Freddie Bartholomew - Rotten Tomatoes

Freddie Bartholomew

Lowest Rated:   60% Sepia Cinderella (1947)
Birthplace:   Dublin, Ireland
During the second half of the 1930s, Freddie Bartholomew epitomized the British male child star, professional and well-mannered to a fault, and was the second most popular child actor in movies after Shirley Temple. His own life, however, was nearly as troubled and, in some respects, more so, as those of many of the characters that he played. The son of an alcoholic mother who gave him up to her sister, he thrived in the home and care of his aunt (and adopted mother) Cissy and became a professional actor at the age of three. He'd already made two British feature films, Fascination (1930) and Lily Christine (1932), when MGM brought him to America in 1934 for its lavishly produced adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. This became his first American starring vehicle and, although critics of the era weren't universally taken with his performance, thinking it too simpering and passive, albeit professional, audiences loved him in the movie. Over the next five years, Bartholomew made an array of solid, often inspired dramatic films, usually in period settings, playing alongside some of the biggest stars in the history of cinema, including Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, and Spencer Tracy. David O. Selznick, who had cast him in David Copperfield, made him the star of his first independent production, an adaptation of the book Little Lord Fauntleroy, which came to define Bartholomew's screen persona. The quality of his movies peaked with Captains Courageous and Kidnapped, but there were fine films around these, including an excellent adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays in 1940, made at RKO, during which Bartholomew first met and became friends with a young New York-born actor named James Lydon. Although Bartholomew was perfect for the role of Tom Brown, he couldn't play it because he wasn't under contract to RKO and Lydon was, but the fact that he was cast in the secondary part of Ned East didn't stop him from becoming a close friend of Lydon's and vice versa. The decade of the 1940s was far less kind to Bartholomew, beginning with a change in audience taste: the coming of World War II reduced the appeal of the kind of costume films in which Bartholomew did his best work. Americans' associations with England shifted, from a fixation on its history and stories out of antiquity, to images of a country fending off Hitler's air force; Bartholomew and his image suddenly seemed quaintly irrelevant. Additionally, although he remained a skilled actor, he was less appealing on screen as a teenager than he had been as a boy. As his audience shrank, the kinds of movies that Bartholomew was offered also declined; he spent the early '40s at Columbia making low-budget, quickly shot B-movie dramas like Cadets on Parade and Naval Academy, both with James Lydon, and by 1943, he was starring with ex-members of the Dead End Kids in a 70-minute action-thriller called Junior Army. Against this backdrop, a series of personal tragedies ensued: after Bartholomew became famous, his birth mother, who had been out of his life materially and legally since before his third birthday, was persuaded by people she met in the course of drinking her way through the lower depths of British society to go to court several times, both in England and America, to try and seize a piece of his earnings for herself; he was protected by the so-called "Coogan Law," which was supposed to prevent parents from stealing the earnings of child performers, but every time she filed suit, he was forced to expend money from the trust fund defending against her, and after a half-dozen or more times, his trust was very much depleted; in 1944, at the age of 20, Bartholomew was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force, assigned as an aircraft mechanic, and while doing repairs that year on a bomber engine, he fell from a scaffold and broke his back. He spent a year in traction at a G.I. hospital and was given a medical discharge in 1945, seemingly recovered; unknown to himself and all bu

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