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Alice Faye

Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen

Jane Lenz Elder
Copyright Date: 2002
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    Alice Faye
    Book Description:

    Alice Faye's sweet demeanor, sultry glances, and velvety voice were her signatures. Her haunting rendition of "You'll Never Know" has never been surpassed by any other singer. Fans adored her in such films asAlexander's Ragtime Band,Rose of Washington Square,Tin Pan Alley,Week End in Havana, andHello, Frisco, Hello.

    In the 1930s and 1940s she reigned as queen of 20th Century Fox musicals. She co-starred with such legends as Shirley Temple, Tyrone Power, Carmen Miranda, and Don Ameche and was voted the number-one box-office attraction of 1940, placing ahead of Bette Davis and Myrna Loy. To a select cult, she remains a beloved star.

    In 1945 at the pinnacle of her career she chose to walk out on her Fox contract. This remarkable episode is unlike any other in the heyday of the big-studio system. Her daring departure from films left Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck and the rest of the movie industry flabbergasted. For years she had skirmished with him over her roles, her health, and her private life. His heavy-handed film editing of her fine work in Otto Preminger's dramaFallen Angel, a role she had fought for, relegated Faye to the shadows so that Zanuck could showcase the younger Linda Darnell.

    After leaving Fox, Faye (1915­1998) devoted herself to her marriage to radio star Phil Harris, to motherhood, and to a second career on radio in thePhil Harris­ Alice Faye Show, broadcast for eight years. She happily gave up films in favor of the independence and self-esteem that she discovered in private life. She willingly freed herself of the "star-treatment" that debilitated so many of her contemporaries. In the 1980s she emerged as a spokeswoman for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, touring America to encourage senior citizens to make their lives more meaningful and vital.

    Before Betty Grable, before Marilyn Monroe--Alice Faye was first in the lineup of 20th Century Fox blondes. This book captures her special essence, her work in film, radio, and popular music, and indeed her graceful survival beyond the silver screen.

    Jane Lenz Elder, a librarian at Southern Methodist University, is the author ofAcross the Plains to Santa FeandThe Literature of Beguilement: Promoting America from Columbus to Today. She is co-editor of Trading in Santa Fe: John M. Kingsbury's Correspondence with James Josiah Webb, 1853-1861.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-586-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    Jane Lenz Elder
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Alice Faye may be remembered by film historians as much for her abrupt exit from the movies in 1945 as for her preceding eleven years of Hollywood stardom. Tired of dancing, literally, to the tunes that mogul Darryl F. Zanuck put on the silver screen in the lavish musicals produced by Twentieth Century-Fox, she sought meatier roles, the first of which was in Otto Preminger’sFallen Angel. When Zanuck butchered the film to make a Roman holiday for another Fox actress, Linda Darnell, Alice walked out of the screening room, paused to write an unrepeatable note to Zanuck, then left...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Broadway Baby
    (pp. 11-29)

    The showers that had fallen off and on throughout the day were the only reliable harbinger of spring in the sea of tenements on the Manhattan West Side neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. Here the unmistakable odors of the neighborhood’s slaughterhouses and factories obliterated the fresh scent of the rain, mingling instead with smoke from the trains that delivered the livestock and the sweat of too many bodies living and working together. Noise in this district began early in the day and continued long into the night: the creaking of pushcarts, the stumbling hoofbeats of half-dead horses, the muted voices...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Vallée’s Satin Doll
    (pp. 30-47)

    George White’sScandalsopened at the Apollo Theatre, on Forty-second Street west of Broadway, on September 14, 1931. It was just as Alice had always imagined it would be: the sense of anticipation, the electric lights, the long, elegant cars gliding to a stop before the theater. George White, resplendent in evening clothes with his dark hair carefully slicked back in the fashion of the day, stood at the curb to greet his patrons, determined to prove that the depression had not licked him. It could count many Broadway producers among its casualties, including the great Florenz Ziegfeld, who would...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Scandals
    (pp. 48-67)

    While Alice toured the country, sang on the radio, and coped with her small share of the limelight, her friend Betty King continued to work in the chorus and began dating Alice’s brother Sonny. Alice did not approve. She loved Betty and knew how hard Betty had worked to support her mother and stepfather. Alice wanted the best for her friend, and, to her way of thinking, the best didn’t include Sonny. She loved her brother but displayed an almost ruthless pragmatism when she declared she did not want Betty to get too serious about him. “My brother isn’t making...

  8. CHAPTER 4 New Studio, New Star
    (pp. 68-82)

    The upheavals occurring at the top reaches of the studio’s administration had little immediate effect on the day-to-day lives of the contract players. During most of 1935 Alice Faye continued to work in the Sheehan productions to which she had been assigned. The studio released these films at regular intervals throughout the year:George White’s 1935 Scandalsin March,Music Is Magicin November, with Paramount’sEvery Night at Eightreaching the screens in August. Between releases, the Fox publicity machine, under the direction of Harry Brand, kept her name before the public as much as possible. “I’d read stories...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Breakthrough
    (pp. 83-98)

    On November 25, 1936, Rudy Vallée’s ex-wife, Fay Webb, died suddenly following an abdominal operation. Even the press in Los Angeles, where she died, barely mentioned it. The media apparently considered the woman who caused Alice so much misery old news, missing a potentially sensational story. As Rudy Vallée’s secretary Evelyn Langfeldt wrote to Hyman Bushell, during the operation Webb’s intestinal wall collapsed and peritonitis had set in. Webb’s constitution, Langfeldt said, had been weakened by an illness similar to tuberculosis, and she suggested the possibility that it was related to alcohol or drug use. Langfeldt even mentioned hearing an...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 6 Treadmill
    (pp. 99-117)

    Before the end of shootingIn Old Chicagoin the summer of 1937, Alice began seeing Tony Martin again. Alice’s brother Sonny and her friend Betty Scharf had interceded on Tony’s behalf, and Sonny arranged to bring Alice to Sugie’s Tropics one night when he knew Tony would be there. Martin had resolved his own qualms and persuaded his mother to overlook Alice’s religion. “Now I was in command of myself,” Martin said. “We began going out again. It was just like it had been, only more so.” Eventually he proposed and Alice accepted. They eloped to Yuma, Arizona, in...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Queen of the Lot
    (pp. 118-137)

    If they are to be believed, stories released from the set ofTail Spinby the Fox publicity department reflect a distracted Alice. One stated she found it difficult to throw herself wholeheartedly into her fight scene with Constance Bennett, instead pulling her punches and worrying excessively about any injury she might cause. Another reported that Tony Martin always sent her roses on the days when she sang before the cameras, yet for her only number inTail Spin, “Are You in the Mood for Mischief,” they failed to appear. “Alice Faye was visibly nervous and upset . . ....

  13. CHAPTER 8 So This Is Harris
    (pp. 138-156)

    At the beginning of June 1940 Darryl Zanuck had an Alice Faye Technicolor extravaganza on his hands and no Alice Faye to star in it. His solution to the problem, typical of Hollywood in that era, eliminated the short-term problem of replacing Alice inDown Argentine Way. It also solved the long-term question of how to prevent Alice Faye from causing this kind of problem again. Zanuck brought in the girl he sent Walter Scharf to New York to see. Building up another blue-eyed, blonde singer-dancer who could succeed Alice Faye at a moment’s notice would insure that Alice would...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Movies and Motherhood
    (pp. 157-174)

    Weekend in Havana, shot during the summer in which she bided time between weddings to Phil, became one of Alice’s happiest movies. It showed. She found herself surrounded with her favorite costars, including John Payne, Carmen Miranda, and Cesar Romero. Zanuck also assigned director Walter Lang, with whom she worked inTin Pan Alley, to the project. Alice also felt confident in the role she played. “It gave me another comedy role, that of a slightly common Macy’s salesgirl,” she said. “I was born in New York, so I was familiar with the lingo. She refers to her travel ‘brochoor’...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Goodbye Fox
    (pp. 175-192)

    America would win the war in Europe before Alice Faye won her war with Twentieth Century-Fox. Faced with the prospect of losing his Alice-based revenue altogether, Darryl Zanuck ultimately conceded. In mid-July 1945, word trickled out through the columns that Alice had returned to Fox. She had chosen to appear in a modern drama directed by Otto Preminger calledFallen Angel. Preminger had scored a huge hit the year before with the now-classic mystery dramaLaura. The combination ofLaura’spopular appeal and critical acclaim apparently acted as the catalyst prompting Alice to selectFallen Angelas her first dramatic...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Return to Radio
    (pp. 193-212)

    As Alice forged her new life, she discovered that through Phil and his work a new niche awaited her in a medium with which she was entirely comfortable: radio. She and Phil had begun performing together onFitch Bandwagon, sponsored by Fitch Shampoo. The program was initially conceived as a Sunday afternoon bandstand series on NBC to showcase popular music and feature newcomers in the summer months. In 1943, the show shifted its format, dropping the summer band formula and instead signing a big name for an entire season. For the two seasons between September 29, 1946, and May 23,...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Celebrity Fulfilled
    (pp. 213-234)

    In 1961, at Phil’s suggestion, Alice decided to make another motion picture. Phil continued to pursue an intense travel schedule, Alice Jr. had just married New Orleans stockbroker Ted Alcus, and Phyllis was about to begin courses at the University of Arizona in the fall. Alice’s family life was fairly settled. So when producer Charles Brackett began phoning Alice “out of the blue” urging her to accept the role of Melissa Frake in a new remake of Rogers and Hammerstein’sState Fairfor Twentieth Century-Fox, Alice actually gave it consideration. “He was so persistent, he called three or four times...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 235-248)

    Alice emerged from the limousine wearing an elegant black knit suit and full-length mink coat and looking less than thrilled. Due to appear on a new talk show being launched in England, she had grown increasingly anxious as the driver went on and on driving all over Los Angeles. “Are we still in California?” she asked her companion, Jewel Baxter, in irritation. Alice remained completely unaware that her chauffeur was delaying their arrival deliberately, while a last-minute hitch in a handsome surprise was ironed out. Wishing to arrive on time, Alice became cross, her confidence in their driver diminishing rapidly...

    (pp. 249-262)
    (pp. 263-294)
    (pp. 295-300)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 301-313)