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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Claudine Mawby Walker, part of famous trio of acting children

NEW YORK — Claudine Mawby Walker, the last surviving member of the child acting team known as the Mawby Triplets, died Sept. 13 at her home in Poole, on the south coast of England. She was 90.

The Mawbys were adorably blond English sisters who appeared in some of the earliest talking films, cherubs adorning the celluloid canvases of the 1920s and ’30s. Cast in movies with stars like Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Gloria Swanson, and John Barrymore, they were, for a time, among the most famous children in the world.

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Their parents kept them from knowing how famous they were, isolating them from their fans and other children. Their agents shielded the fans from knowing the truth about the girls — that they were not really triplets. The team consisted of twins, Claudine and Claudette, and their sister, Angella, who was 11 months older.

‘‘Mummy and Daddy were at first rather taken aback,’’ Claudine Mawby Walker recalled in an interview with The Daily Mail in 1995. ‘‘They kept saying that, contrary to appearances, we weren’t actually triplets. But the film people just said we looked like triplets, and that was what counted.’’

Ms. Walker lived most of her life in Poole after leaving Hollywood in the 1930s. Her twin, Claudette, died at 19, caught in a German bombing raid over Brighton in 1941. Their sister, Angella Carr, died in 2000.

When the Mawbys arrived in Hollywood, in 1928, the fledgling industry was reaping bonanzas at the box office with its child stars. Jackie Coogan and Hal Roach’s ‘‘Our Gang’’ kids were at their peak. Shirley Temple was in the wings.

The sisters, who appeared in films from roughly the ages of 5 to 10, later in life recalled their sojourn in that world as if it had been a dream. ‘‘No one has heard of the Mawby Triplets now,’’ Carr told The Mail in 1995. ‘‘Whenever I mention it to my friends, they don’t believe it, so I just keep quiet.’’

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Yet the girls sang ‘‘Singin’ in the Rain’’ with Jack Benny in ‘‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929,’’ a variety show on film featuring the entire MGM pantheon, including Lionel Barrymore, Buster Keaton, and Joan Crawford. They appeared with Swanson in ‘‘What a Widow’’ (1930) and with Bessie Love in ‘‘Broadway Melody’’ (1929), which earned Love an Academy Award nomination.

William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies, his mistress, once took them to lunch at the Brown Derby. The girls remembered the crackling excitement in the air as members of the wedding party of Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1929.

It was all good, more or less — a rare sour note occurring on a visit home to England in 1930, when agents arranged for them to meet George Bernard Shaw at his Hertfordshire home. The girls were not favorably impressed. ‘‘He was a rather deaf old man with a beard, and he kept his wife locked up indoors, doing the chores,’’ Ms. Walker said. ‘‘She wanted to come out to see us, but he kept pushing her back inside.’’

A photo of the meeting appeared in thousands of US and British newspapers. In some, the caption described the great playwright looking from one child to another, asking, ‘‘Which is which?’’

In 1941, Claudine Mawby married William Walker, a British fighter pilot, who became a brewing company executive. They had seven children, five of whom survive her, as does William Walker, from whom she was legally separated but never divorced.

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