Joan Marsh; ‘30s Bombshell Began in Silents


Joan Marsh, a child actress in Mary Pickford’s silent films who returned to the screen as a fully grown blond bombshell in light romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, has died. She was 86.

Marsh died Aug. 10 in her home near Ojai. Private services were conducted in Santa Barbara.

Born Nancy Ann Rosher in Porterville, Calif., she was the daughter of a favorite Pickford cinematographer, Charles Rosher. Promoted by her dad, little Dorothy Rosher, as she was billed, moved easily into child roles in several of Pickford’s silents. The little girl appeared in such Pickford favorites as “The Little Princess” in 1917, “Daddy Long Legs” in 1919 and the 1920 version of “Pollyanna.”

Unlike many of her contemporaries, little Dorothy had what The Times described in 1929 as “an extraordinary speaking and singing voice.” While many celluloid entertainers were forced to turn to other careers, she easily landed a contract with Universal for “talking pictures.”


Dorothy Rosher changed her name to Joan Marsh and took her place as leads and second leads in about three dozen light B and better pictures.

All grown up with platinum hair, the young beauty was frequently compared with screen star Jean Harlow. Weighing only 95 pounds, Marsh was said to have the smallest feet in Hollywood--wearing a size 2AAA, the smallest shoes in Paramount’s vast wardrobe department of the 1930s.

She was the poster girl in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the character Beanie in “Tailor Made Man,” Honey in “Are You Listening?,” Toots in “It’s Great to Be Alive,” Cuddles in “Life Begins in College,” Joan in “Charlie Chan on Broadway” and Dimples in “Road to Zanzibar.”

Married to and divorced from screenwriter Charles Belden, Marsh largely retired from the screen after her marriage to John D.W. Morrill in late 1943. Her last film was 1944’s “Follow the Leader.”

In more recent years, the actress’ memorable images were included in archival film footage of the 1974 retrospective “That’s Entertainment!”

Marsh for many years owned and operated a successful stationery business in Los Angeles, Paper Unlimited.

She is survived by her sons, Langdon Morrill, of Solana Beach, Calif., and Jonathan Morrill, of Las Vegas.