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Hollywood ‘quint’ stars once mobbed at Sarnia train station

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Phil Egan

In 1936 any connection to the Dionne quintuplets was certain to attract a crowd.

Ever since their miraculous births two years earlier, the Dionne quintuplets and their lives had generated countless news stories around the world. They were the first quintuplets known to have survived infancy.

They had been born to a poor farming family near Callander, Ont. At the instigation of Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn, The Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act made them wards of the King from the time they were five months through to age nine.

Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie were presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1939 and became a major Ontario tourist attraction.

The story of the Dionne Quints also captivated Hollywood, including a made-for-TV movie in 1978 followed by the TV mini-series Million Dollar Babies in 1994.

But the first depiction of the Dionne Quintuplets’ lives came in the 1936 Hollywood movie The Country Doctor, followed the same year by Reunion and a 1938 comedy film titled Five of a Kind.

Jean Hersholt, a 50-year-old male Danish actor in 1936, had a starring role that year with the Dionne Quints in The Country Doctor. When it became known that on Sunday, Aug. 16 at 5:43 p.m. a train was arriving at Sarnia’s CNR depot carrying a special Pullman car with Hersholt and a bevy of 30 Hollywood writers, cameramen and actors including Dorothy Peterson, Rochelle Hudson and Robert Kent, Sarnians turned out in droves to welcome the celebrities.

When the train had pulled into Port Huron earlier none of the stars disembarked, nor would they do so at the next stop in London. But they seemed happy to greet the crowd of over 500 people waiting in Sarnia.

Hersholt may have later regretted his close-up with the Sarnia crowd. Mobbed by what the Sarnia Canadian Observer would later describe as “uncontrollable women,” he was soon surrounded by ladies who ruffled his hair, hugged him and nearly knocked the pipe from his mouth.

Asked about preparations for the new movie Reunion, Hersholt told reporters he was looking forward to seeing the Quints again, but wasn’t certain of the details of the new movie.

“I am sure they have changed considerably,” Hersholt said. “We have to wait to see what shots we can get of the babies. The babies are older now (since the previous film) and will be able to play outside in the sunshine. You know, when we were here (in Canada) before it was cold weather and there was plenty of snow. This year the country will be in its prime.”

The celebrity train was late leaving Sarnia to continue its eastbound journey, but local citizens were grateful for their momentary brush with the stars.


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