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Sybil Jason, a child actress who was Warner Bros.’ futile answer to Shirley Temple at Fox in the Depression era, died Aug. 23 in Northridge, Calif., of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, The Washington Post reported. She was 83.
With the dimpled Temple singing, dancing and drawing huge crowds to the box office, Warners studio mogul Jack Warner sought a similar talent and signed the 8-year-old in 1935. A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Jason was working on the British vaudeville circuit doing comic impressions of Greta Garbo and Maurice Chevalier.
Jason starred in Little Big Shot (1935) with Robert Armstrong, in The Singing Kid (1936) opposite Al Jolson and in The Captain’s Kid (1936) with Guy Kibbee, but she never approached Temple’s overwhelming popularity. Other Warner films included two from 1937, The Great O’Malley and the short A Day at Santa Anita, filmed at the racetrack.
Later, Jason signed with Fox and supported Temple in the Technicolor productions The Little Princess (1939) and The Blue Bird (1940), her final film.
In My Fifteen Minutes: An Autobiography of a Child Star of the Golden Era of Hollywood, which was published in 2005, Jason wrote that Temple’s mother Gertrude made sure that her daughter’s rival would not work again. However, Jason and Temple stayed friends in the ensuing decades.
Survivors include a daughter, Toni Rossi, and a grandson.
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