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Tully Marshall

1864 - 1943

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03 Life Stories

Tully Marshall
1864 - 1943

Generally, the star of a film is looked upon as the sole draw responsible for big box office figures by promoters and exhibitors. This, however, is far from a universal rule – it is, often times, the blue-chip character actor who steals the picture, with performances that anchor the entire cast. Such was the case for Tully Marshall, who was consistently dependable: he was always good.

He was born William Phipps on April 10, 1864, in Nevada City, California, long before the West was tamed. His first stage appearance came at the age of five, in 1869. Related to the dramatist Richard Walton Tully (a cousin), he changed his name, for stage purposes, to Tully Marshall. He was educated in private schools in Nevada City, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco. His parents wanted him to be a civil engineer, so he graduated from Santa Clara College, in the 1880s, with a degree in Engineering. His career as an actor resulted from a course in dramatic literature, consisting largely of the Classics: this was one class that certainly made a difference.

He worked in an engineering office after graduation, but soon deserted that job for a place in a stock company. He played juvenile roles, and eventually became a character actor. He was just under 5’ 10” in height, weighed around 155 pounds, had brown hair and eyes, and used his distinctive looks and personality to succeed both at character and lead roles.

An early headline in the Cleveland Morning Telegraph was especially complimentary towards this clever stage actor: “Tully Marshall is like good pudding, well stirred up in the early days and now on the top of one good theatrical heap.

“Actors, like puddings, need a lot of stirring up before they amount to much. That’s why Tully Marshall, of the Colonial Stock Company, is such a good one … actor, of course, not pudding.”

Marshall enjoyed an uninterrupted career on the stage until 1914, appearing in such classics as Charley’s Aunt and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. (During that time, he fell in love with a fellow cast member, Marion Neiswanger, whose stage name was Marion Fairfax; she later became a noted dramatist, and the two were married until his death.) It was in 1914 that he made his film debut, in the All Star film Paid in Full, released in five reels on January 24, 1914. The eight-member cast was led by William Riley Hatch, Marshall, Caroline French, and Winifred Kingston; at this point, Marshall was approaching 50 years of age.

He quickly gained a reputation as a reliable and likable film performer, who worked with many of the celebrities of Hollywood Forever, including opposite Norma Talmadge in The Devil’s Needle (1916); Talmadge and Seena Owen in Martha’s Vindication (1916); Cecil B. DeMille in Joan the Woman (1916) and The Squaw Man (the 1918 remake), among many others; Jesse Lasky in Unconquerers (1917); Douglas Fairbanks in, among others, A Modern Musketeer (1917), and James Cruze in The Covered Wagon (1923). Marshall played Fagin in Oliver Twist (1916), costarred in Intolerance (1916), and had an important role in one of the best films you may not have ever seen, but should, The Girl Who Stayed Home (1919).

According to the American Film Institute’s feature films catalogs which cover the years 1912-1930, Marshall appeared in over 88 films during that time, a record which attests to his prowess as an actor; he appeared in at least 27 more films from 1937-1943 (after a short-lived retirement in 1933), which makes it safe to say that Tully Marshall graced over 110 films in his long and healthy career. His roles ran the gamut of comedy, westerns, dramas, melodramas, and horror genres. His studio biography contained the following information (circa early 1930s): He preferred playing character roles; was married; hobby was working in pictures; pastime was also working in pictures; ambition was to retire; read everything; lived in Los Angeles; auto was a white Stutz, and his animal was Disky, a champion wire-haired fox terrier.

In an uncredited interview, Marshall is quoted as saying that the modern (sound film) actor worked much harder than (silent era) old-timers. Yesterday’s stars were “cream puffs,” although they did work with much more primitive equipment:

“Sure, we used to handle our own make-up, and we had no doubles. But we didn’t have to go home nights to memorize and practice dialogue, we had no microphones dangling over our heads, and our production schedules, compared to the present ones, were virtually ‘quickies.’ It was even possible for an actor to walk on the set unprepared for the director, could talk to him while shooting was in progress, and guide his actions. Now, it’s study, study, and more study between scenes, at meal times, and on Sundays.”

Marion, his wife, gave up acting and turned to scenario writing, contributing 29 gems from 1921-1926, including Sherlock Holmes and The Lost World. She died on October 24, 1970, at the age of 94.

Tully Marshall died on March 10, 1943, in Encino, California, at the age of 78, of a heart attack, resultant from lung ailments. Funeral services were held at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary of the Angels.

His outward appearance, long of face and expressive of feature, gave fans the impression that he was born at the age of sixty – throughout his rich career, he played a vast array of characters, like lovable grandpas, drunken trail scouts, sinister attorneys, unforgiving fathers, and lecherous aristocrats. He, seemingly, could do it all – and did – in a body of work that might have been “supporting,” but really emerged as “starring – Tully Marshall.”