Marguerite Churchill: Broadway, B Movies & “Bunco Squad”

Actress Marguerite Churchill (1910-2000) was born on this day.

Churchill was one of the few lucky enough to start at the top, though the bulk of her career lasted only around 15 years. Her father owned and managed a chain of theatres in the midwest. He died when she was ten, but Marguerite was already starring on Broadway two years later, presumably through the family’s professional connections. The show was Why Worry? (1922-23). This was followed by House of Shadows (1927), The Wild Man of Borneo (1927 – later made into a film starring Frank Morgan), and Skidding (1928-29). By day she attended the Professional Children’s School. She also received formal training at the Theatre Guild’s Dramatic School.

Her first films were Fox comedy shorts: The Diplomats, with Clark and McCullough, and Furnace Trouble with Robert Benchley, both 1929. Her first feature was The Valiant (1929) with Paul Muni and Johnny Mack Brown. Other notable films of the period include They Had to See Paris (1929) and Ambassador Bill (1931), both with Will Rogers, The Big Trail (1930) with John Wayne (his first starring film), and Riders of the Purple Sage (1931) with George O’Brien, whom she was to marry two years later.

Churchill returned to Broadway briefly for two shows, The Inside Story (1932) and the original production of Dinner at Eight (1932-33). She returned to Hollywood immediately thereafter but by the middle of the decade she was starring in B movie horror films like The Walking Dead and Dracula’s Daughter (1936). All told, she starred in two dozen features before leaving Hollywood following Legion of Terror (1936). There followed one last Broadway show, aptly titled And Now Good-Bye (1937).

Churchill’s daughter Orin O’Brien (later a classical musician) was born in 1935; her son Darcy O’Brien (later a novelist), in 1939. After a decade as a homemaker, Churchill divorced O’Brien in 1948, and returned briefly to acting, appearing in the 1950 film Bunco Squad, and two episodes of the TV show Fireside Theatre (1952).

In 1954 she married sculptor Peter Ganine, and later moved to Europe.