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Jewish World Review
Nov. 7, 2008
/ 9 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
Sweet Alice Faye
Once again we have cable TV and DVD's to thank for the opportunity to enjoy classic movie stars such as Alice Faye, a star that people of my generation and younger might never have otherwise experienced. As a kid I'd seen some of Miss Faye's pictures on TV, of course, but I've never really appreciated her work as much as I have recently after buying two sets of her 20th Century Fox movies (The Alice Faye Collection and The Alice Faye Collection Vol. 2) which are currently available on DVD. What a delight! What a talent! What a sweetie!
The first set includes "The Gang's All Here," "That Night in Rio,
"On The Avenue," and "Lillian Russell." The second set has "Rose of Washington Square," "Hollywood Cavalcade," "The Great American Broadcast," "Hello, Frisco, Hello," and "Four Jills in a Jeep." These pictures are pure delight - bright, bubbly, and fun. No messages, no heavy themes, just great 100% entertainment. And that's one reason they hold up so well today. The other reason is because of Alice Faye, one of the most popular motion picture performers of the late 30's and early 40's.
She was born Alice Jean Leppert, the daughter of a New York City cop, on May 5th, 1915. At 14 Alice lied about her age in order to get her first chorus girl job in 1929. While appearing in the 1933-1934 edition of George White's Scandals, she became the protégée of the show's star, Rudy Vallee, touring with Vallee's orchestra as singer.
Thanks to Vallee's insistence she was cast in the 1934 Fox Studios film version of George White's Scandals, and was elevated to the leading role when the star, Lillian Harvey, walked off the set. Seeing her potential, Alice was kept on by Fox and they attempted to groom her into a Jean Harlow type. She soon established her screen image as a tough gal with a heart of gold.
In 1937 she wed movie/singing star Tony Martin, a marriage which lasted until 1940. She had more success in 1941 when she married bandleader/singer Phil Harris. The pair eventually had two children, Alice Jr. and Phyllis, and remained happily married until Harris' death in 1995.
Her pictures were favorites with audiences and usually made plenty of money for Fox. Her box office hits included "In Old Chicago," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Weekend in Havana," as well as "Lillian Russell," "Tin Pan Alley," and "Rose of Washington Square." The latter was a fictional biopic on the life of Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice. Her frequent co-stars were Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, and John Payne.
Then in 1945 when her leading role in "Fallen Angel" was cut down drastically by studio head, Darryl Zanuck, she quit movies cold, and devoted her time to her family. She co-stared with husband Phil on a popular comedy radio show which ran for several successful seasons. In 1962, she returned to the big screen in a remake of "State Fair," co-starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margaret.
Throughout the 60's and 70's she made numerous guest appearances on TV and toured the nightclub circuit and dinner theaters. She stayed active and remained in contact with her loyal fans until her death in 1998. Her ten years with 20th Century Fox, however, remain her most important legacy.
She had a genuineness - an honesty to her acting that really came through in those pictures. Alice was a natural jazz singer with a beautiful singing voice, sexy and smooth. Her signature hit song was "You'll Never Know." And you'll never know just how well that tune can be put over until you see and hear Alice do it on film. She danced, too. Alice could hoof it out with the best of them. With her beautiful blue eyes, cute smile, elegant demeanor, and charming style, sweet Alice Faye has captured my heart in films that were made more than 65 years ago! Imagine that!
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby