Jacquie Lyn

Click to follow

Jacquelyn Dufton (Jacquie Lyn), actress: born London 1928; married Martin Woll (three sons, one daughter); died Granada Hills, California 21 March 2002.

The former child actress Jacquie Lyn is remembered chiefly for one film appearance made with Laurel and Hardy when she was just three years old. Similar in looks – and, judging from her available work, comparable in talent – to Shirley Temple, Jacquie might easily have been a serious rival to Temple but for her premature disappearance from the screen.

Jacquie Lyn – her real name Jacquelyn Dufton – was born in London in 1928. Her early life was spent in Weybridge, Surrey, until the death of her father, a naval officer, from pneumonia. Jacquie, at that time less than two years old, was then taken by her mother to California, where her grandmother and great-uncle had previously settled.

Her first film seems to have been a melodrama directed by Allan Dwan for Fox in 1931. Called Wicked, it concerns a woman's efforts to locate the child she was forced to abandon on being imprisoned. It was reportedly on the advice of the cowboy star Tim McCoy that Jacquie Lyn was taken to see the independent producer Hal Roach, whose "Our Gang" comedies – known in reissues as The Little Rascals – were centred around an ever-changing group of child performers. Lyn appeared in only two films from this series, Free Wheeling and Birthday Blues (both 1932). Though fast acquiring something of an American "twang", Lyn's accent was still recognisably English in origin. A much-quoted line in Free Wheeling has her describing the Gang's mule-powered "taxi" as travelling "rather fast", enunciated using a distinctive long "a".

It was also at the Hal Roach studio that Jacquie Lyn was given the role for which she is best remembered, that of the war orphan cared for by Laurel and Hardy in Pack Up Your Troubles (1932). Her talent for mimicry is displayed when she imitates the broad grin and head-scratching of her "Uncle Stan", and the finger-wiggling "goodbye" gesture of "Uncle Ollie". A highlight of the film is the scene in which Lyn tells the story of Goldilocks to an increasingly sleepy Stan, variously adopting deep, mid-range and squeaky voices to represent Papa, Mama and Baby Bear. It was at this time that Stan Laurel took 16mm film footage of Jacquie Lyn playing with his own young daughter, Lois, a home movie that was to prove fortunate in later years.

At this time, Roach's films were being distributed by MGM, to whom Lyn was loaned for Prosperity, a 1932 comedy starring Marie Dressler and Polly Moran. She appeared for Warner Brothers that same year in Michael Curtiz's film The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, a controversial drama – made before the strict Hollywood Production Code – starring Ann Dvorak as an unmarried mother.

Jacquie Lyn disappeared from films after 1932. In their 1977 book Our Gang: the life and times of the Little Rascals, Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann attribute her departure from Roach to a newly acquired stepfather who demanded more money from the studio. For many years Jacquie Lyn was the topic of speculation as to her whereabouts, helped not at all by frequent confusion with another Our Gang member, Jackie Lynn Taylor, and contemporary misdocumentation of her place and date of birth.

Jacquie Lyn – who was by this time married to Martin Woll – remained unaware of this interest until Christmas 1991, when her children bought her a video copy of Pack Up Your Troubles. At the end of the tape was Stan Laurel's home movie plus an on-camera appeal from Lois Laurel for information about Jacquie. Genuinely surprised – particularly on learning that she and Lois were living only a few miles apart – Jacquie responded to the appeal by contacting the Laurel and Hardy society, the Sons of the Desert. She was reunited with Lois and was subsequently an honoured guest at a Sons of the Desert convention in Las Vegas.

Glenn Mitchell