Sybil Jason, a child actress during the 1930s who was meant to be Warner Bros.’ answer to Shirley Temple, died Aug. 23 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Northridge, Calif. She was 83.
During the Depression, 20th Century Fox earned huge sums from Temple’s pictures and from the sale of merchandise with her image, and an eager Jack Warner signed Jason after seeing her in 1935’s “Barnacle Bill,” the brunette moppet’s first bigscreen effort.
The South African-born Jason starred in a series of Warner films — including “Little Big Shot,” “The Singing Kid” and, with Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart, “The Great O’Malley” (1937) — that were much like Temple’s pics at Fox without ever equaling their success.
Warner Bros. did not renew her contract, but Fox signed her and cast her alongside Temple in “The Little Princess” and “The Blue Bird.” The latter pic ended her career as a child actress in 1940 (a fan club devoted to her continued into the 21st century).
Though there was a certain amount of tension, Jason and Temple became friends, which they remained until Jason’s death, Jason’s daughter, Toni Drake-Rossi, told the New York Times.
Born Sybil Jacobson in Cape Town, the tyke started out dancing and doing impressions in performances with her uncle’s orchestra in London. She weathered WWII back in South Africa; after the war she taught acting and acted on the stage in California.
Her husband Anthony Drake, who wrote for radio, died in 2005.
In addition to her daughter, Jason is survived by a grandson.