Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire.
- Nikita Mikhalkov's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee Close to Eden / Urga (1992).
- The old-fashionably romantic The Horseman on the Roof / Le Hussard sur le toit (1995), with Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez.
Additionally, Cleitman appeared as himself in Terry Gilliam's documentary Lost in La Mancha, about Gilliam's failed attempt to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” with a cast that might – or might not – have included Jean Rochefort, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, and Miranda Richardson.
René Cleitman's last film, Jérôme Bonnell's Les yeux clairs (“Light Eyes”), is scheduled for a March 2005 release.
Images of early Western actress Marion Shilling: Publicity shots ca. 1930.
Image of Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez in the René Cleitman-produced The Horseman on the Roof: AFMD / Miramax Films.
“Western Actress & Cyrano de Bergerac Producer Remembered” last updated in January 2019.