'Prince and the Pauper' child star
Wednesday 24 October 2007
Robert Joseph Mauch, actor and film editor: born Peoria, Illinois 6 July 1921; married; died 15 October 2007.
Bobby Mauch, the actor and film editor, was one of a pair of identical twins, Billy and Bobby Mauch (pronounced "Mawk"), who starred in a distinguished version of the Mark Twain classic The Prince and the Pauper in 1937. The spirited pair were so completely alike that they were often able to take each other's place without revealing their true identity.
The sons of a railroad agent, Robert and his brother William were born in Peoria, Illinois in 1921 – Billy, who died in September 2006, was the older by 10 minutes. Their mother, soon aware of the possibilities available to her personable progeny, taught them to dance before they started school. From the age of three they performed at private parties, and by the time they were seven they were modelling and acting on radio, gaining early exposure on NBC's Sunday morning amateur hour for children Coast-to-Coast on a Bus and Let's Pretend, a drama series for children which also nurtured the talents of the future teenage stars Jimmy Lydon and Billy Halop.
Warner Bros had been looking for a young boy who looked enough like Fredric March to play the actor as a youth in Anthony Adverse, and the twins fitted the bill. Initially, Billy was signed to play Anthony, with Bobby hired as his stand-in, but after the film's completion they confessed to the director Mervyn LeRoy that they had been taking turns at playing the role, confident that no one would know. Their mother stated that she could tell them apart when they were awake, but that even she could not tell which was which when they were sleeping – the only major difference between them was that Bobby was right-handed and Billy left-handed, and Billy wore glasses for reading.
The pair allegedly shared the next role in which Billy was cast, as a drummer boy befriended by Florence Nightingale (Kay Francis) in the Crimea in William Dieterle's The White Angel (1936). Warners then offered Billy a contract, but their formidable mother told the studio that if one of the boys was a stand-in for the other it would give him an inferiority complex, and that if only Billy were signed, she would take Bobby to a rival studio.
The boys were both given performer contracts, with Mrs Mauch hired as their guardian, and when a vehicle was sought to showcase the twins, a prime choice was The Prince and the Pauper, which had last been filmed as a silent starring Marguerite Clark in both the title roles in 1915. The story of two boys, one the son of Henry the Eighth and the other the son of a pickpocket, whose identities are switched, it seemed a shrewd project to release in the year of the Coronation in Britain, since the film concludes with a lavish crowning.
Directed by William Keighley, with Errol Flynn top-billed (though his role as a soldier of fortune who befriends the Prince, thinking him an urchin, was secondary to those of the twins), plus a rousing score by Erich Korngold, the result is still considered the finest dramatisation of the Twain tale. Time magazine wrote of the brothers: "Their major assets are energy, lack of precocity and a wholesome distaste for showing off, which prevents them from trying to steal scenes like most of their contemporaries." Initially, one twin was to play all the royal scenes, with the other to play all the guttersnipe scenes, regardless of which character appeared in them, but the boys again switched roles occasionally.
Billy was next cast in Penrod and Sam (1937), based on the second of Booth Tarkington's tales of a mischievous lad in the American Midwest in the early 1900s, with Bobby officially Billy's stand-in, but the two boys were teamed in the two "Penrod" adventures that followed, Penrod and his Twin Brother and Penrod's Double Trouble (both 1938).
Their last film together, playing twin brothers, was I'll Tell the World (1939). During the Second World War the twins served together in the United States Air Force in the Philippines – the military had a rule that twins could not be separated unless they so requested – and they acted together in Moss Hart's play Winged Victory (1943), produced for the Army Emergency Relief Fund.
After the war, Billy continued acting, often playing small roles in films directed by old pals from the Warner days – he was in Dieterle's gripping thriller The Accused and William Keighley's crime drama The Street with No Name (both 1948). In his last film, Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) he was the student of a psychology professor (Ronald Reagan) who adopts a chimpanzee.
Bobby returned to Warners to work as a make-up assistant, then switched to editing, and for several years worked for Jack Webb's Mark VII productions. Billy eventually returned to Warners as a sound editor. The brothers remained close, and lived near each other in San Fernando Valley, California.
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