Juanita Quigley Was A Child Star In The 1930s, But Then She Gave Up Hollywood For God

When Juanita Quigley played the sister of Elizabeth Taylor’s character in National Velvet in 1944, you could have been forgiven for thinking that this was just the next step in a burgeoning Hollywood career. But the child star would seldom grace the silver screen again. In fact, by 1950 her career in films had come to an end for the most surprising of reasons.

Quigley was born in 1931 and had already appeared on screen before her fourth birthday, in the films We’re Rich Again and Have A Heart. These were small parts, with Quigley appearing as a child extra. However, her next role would shoot her to fame and lead to several busy years on-screen.

Her turn as the three-year-old offspring of Claudette Colbert in 1934’s Imitation of Life caught the public’s eye. It was a drama based on a 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst. It followed a widow, Bea Pullman, and her daughter Jessie, who welcomed black housekeeper Delilah Johnson and her light-skinned daughter into their home.

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Bea and Delilah started a business together but faced the prejudice of their families and society at large. Quigley played Jessie at three years old. Soon she was appearing in lots of films, often credited as “Baby Jane.” She played the lead character’s daughter in The Man Who Reclaimed His Head, which starred Claude Rains and Joan Bennett.

In 1936 she played Jean Harlow’s niece Rosie Bundt in Riffraff, a dramatic comedy that co-starred Spencer Tracy. He played fisherman Rudolph “Dutch” Muller, who led a worker revolt against the corrupt owners of a tuna cannery. Harlow played Hattie, his co-worker and love interest. The character combined a tough-girl persona with Harlow’s drop-dead gorgeousness.

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Over the next few years, Quigley appeared in a host of popular films. In fact, she was Universal Pictures’ most youthful contracted star in 1934. However, important parts for children of her age were relatively few and far between, so she mixed main roles with bit parts. By 1938 she was one of the most recognisable child stars in Hollywood.

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In 1940 Quigley scored a guest star role in an Our Gang movie, entitled The New Pupil. A couple of years after that, she took the lead in Going to Press, another film in the popular series. The franchise would go on to become better known by a different name in later years when the films were syndicated on television as The Little Rascals.

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Sally, Quigley’s Our Gang role, was significant. In her first appearance she briefly stole the heart of star Alfalfa, taking him away from Darla, his usual love interest. When Quigley then starred in Going To Press as Sally, it was the first and only time in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (M.G.M.) era that the lead role was filled by someone other than Darla Hood or Janet Burston.

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Quigley starred in 1943 film noir Whispering Footsteps alongside her big sister Rita. She then featured in 1944’s National Velvet, playing the sister of the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. On the surface, it looked like her star had truly risen and she would be a fixture of Hollywood for many years to come.

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During this period, the studio star system ruled the industry, and Quigley was very much one of its products. According to Stephanie Buck of news and history website Timeline, the star system was “the process of discovering, creating and exploiting actors for profit.” In the 1920s talent scouts were tasked with plucking promising young people from obscurity and signing them to the studio.

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When it came to child discoveries, the studio would sign them to multiple-year contracts and mould their public personas. This usually involved creating interesting, and mainly fictional, backstories to be sold to the press. They would also often give the actors stage names, which would define them in the public eye for much of their lives.

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The most iconic child star of the era was undoubtedly Shirley Temple, who was the biggest box-office draw in America from 1935 to 1938. All in all, she starred in 29 movies between the ages of three and ten. She was initially cast in a series of Baby Burlesks, which would likely never be made today, as they saw babies performing dances and flirtatious bar scenes.

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She would be signed by Fox and become a star with 1934’s Bright Eyes, which cemented her wholesome image in the minds of moviegoers. Curly Top and Heidi followed, and merchandise was produced featuring her likeness, including dolls, clothing and dishes. However, when she hit puberty, her popularity faded, and Fox cancelled her contract at the tender age of 12.

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In her autobiography Child Star, Temple explained how the studio executives would discipline their child stars. If they got out of line, they would be locked in windowless rooms with only a block of ice to sit on. “Its lesson of life, however, was profound and unforgettable,” Temple wrote. “Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble.”

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Another famous child star of the era was Judy Garland, who is remembered fondly as Dorothy in 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz. She was signed by M.G.M. in 1935 as a 13-year-old after being spotted performing the “Garland Sisters” vaudeville act alongside her two older siblings. She was older than other child stars at the time, but still too young for adult roles.

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Aside from her lead role as Dorothy, Garland was mainly cast in supporting girl-next-door parts. As Buck wrote in her Timeline article, she was “the yearning gal pal, the ugly duckling searching for love.” She had a wonderful singing voice, though, and achieved success when paired with fellow teen star Mickey Rooney in a series of Andy Hardy backyard musicals.

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In these days of classic Hollywood, child labor laws were much less of a factor than they are now, and the studios could force their young stars to stick to extremely binding contracts. These would be weighted heavily toward the studio and include morality clauses so they could more easily control their stars’ behavior.

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Garland worked incredibly hard while in the employ of M.G.M., often dancing and singing for 18-hour days in order to produce as many films as possible. According to Buck, the studio “plied her with ‘pep pills’, amphetamine uppers to keep her perky and alert all day.” Then “when she couldn’t sleep, they supplied sleeping pills.”

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As an example of the extreme measures used to protect the lucrative public image of a studio star, when Garland fell pregnant at the age of 19, M.G.M. worked with her own mother to organize an abortion. “She was innocent little Dorothy, after all,” wrote Buck. “The public wasn’t ready to see her as a mother, a grown-up.”

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Garland’s time with M.G.M. would end in 1950. She had suffered mental health issues, had attempted suicide and been institutionalized several times, and she also had a debilitating dependency on the amphetamines to which the studio had introduced her. The relationship between star and studio had become toxic over the years.

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As Vanity Fair magazine wrote in 2000, “If Metro [M.G.M.] had protected her and often catered to her, it had also imprisoned her. Inside those walls she would forever remain the ugly duckling of her early teens.” Garland herself once said, “The studio became a haunted house for me. Every day when I went to work it was with tears in my eyes, resistance in my heart and mind.”

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It’s easy to see how the child stars of this era were often used up by the industry while they were marketable, then cast aside when deemed to have lost their value. Thankfully, however, the star system was taken down by a number of high-profile lawsuits that were laid at the feet of the studios. These days, actors are marketed as individuals rather than manufactured and controlled studio idols.

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Quigley, unfortunately, was one of the child stars of the era who was cast aside when she outlived her usefulness. Malvolia “Mally” Brown in National Velvet would prove to be her last significant role in a big movie. She had a small role in the 1948 musical comedy Luxury Liner, and then her final role was an unnamed character in 1950 film noir Mystery Street.

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However, instead of continuing to try making the difficult transition from child star to adult actress, or waging war against her parent studio Universal, Quigley decided to change her life trajectory completely. At the age of 20 in August 1951 she instead devoted her life to God. She traded the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to become a nun in the Order of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph.

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According to the August 18, 1951 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper, Quigley took her vows alongside two other young women and became known as Sister Quentin Rita. The other women were 19-year-old Margaret Mulrooney, who became Sister Mary Margaret, and 27-year-old Evelyn Schwalenberg, who took on the name of Sister Therese Martin.

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The article noted that Quigley would study for two years and then take her final vows. After this, she intended to become a teacher in a graduate school. The ceremony was presided over by Reverend Timothy Manning, who was the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and it took place at the St. Paul of the Apostles Church.

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The Rev. Manning reportedly asked the three women, “My children, whom do you desire?”. They replied with, “I desire very humbly the grace, which I have long solicited from the Lord, of being welcomed to live in the house of God for the remainder of my life.” After completing her training, Quigley did indeed take up a teaching position at Precious Blood Catholic School in Los Angeles, California.

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Interestingly, Quigley was not the only actress around this period who chose to leave Hollywood and become a nun. In 1963 24-year-old Dolores Hart left the business while on a promotional tour for her movie Come Fly With Me. She left her fiancé Don Robinson and made a new home at the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut.

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Only six years previously, Hart had starred in Loving You with Elvis, with her character giving the “King of Rock and Roll” his first ever on-screen kiss. She starred in nine more films over the subsequent five years, opposite such stars as Montgomery Clift and Robert Wagner. She would later reveal that she first felt her calling while filming 1961’s Francis Of Assisi.

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She had met Pope St. John XXIII on the set of the film, and she had introduced herself as the actress playing St. Clare of Assisi. The Pope replied, “No, you are St. Clare of Assisi!”. Hart has only returned to Hollywood once; in 2006 she campaigned to highlight the issue of a medical disorder known as idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. Prior to that, she had spent 43 years in the abbey.

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Quigley eventually made the choice to leave the convent and her teaching job because she wanted to pursue her own education again. She provided a notice of one year to her superiors. After this, she attended Los Angeles’ Immaculate Heart College and achieved a Bachelor’s degree. She also attained a Master of Arts degree at the San Francisco State University.

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While enrolled at San Francisco State, Quigley met the man who would become her husband: Donald “Dutch” Schultz. His 2012 obituary from The Verde Independent newspaper in Arizona described him as “a man of love, a man of peace, a man of God.” It was therefore highly ironic that his nickname “Dutch” was inspired by the notorious gangster Dutch Schultz.

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Schultz attained several advanced degrees, including Theology, Philosophy, Religious Studies and a masters degree in English. He and Quigley married in 1964 and lived in Canada while he studied at McMaster University for his doctorate in Religious Studies. From 1969 onward he became a professor of the subject at Pennsylvania’s Villanova University.

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Quigley would also become a professor, teaching English at the Delaware County Community College. She taught there for two decades, before retiring in 1992. Her husband had retired the previous year after spending 22 years at Villanova. Quigley was awarded the Gould Award in 1992, which was bestowed by the college on faculty members with excellent performance.

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The couple engaged in some philanthropic efforts while they were still working. They focused on the downtrodden among the population of Chiapas, a state in Mexico. The indigenous Chiapas tribe who lived there had seen their ancestors’ families killed for their land and the couple conducted fundraising throughout every year to help them.

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They would then go on an annual trip to Chiapas to donate the money to a Jesuit priest. He would make sure the funds were distributed to the impoverished indigenous people of the area. The Schultzes also started a cultural exchange program that linked Villanova students with Mexican families. This scheme ran for a decade.

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The couple enjoyed their retirement in Verde Valley, Arizona, which they spent by going on trips and enjoying life with their four dogs. They had two children, Erik and Marta, and three grandchildren: Brittany, Julia and Alexander. The former nun’s husband passed away from cancer in 2012. Quigley followed him in 2017, surrounded by her son Erik and his family, with whom she now lived.

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The couple both remained deeply religious until their deaths, and their funerals were both held at The Immaculate Conception Church in Cottonwood, Arizona. After moving to Sudbury, Massachusetts in 2014 to live with her son, Quigley regularly attended the Our Lady of Fatima Church. Schultz had also maintained lifelong friendships among members of a discussion group of which he was a part at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

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While Quigley may have always retained her faith, she cast aside and never returned to the world of acting. Her Verde Valley Independent newspaper obituary observed, “Juanita was a famous childhood star who lived her life in secrecy so she could help people without distraction.” She guarded her privacy fiercely and never spoke of her previous life.

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Indeed, in her adult life, her friends tended not to be aware that she had ever been an actress. According to the obituary, thousands of fans had attempted to track her down over the years, eager to find out what had become of “Baby Jane”. But Juanita Quigley had no interest at all in taking that particular trip down memory lane.

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