Monday, January 16, 2012

Alice Faye (1915-1998)

I wasn't sure who I would do a bio on next but a few weeks ago when we had our mini earthquake here in OK my Alice Faye autograph, photo fell off the wall and the frame broke. I thought, hmmm it's a sign! Okay, I actually thought, since it was out of the frame, I guess I'll scan the autograph before gluing the dang thing back together.  So ready or not Alice, it's your turn in the spotlight.

The adorable little New Yorker started out in vaudeville as a chorus girl like so many ambitious and talented actresses before her. At the age of 16, she managed to get a role in George White's Scandals on Broadway, the year was 1931.   Alice settled in with the Ziegfeld Follies type revue where she would remain in the cast until 1934.  Initially, her hope was to become a chorus girl in the actual Ziegfeld Follies but when she tried out she was passed over due to her young age, not yet 16 at the time.

In "365 Nights in Hollywood" 1934

Alice was keeping busy during the early 1930's with her Broadway gig, feeling lucky to have a full time job acting, singing and dancing with an occasional appearance on Rudy Vallee's Radio Show The Fleischmann Hour. Then in 1934 she caught her lucky break when Lillian Harvey was unable to take the lead in the film version of "George White's 1935 Scandals".  Now close friends with Rudy Vallee who would be appearing in the film, Alice was recommended to replace Harvey.   Faye's appearance on the big screen was well received and with Darryl Zanuck finding her delightful and moldable she was on her way to stardom.  Of course it was the young Broadway star, Eleanor Powell who stole the film with her "specialty dance" number.  A then unknown actress named Jane Wyman also appeared in the picture with an uncredited walk on.

Faye, was also cast with James Dunn in "365 Nights in Hollywood" in 1934, showcasing her musical talents and a few comedic lines which we'll see a lot more of a bit later. Zanuck took a risk on another young blonde, fresh off the Broadway stage and whether he hoped to create his own Harlow, after her untimely death, he certainly wanted Alice under contract at Fox before MGM discovered her as they did Harlow.

With James Dunn in "George White's 1935 Scandals"

With longtime friend, Rudy Vallee in "George White's 1935 Scandals"

Now a part of the Fox family, Alice was given a softer makeover with a different shade of blonde and more mature makeup so she wouldn't be compared to the original blonde bombshell, Jean Harlow.  Not yet a great or even good actress, the studio decided to focus more on her beautiful singing voice.  Newly coiffed and polished, Faye was given a starring role in the musical, "King of Burlesque" in 1936 with the young Warner Baxter and Jackie Oakie.  The film was a moderate success, even getting an Oscar nod for Best Dance Direction.

Faye would star in three other pictures the same year. "Poor Little Rich Girl" with Shirley Temple, Jack Haley and Gloria Stuart was next up for Alice.  (I actually watched the film again recently and the final dance number is one of the  most memorable of Shirley's for me plus it really is a cute story.)  Of course during the 1930's Shirley was the star and everyone else was just there to prop her up and be supportive in her films.  I guess it was a good gig if you could get it! Especially if you're given the task of taking care of Miss Temple while she's on another one of her adventures.  On a side note: I might be partial to the dance number in "Poor Little Rich Girl" because the Shirley T doll that I have, she's wearing that little soldier outfit.  See, this bio is about Alice and I've wandered off on a discussion about curly top!

Alice Faye with Jack Haley and Shirley Temple in "Poor Little Rich Girl" 1936

Next up for Alice was another musical "Sing, Baby, Sing" which co-starred Adolphe Menjou, Gregory Ratoff, Patsy Kelly, The Ritz Brothers and Michael Whalen.  Faye's final film during 1936 would pair her up again with Shirley Temple in "Stowaway" which also starred Robert Young.  Perhaps I'm a softy because I loved this film too. Shirley, either running away or getting lost never gets old (okay, that probably didn't come out right) but it's a cute film and even though I'm not a fan of musicals I like the ones with Shirley and Alice really was a good singer too.

Fox would continue to keep Faye busy and 1937 would provide her with the script and performance that she's most known for.  "In Old Chicago" which starred the very handsome and popular Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Brady. Brian Donlevy and Phyllis Brooks.  The action, drama focuses on the O'Leary brothers ongoing feud leading up to the great Chicago fire of 1871.  The events are historically accurate, the plot surrounding the fire are a bit weak and the singing is decent with Faye belting out the films title song In Old Chicago.  The picture was well received by critics and the Academy, garnering a total of six Oscar noms including Best Picture,  Best Writing and Best Sound Recording.  The other Alice (Brady) would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Robert Webb would also win for Best Assistant Director.  Although Brady's accolades were well deserved I thought Ameche was fantastic too. As far as Power, I could take him or leave him in his role but I'm sure others would disagree.

With Tyrone Power and Phyllis Brooks in "Old Chicago" 1937

Faye was cast in back to back musicals after "In Old Chicago" (I haven't seen either one so if anyone has an opinion) First was "You're A Sweetheart" then "Wake Up and Live" before she dove in to "You Can't Have Everything" where she reunited with Don Ameche and The Ritz Brothers.  Gypsy Rose Lee would also make an appearance in all her feathered glory.  Alice's final film for 1937 was another musical (I'm so thrilled!) titled "On the Avenue".  She would team up with Dick Powell, Madeleine Carroll and The Ritz Brothers for the picture which had some pretty memorable songs. I'm actually a bit surprised that none of them were nominated for any awards.  When the songs are composed by Irving Berlin and the best part of the film, well other than the gorgeous clothes, I mean who doesn't love He Ain't Got Rhythm or This Years Kisses, sung so beautifully by Faye.  (Well look at that! I actually do enjoy certain musicals.)

With George Barbier, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Dick Powell on the Fox lot during filming of "On the Avenue" 1937

Alice's first of two films during 1938 was the cute little romantic comedy, "Sally, Irene and Mary" which co-starred Tony Martin, Jimmy Durante and Fred Allen.  Oh, and that little sex pot Gypsy Rose Lee was back to shake her tail feather and other parts.  Faye's second film during 1938 was the very successful and entertaining "Alexander's Ragtime Band".  Tyrone Power, Don Ameche and Jack Haley were back to light up the screen, this time bringing along Ethel Merman and her amazing singing voice.  The musical was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for Alfred Newman for Best Music, Scoring.  The costumes are wonderful and Faye really stands out with her solo numbers, just as pleasing and memorable as Merman's.  The film earned the distinction of being the top grossing musical of the 1930's, giving Faye's already successful career another boost.

Publicity still for "Sally, Irene and Mary" 1938

Alice Faye in "Alexander's Ragtime Band" 1938

With Tyrone Power in "Alexander's Ragtime Band" 1938

Still under contract at Twentieth Century Fox in 1939, Alice kept busy, starring first in the drama "Tail Spin" with Constance Bennett, Joan Davis, Nancy Kelly, Charles Farrell and Jane Wyman.  If you're a fan of aviation, beautiful women fighting over hero's and Alice getting to belt out one song then this little romp is for you.  Next up was another pairing with Tyrone Power with Al Jolson thrown in to the mix for the musical drama "Rose of Washington Square".  Loosely based on the story of Fanny Brice and Jules Stein, Alice finally makes her way to the Ziegfeld Follies even if it's just for a fun hour on screen. 

Her final film of 1939 would reunite her with Warner Baxter for the adventure drama "Barricade" This one you wouldn't write home about but I'm sure Baxter fans loved it.  In case you're wondering if Alice was all about work during her early days in Hollywood, she had actually found love while filming "Sally, Irene and Mary". She had fallen in love with her handsome co-star, Tony Martin which led to them marrying in 1937.

With Constance Bennett in "Tail Spin" 1939

With Nancy Kelly and Joan Davis in "Tail Spin" 1939

1940 would prove to be a busy year for Faye, on screen and off. After 3 years of marriage things weren't all bliss with Tony Martin and they would eventually divorce that year.  She kept busy with back to back films, the first being the biopic "Little Old New York" with Fred MacMurray, Richard Greene and Brenda Joyce.  Faye really shined for me, finally getting to try out comedy and proving she was made for that genre even if the studio kept her busy with their musicals.  She certainly had the right leading man to spread her wings since Fred is always perfect in comedies where he also shined.  

Alice would pair up with Betty Grable next for another musical "Tin Pan Alley". Directed by Walter Lang, it was a box office success but not my cup of tea.  I guess once you've seen Faye in a comedy you're resistant to sit through another dozen musicals. Well, unless it's a biopic/musical since I'm a fan of biopics unless they're titled "The Great Ziegfeld"!  Her last film of 1940 was "Lillian Russell" where she plays the singer with great success. Her co-stars were Don Ameche, the young Henry Fonda, Leo Carrillo, Nigel Bruce, Warren William, Edward Arnold, and Lynn Bari.  The film won the Oscar for Best Art Direction.  

While Alice was still living in New York and working on Broadway she not only made friends with Rudy Vallee who became a close friend and mentor but she also met the Band Leader and Comedian, Phil Harris while doing Rudy's radio show. Soon after her divorce from Tony Martin, Alice reconnected with Harris, a romance developed which led to their marriage in 1941.  A marriage that would produce two beautiful daughters, Alice, born in 1942 and Phyllis, born in 1944.  Their union would also provide Alice with another career but more on that a bit later.

Newly married, Alice continued to work during 1941, appearing in three films for Fox. The first, another comedy/musical "That Night in Rio" co-starring Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda.  (I guess if you can't have Gypsy Rose Lee shaking everything you might as well have Carmen shaking her basket of bananas!). Lots of singing, shaking, great comedic lines, another good film overall and another box office success for Faye.  

Click on Alice Faye's autograph and photos from my collection for a larger view.

Faye would finish out 1941 with two more musicals, the first being "The Great American Broadcast", a fictional account of the early days of radio. The musical with it's watered down script, and mediocre performances by Jack Oakie, John Payne and Cesar Romero should have been left in Fox's file cabinet.   "Week-End in Havana" was a little more successful, with Carmen Miranda back alongside Cesar Romero.  Alice should have skipped this one as well as John Payne but when you're under contract and trying to keep the studio happy you didn't have a lot of say so in what you got saddled with in those days.

Alice and husband, Phil Harris's Palm Springs home

Alice returned to work in 1943 after the birth of her oldest daughter,  jumping right in to another musical, "Hello Frisco, Hello".   A strong script and a cast that meshed well, John Payne, Ward Bond, June Havoc, Jack Oakie and Lynn Bari gave their best as a vaudeville troop, an heiress (Bari) with plenty of laughs by all.  Alice never sounded better and the film garnered one Oscar for Best Music, Original Song. You'll Never Know, sung beautifully by Alice Faye. This would be her most successful song during her career and a favorite of many couples for years to come.  

Faye's other 1943 film was the musical/comedy "The Gang's All Here". When the studios were churning out films dedicated to our war hero's, those who were left on the home-front and audiences wanting to take their minds off of the struggles facing them, this was one of Fox's tributes to servicemen.  Faye's romantic lead was Phil Baker with Carmen Miranda and Benny Goodman offering up more laughs and memorable songs.   

In "Hello Frisco, Hello" 1943

After the birth of her daughter's, Alice became less interested in acting, signing a new contract with Fox that would allow her more free time, committing to only one project a year.  She also campaigned for more serious roles and when those weren't offered, she turned down many scripts, opting instead to spend that time with her family.  With younger stars now under contract, Zanuck had moved on from Faye just like so many talented stars before her.  In 1944, after agreeing to co-star with Zanuck's newest darling, Linda Darnell in "Fallen Angel" it became very clear to Alice that she was yesterdays news.  Upon realizing that most of her scenes had been cut to make way for Darnell to shine, feeling betrayed, Faye drove off the Fox lot feeling dejected, stopping only to hand in her dressing room key at the front gate.  

This would be the end of her 11 year relationship with Zanuck and the downward turn for her film career.  You don't walk away from Darryl Zanuck! By the end of the day, Alice was blackballed from every major Hollywood studio due to breach of contract. But it certainly wouldn't be the end of Zanuck and Alice which we will get to shortly.  (Let's hope it involves a few kicks up Zanuck's backside but somehow I don't see that happening!)

No longer obligated to Fox, Alice teamed up with her husband for an NBC radio show in 1946 titled The Fitch Bandwagon.  Showcasing Phil and Alice's chemistry, their comedy sketches along with Alice's very popular musical intro's, the show was an instant hit. In 1948, with the new sponsor Rexall, their show was renamed The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.  Of course, during this time Darryl Zanuck was calling Alice, offering her the lead in the successful films "The Razor's Edge", "The Dolly Sister's", A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and "Wabash Avenue".  Alice turned every role down, opting instead to keep her life Zanuck free. 

She would not return to the silver screen for another 16 years when she took a part in "State Fair" in 1962. Her last musical, for the first time in a supporting role with Ann Margret and Pat Boone, the fresh faces of Fox in the lead.  The film has become more popular over time but in 1962 it was panned by critics.  It's lucky for all of us that Twentieth Century Fox later familiarized itself with the notion of quality over quantity!

Throughout the years Alice and Phil continued to do projects together, often appearing on The Jack Benny Show then after a 43 year absence, Faye returned to Broadway alongside her Hollywood leading man, John Payne to star in the play, Good News. 

Alice and Phil would remain happily married and seldom apart until his death in 1995.  Alice would survive him by only three years, falling ill with cancer, she passed away just four days after her 83rd birthday.  Her ashes were placed next to her husband, Phil Harris in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery, (Cathedral City) near Palm Springs, CA.  Alice Faye starred in over 40 films during her Hollywood career that spanned 40 years.  She was cute as a button and one of Hollywood's true talents, not to mention a consummate professional, never taking her opportunities and success for granted. If you've ever had the pleasure of listening to her radio show, you would instantly pick up on her kindness and quick sense of humor. Qualities that must have made her a joy to be around, on and off the studio lot.

Alice Faye: Fun Facts and Trivia

She introduced almost twice as many "Hit Parade" songs in her movies (23) as her competitors Judy Garland (13), Doris Day (12) and Betty Grable (12).

Irving Berlin was once quoted as saying that he would choose Faye over any other singer to introduce his songs. George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her "the best singer in Hollywood during 1937".

Faye always named "Lillian Russell" as one of her personal favorites.  But playing Lillian was no easy task for Alice. Wearing a tight fitting corset was grueling, causing her to pass out on set several times and it shrunk her waist a full six inches.

Speaking of Lillian Russell, after the success of "The Great Ziegfeld", MGM wanted to put her story on film with Jeanette MacDonald in the lead. After that fell through, Fox went ahead with "Lillian Russell", a lucky break for Faye. 

The film "Rose of Washington Square" was so close to the real life story of Fanny Brice and Jules Stein that he sued Twentieth Century Fox for slander. The suit was ruled in his favor, then quickly settled out of court. 

After working with Betty Grable on "Tin Pan Alley", Alice and Betty became fast friends, remaining close until Grable's death in 1973. Of course, there were rumors throughout their careers that they were arch rivals but it couldn't have been further from the truth.

Released during the height of World War II, "Hello Frisco, Hello" was the highest grossing film for Fox. The sheet music for Faye's Oscar winning song,  You'll Never Know went on to sell over a million copies after the films release.  And the role would earn Faye the title of "Top Box Office draw in the world" for 1943.

The final tap dancing number in "Poor Little Rich Girl", featuring Faye, Haley and Temple, with it's precision took endless takes. Even though all three were excellent tap dancers they found it difficult to stay in sync for such a long and complicated number.  (Perhaps it was Shirley causing a distraction since she lost her first baby tooth during filming.)

Alice Faye and Jimmy Stewart took small roles in the 1978 film "The Magic of Lassie". Stewart claimed he took the role because it was the only 'family-friendly' role with a grandfatherly part but after it flopped at the box office he semi-retired from acting.

Alice can be heard singing her signature song You'll Never Know in the Scorsese film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" 1974.

Alice once said about Shirley Temple, "She was a nice kid, with a wonderful mother and father. We all liked her. But she was brilliant. She knew everyone's dialogue and, if you forgot a line, she gave it to you. We hated her for that."

On Tyrone Power she said, "He was the best looking thing I've ever seen in my life. Kissing him was like dying and going to heaven."

Thanks for taking the time to look back at Alice Faye's life and career with me. Feel free to comment and enjoy the below clip of Alice and Rudy Vallee in "Oh, You Nasty Man" 1934



  1. Wonderful tribute to Alice, full of much information. I saw Alice and John Payne in "Good News" when a tour of the show played Toronto's O'Keefe Centre. The theatre was full of love for the two stars, and the show was energetic fun. Perhaps much like the fun Alice said she had working on her movies with Ty and Don and Betty and John.

  2. CW,
    You're so lucky, getting to see Faye and Payne in Good News. That's a play I would love to have seen.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your Faye experience and for the nice compliment.

  3. Hi Page,

    I'm sure you have an inkling of what this all means to certain folks, but I can tell you that for me, caring for my 93-year-old father, who has a love of old movies, it's a great service you do.

    Writing from East Coast Australia, and now will be looking up all those great Alice Faye comedies and musicals. Samples of the radio show would obviously be enetertaining to listen to as well.

    Thanks again for sharing your collection.

    Dave in Australia.

    P.S. I'll ask him when he wakes up what he remembers of Alice Faye - I suspect he might have had a crush on her as a teenager :-)

    1. Hi Page,

      I very much enjoyed your post and all the gorgeous photos of Alice! I enjoy her so much. By coincidence my dad just sent me the Univ. of Mississippi Press bio of Faye by Jane Elder. Looking forward to reading it! (THE ALICE FAYE MOVIE BOOK by Mosher, with its glossy pages of beautiful Alice photos, was an early treasure in my collection.)

      I especially enjoy her in ON THE AVENUE, with its humor and great songs including "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" -- she makes you wish she and Madeleine Carroll could have both ended up with Dick Powell, LOL. I confess I'm also partial to WEEK-END IN HAVANA, with its gorgeous use of color. And she never looked better than THAT NIGHT IN RIO, so beautiful! I also really appreciate her in FALLEN ANGEL, a favorite noir title, and am sad her Fox career ended over it.

      Thanks for the lovely review of Alice's career and causing me to think about her today. I've been meaning to watch LILLIAN RUSSELL soon...

      Best wishes,

    2. Laura,
      I'm so glad you enjoyed my Faye write up. She really was a gift to FOX at a time when musicals were at the height of their popularity. She meshed so well with all of her leading men but I think I liked her best alongside Ameche.

      I haven't seen Mosher's book but it sounds like a must have. I have a few of those coffee table books with glamour shots and they're a favorite with guests. Sounds like your dad is a classic film fan too! My dad loves the early Westerns and silents but that's about it. My mom has tried unsuccessfully to get him to sit through her Thin Man or Charlie Chan series but he's not having it!
      Thanks for sharing and for the sweet compliments.

  4. Hi Dave!
    So glad that you stopped by and I would love for you to let us know what your father thinks of Alice as well as who his favorite classic stars are, what are his favorite classic films. Always glad to have classic film fans join in on our discussions.

    I look forward to seeing you here again often! Please enjoy the archives as well. Parents are joyous so I know you're taking advantage of your time with your father. Hopefully his love of the classics has rubbed off too. : )

  5. Excellent and complete bio, Page, really enjoyed it! The non-musical Hollywood Cavalcade is a favorite here, though I love In Old Chicago, Alexander's Ragtime Band and Lillian Russell (not only Warren William, but Edward Arnold reprising his Diamond Jim role, fun!). I enjoyed the Elder book quite a bit, not having known much beyond the Alice's A&E biography before having read it, it really filled in the gaps for me.

  6. Hi again,

    This is fun. My father's up now and certainly remembered Alice Faye as one of the big stars of the 30s. No crush though. He seemed pretty content with the local girls and the big band dances they had in those days, before he met my dear-departed Mum during the war.

    More fun, we've just been listening to You'll Never Know and On Moonlight Bay, and now listening to a 1949 episode of the Phil Harris-Alice Faye show. My father says 'They sure could do a lot with radio in thos days'.

    Apparently there's a whole community of you classic movie buffs. We've liked the likes of The Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant's great of course), Gary Cooper (my Dad's absolute favourite), and Clark Gable etc. As for me, I can't believe how gorgeous Gene Tierney was and force my Dad to watch The Razor's Edge and Laura from time to time.

    All the best,

    1. Dave,
      It's great that you're able to listen to some of Faye's old recordings. You're dad has wonderful taste in stars! I'm a huge fan of The Philadelphia Story and pretty much every Cary Grant film.
      I'll be doing a bio on Gene Tierney, sharing my memorabilia this spring so stay tuned. Laura is such a great film too!

      Not sure if you get a classic film channel like we do here in the states but they're always airing some of the classics from the silents on. There is a very large group of us who adore all things old Hollywood. A great group of people. So welcome to the club!

  7. Wonderful post, Page. Alice was a great star and you picked one of my favorite performances (Oh,You Nasty Man)! I first saw Alice on several episodes of TV's "The Hollywood Palace" with her hubby. My mom explained that she was a very big star and that Tony Martin was her real true love, but she settled down with Phil Harris (hey, my mom loved those movie magazines!).

    1. FlickChick,
      How funny about "Oh, You Nasty Man"! It was the one clip that I thought was most enjoyable, glamorous.
      The story about your mom telling you about Alice and Tony is so cute! He was awfully handsome. She certainly had a thing for band leaders. (Alice, not your mom)

      I'm go glad Alice is getting such a nice response! Thanks for sharing in the conversation. : )

  8. Great post Page!
    I had never read anything about his biography. What a beautiful actress!

    1. Rubi,
      Thanks so much! Good to see you back. : )

  9. Awesome post, Page! Alice, kinda reminded me a little of, the beautiful classic actress, Jean Harlow. My favorite Alice Faye movie is, "Tin Pan Alley".. with Betty Grable.

    1. Dawn,
      I agree about her resemblance to Harlow. With her severely plucked and arched eyebrows then the bleached hair, I think FOX was counting on that fact.
      It looks like you're not alone in your liking Tin Pan Alley the most.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Excellent bio, Page. I never knew that much about Alice Faye, but I love her movies, especially Tin Pan Alley and Hello, Frisco, Hello. Her signature song "You'll Never Know" is, I think, the best version of all. Boy that lady had determination. After being treated so badly by Zanuck, she turned down some juicy parts! I don't blame her. I really enjoyed this piece.

    1. Becks,
      I've heard so many stories about Zanuck and his A hole behavior now. You have to admire Faye for standing up for herself and refusing to play along with him, continue to be used to prop up and coming stars up.

      Thanks for your sweet comments.

  11. Nice bio and great photos! I really enjoyed reading this one.

  12. Thanks Brian,
    I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  13. I just love the old movie's. They're Classic's.

  14. Love her role as 'Lillian Russell'. A DVD seller included an extra DVD with a purchase I made. The DVD includes, Hollywood Cavalcade and Lillian Russell. I absolutely love these two films of hers. She comes across as such a sweet person.

  15. A great blog with great photos of Alice Faye - however, the one captioned "George Barbier, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dick Powell and Alice Faye" is, as far as I can tell, "Charles Winninger, Gypsy Rose Lee, Don Ameche and Alice Faye."