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Young people today who watch classic movies on TCM don't know how lucky they are. Years ago, when we watched old movies on local TV, we had to endure a lot. Annoying commercials would intrude every ten minutes or so. Often, they would cut out scenes to make room for all the interruptions. I ruefully recall watching classic films during the 1960s in which a 120-minute feature had to be cut for a 90-minute time slot. Scenes were deleted at the whim of the programmers.
Those of you who lived near New York and were introduced to the older films via "Million Dollar Movie" will surely remember how even the opening credits were expunged, and all we knew about the movie was what our TV guides told us. Even the legendary "Shock Theatre" with our ghoulish host Zacherley, intentionally omitted the credits. Even closing credits sometimes. It was a deplorable situation.
It was, however, during the early years of movie butchery on TV that, as a teenager in love with the classics, I first saw The Prince and the Pauper. The only scene I recall from my initial exposure was when Errol Flynn, as Miles Hendon, rescued young prince Bobby Mauch from the townspeople after he had learned of the death of the boy's father, the king. I carried that scene in my memory bank for many years, especially since I have always liked Errol Flynn and the costume dramas he made for Warner Brothers. Later I became firmly entrenched in the delights of the carefully crafted music score, and after being continually wowed by Max Steiner, I discovered I could be similarly deranged by the brilliant film music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
More years passed. During my "Warner Brothers Period," preceded and followed by my "Universal Period," I decided it was time I actively view as many of the Flynn-Korngold-Warner epics as possible and immerse myself into the lush orchestral palette of the Korngold scores. One of the films I acquired was The Prince and the Pauper and after more than thirty years of carrying one scene around in my head, I was finally able to watch the entire film, devoid of all interruptions. I watched it again, and yet still again.
I was enthralled with it on many levels. The scene with Errol Flynn and Bobby Mauch leaped out at me again over the span of years and it was much as I remembered it. But there were other factors in the movie that tugged at me: the score, of course; Errol Flynn, as dashing as ever; the character actors, Montague Love especially; and the sets; and the story. But for me, as a practicing musician, it was the music that grabbed my attention.
And then there were the personalities of the Mauch twins. I still have not read Mark Twain's novel, but my initial impression was that although the author had written the story years before the birth of Billy and Bobby Mauch, Twain seemed to have written it with them in mind. In the film, they were so convincing and true to life. They certainly made the film memorable for me, and it remains not only a classic in my mind, but rates high on my list of all time favorite films. I watch it over and over again to this day, and the cumulative pleasures it brings me are vast and immeasurable.
It was, however, sad to realize after having viewed the film three times, that most of the actors in it were dead. There seemed to be no way I could express to them all the pleasures and joys their acting brought me. But, I wondered, what of the Mauch twins? I couldn't recall reading anything about these vanished and mostly forgotten players. Then, about ten years ago, I resolved to hunt them down, not knowing if they were even alive. All I knew was that they were from Peoria, Illinois and that they were probably born in the early 1920s, meaning that they could very well be alive. So persevere I did. Phone calls and letters to libraries, colleges, historical societies, and historians finally elicited the information I sought. It took time, but I was finally rewarded. Billy Mauch's smile and laughter in that final scene with his brother were especially enjoyable, and it was he I sought initially to contact. I wanted him to know how much I liked his performance.
After a false lead (a plumber in California named Billy Mauch, quite surprised by my inquiry), I finally got lucky. An address in Palatine, Illinois, an exchange of Christmas cards, and I was on my way. Yippee!
This all occurred in October of 1999, and in the years since, I wrote to Bill and his wife Marjorie, and they were always gracious in answering me. Billy was in declining health, I learned, and had lost much of his eyesight, but was still ambulatory and was being cared for by his devoted wife. In addition to Christmas cards, I always sent Bill a birthday card on July 6.
The Mauch twins were born in Peoria on July 6, 1921. As youngsters they sang and danced locally, and appeared on Juvenile Theatre, a local radio program. Their father, Felix Mauch, was an employee of the TP&W railroad, and when he was transferred to New York, the boys were discovered by a talent scout there where they appeared on various radio programs.
When Warner Brothers started looking for a boy who resembled Fredric March, star of their 1936 epic Anthony Adverse, a talent scout heard of it and suggested the twins. Billy won the role, and then both were summoned to Hollywood to appear in The Prince and the Pauper, ostensibly another vehicle for Errol Flynn, but in my mind it is as much a Mauch picture as anything else. The film opened on May 8, 1937. Billy Mauch shortly appeared in three Penrod movies and sundry others during the 1940s and '50s.
His real love though was working behind the camera. Thanks to two informative articles I learned quite a bit about the boys. The articles appeared in Bill Adams' "Yester Days" column in the Peoria Journal Star newspaper. The first is dated April 23, 1990 and headed, "Two Actors Had Plenty in Common" and the second is from April 30, 1990, and is headed, "Twins Worked on Both Sides of the Camera." I am very much indebted and grateful to Mr. Adams for bringing this biographical material to my attention.
On December 26, 1953 William Mauch was united in marriage to Marjorie Barnewolt in Peoria, Illinois. I asked Marjorie if Billy had any memories of Korngold. In their 2000 Christmas card, she shared this with me: "He [Bill] thanks you so much for your interest and wanted to relate this memory of the Korngolds. He and his brother were invited to dinner at their home, and Mrs. Korngold baked a beautiful Viennese torte for them. He (a teenager at the time) thought they were so kind and thoughtful. He said Mr. Korngold's contribution to The Prince and the Pauper cannot be overestimated!"
This really delighted me, being by that time a rabid Korngold fan. That Christmas card I will especially treasure because in spite of a stroke to his optic nerve some years before, Bill Mauch had signed his own name. The pleasure it gives me every time I look at it "cannot be overestimated."
During the late 1930s the brothers resided on Gentry Avenue in North Hollywood and were regular attendees of nearby St. Charles Catholic Church. They often attended parties in which many of the child stars of the various Hollywood studios were invited, the activities including table tennis, lawn tennis, and swimming. Hamming it up for the home movie cameras was also a party favorite, and Marjorie has the Mauch home movies to prove it!
Courtesy of Marjorie, I have a resume of Billy's career. He was at Warner Bros. between 1935 and 1941 as an actor, along with his twin brother, Robert. He eventually became a sound effects editor, working in both features and TV productions, and stayed at his home studio until 1976. He worked on a great many features with notable stars including Steve McQueen, James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Vincent Price, James Mason and Judy Garland to name a few. A small sampling of his TV credits includes, Maverick, Sugarfoot, 77 Sunset Strip, Kung Fu and The Fugitive.
After 1976 he moved to Universal where he stayed for ten years, and worked on such shows as Bionic Woman, The Hardy Boys, Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak and Quincy. After working in over 300 films (by his own count) as well as countless TV programs he retired, and moved with his beloved Marjorie back to Illinois from whence he came.
Last year's Christmas card brought a shock. The return address label no longer carried their joint names and with heart racing I opened the envelope. Bill had died on September 29, 2006. It was a grievous blow and even though I felt that I had lost a true, good friend, I knew that the pain of his final illness was at an end. According to his wife, not being able to read was an affliction that he never quite got over.
I never spoke to Bill, but he certainly knew, through his wife who read my letters to him, how much I loved and embraced The Prince and the Pauper. I guess the fan letter I initially anticipated writing in 1999 has now been transformed into a tribute to his memory. My goal had been more than achieved and I was deliriously happy. I had become connected with Billy Mauch on a personal level and since his death I have been privileged to speak a number of times over the telephone with his widow. We chat about once a month and she never seems to be inconvenienced when I call her. I really enjoy hearing the sound of her voice. Of course, I always pick at her memory bank and her responses give me insight into Bill's life and career. For instance, as he grew older he loathed the name "Billy." He became Bill to his friends and loved ones. His son they also named William, but as he often told his wife: "As long as they don't call him Billy."
Bill remembered Jane Withers quite well and kept in touch with her for years, and even attended her wedding. George Cukor stayed in contact with him, also Dewey Martin. And Errol Flynn was an acquaintance, yet nothing more. They worked well together but he was "just another colleague." Others were Sybil Jason, Dickie Moore, Harry Tyler, Nina Foch, Edith Fellows, Peggy Ann Garner, Helen Forrest, Paul Nathan, Gloria de Haven and Lon McCallister. Bonita Granville and her mother were frequent visitors at the Mauch home for Sunday dinners. Bonita was at Warners, making the Nancy Drew Detective pictures, the same time Billy was there. Henry O'Neill, a Warners contract player, lived with his family right around the corner. Often in riding past the Warner lot Bill would point out to Marjorie: "Well, there's Sound Stage 22," the home of Warner's epic The Prince and the Pauper.
Bobby Mauch is still with us, living in California. The loss of his twin brother has brought him very low. Let us hope his remaining years are pain-free and ripe with the pleasure he brought to thousands of movie fans. Marjorie has a son living in Texas, along with many friends and relatives, both in Illinois and California.
I guess this memorial has taken the form of a fan letter I had never expected to write, written to one who never had the opportunity to read it, but I'd like to think that one day he will. My short association with Bill made Hollywood's Golden Age highly personal in a way I could never have imagined. I will always be grateful to both him and his wife that for a brief period they allowed me into their world. I can never thank Bill and Marjorie enough for giving my life a golden dimension that I could never have dreamed of in the 1960s watching The Prince and the Pauper. It is experiences such as these that stay with you always.
I treasure his memory. Billy Mauch may have been a pauper in the movie, but he is, and will always remain, a prince to me.