Alice Jeanne Leppert
May 5, 1915
|Died||May 9, 1998 (aged 83)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Cemetery, Cathedral City, California, U.S.|
(m. 1937; div. 1940)
(m. 1941; died 1995)
Alice Jeanne Faye (//; née Leppert; May 5, 1915 – May 9, 1998) was an American actress and singer. She sang "You'll Never Know", which won its composers the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1944 Oscars ceremony. Faye introduced the song in the musical film Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943).
Faye was married twice and had two daughters. She married actor and singer Tony Martin in 1937, and they divorced in 1940. She married actor Phil Harris in 1941, a union which lasted until his death in 1995.
Life and career
1915–1933: Early life and career beginnings
Alice Jeanne Leppert was born on May 5, 1915, in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, the daughter of Alice (née Moffit; 1886–1959), who worked for the Mirror Chocolate Company, and Charles Leppert (1886–1935), a police officer. She had an older brother, Charles (1909–1977). Faye was raised an Episcopalian. Faye's entertainment career began in vaudeville as a chorus girl. She failed an audition for the Earl Carroll Vanities when it was revealed she was too young, then moved to Broadway and a featured role in the 1931 edition of George White's Scandals. By this time, she had adopted her stage name and first reached a radio audience on Rudy Vallée's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour.
1934–1938: Early work
Faye got her first major film break in 1934, when Lilian Harvey abandoned the lead role in a film version of George White's 1935 Scandals, in which Vallee was also to appear. Hired first to perform a musical number with Vallee, Faye ended up as the female lead. She became a hit with film audiences of the 1930s, particularly when Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck made her his protégée. He softened Faye from a wisecracking show girl to a youthful, and yet somewhat motherly figure, such as her roles in a few Shirley Temple films. Faye received a physical makeover, going from a version of Jean Harlow to a wholesome appearance, in which her platinum hair and pencil-line eyebrows were swapped for a more natural look.
In 1938, Faye was cast as the female lead in In Old Chicago. Zanuck initially resisted casting Faye, as the role had been written for Jean Harlow. However, critics applauded Faye's performance. The film was very memorable for its 20-minute ending, a recreation of the Great Chicago Fire, a scene so dangerous that women, except for the main stars, were banned from the set. In the film, she appeared with two of her most frequent co-stars, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche, as it was customary for studios to pair their contract players together in more than one film.
Faye, Power, and Ameche were reunited for the 1938 release Alexander's Ragtime Band, which was designed to showcase more than 20 Irving Berlin songs; Faye again received strong reviews. One of the most expensive films of its time, it also became one of the most successful musicals of the 1930s.
By 1939, Faye was named one of the top 10 box office draws in Hollywood. That year, she made Rose of Washington Square with Tyrone Power. Although a big hit, the film was supposedly based on the real life of comedian Fanny Brice, who sued Fox for stealing her story.
Because of her bankable status, Fox occasionally placed Faye in films more for the sake of making money, than showcasing Faye's talents. Films like Tail Spin and Barricade (both 1939) were more dramatic than regular Faye films and often did not contain any songs. But, due to her immense popularity, none of the films that she made in the 1930s and 1940s lost money, this success garnered her the nickname "queen of Fox".
In 1940, Faye played one of her most memorable roles, the title role in the musical biopic Lillian Russell. Faye always named this film as one of her favorites, though it was also her most challenging role. The tight corsets Faye wore for this picture caused her to collapse on the set several times.
After declining the lead role in 1940 for Down Argentine Way because of an illness, Faye was replaced by the studio's newest musical star, Betty Grable. She was paired as a sister act opposite Grable in the film Tin Pan Alley later that same year. During the making of the picture, a rumor arose that there was a rivalry between the two. In a Biography interview, Faye disclosed that the Fox publicity department built up the rumor and that the two actresses were in fact close friends.
1941–1995: Later work
In 1941, Fox began to place Faye in musicals photographed in Technicolor, a trademark for the studio in the 1940s. She frequently played a performer, often one moving up in society, allowing for situations that ranged from the poignant to the comic. Films such as Week-End in Havana (1941) and That Night in Rio (1941), in which she played a Brazilian aristocrat, made good use of Faye's husky singing voice, solid comic timing, and flair for carrying off the era's starry-eyed romantic story lines.
In 1943, after taking a year off to have her first daughter, Faye starred in the Technicolor musical Hello, Frisco, Hello. Released at the height of World War II, the film became one of her highest-grossing pictures for Fox. It was in this film that Faye sang "You'll Never Know". The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for 1943, and the sheet music for the song sold over a million copies. However, since there was a clause in her contract (as was the case with most other Fox stars) stating that she could not officially record any of her movie songs, other singers, such as Dick Haymes (whose version hit #1 for four weeks), Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney have been more associated with the song than Faye. However, it is still often considered Faye's signature song. That year, Faye was once again named one of the top box office draws in the world.
End of motion picture career
As Faye's star continued to ascend during the war years, family life became more important to her, especially with the arrival of a second daughter, Phyllis. After her birth, Faye signed a new contract with Fox to make only one picture a year, with the option of a second one, to give Faye a chance to spend more time with her family. Her second pregnancy resulted in a hospitalization, forcing her to surrender a plum dramatic role in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to Joan Blondell, and she declined a musical role in The Dolly Sisters (her intended part went to June Haver).
Faye finally accepted the lead role in Fallen Angel. Although designed ostensibly as Faye's vehicle, Zanuck tried to build his new protégé Linda Darnell, ordered many of Faye's scenes cut and Darnell emphasized. When Faye saw a screening of the final product—with her role reduced by 12 scenes and a song number—she wrote a scathing note to Zanuck, went straight to her car, gave her dressing room keys to the studio gate guard, and drove home, vowing never to return to Fox. Faye was still so popular that thousands of letters were sent to Faye's home and the Fox studios from around the world, begging her to return for another picture. In 1987, she told an interviewer, "When I stopped making pictures, it didn't bother me because there were so many things I hadn't done. I had never learned to run a house. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to shop. So all these things filled all those gaps."
After Fallen Angel, Faye's contract called for her to make two more movies. Zanuck hit back by having her blackballed for breach of contract, effectively ending her film career although Faye no longer cared to pursue it. Fallen Angel, released in 1945, was Faye's last starring film. Zanuck, under public pressure, tried to lure Faye back onto the screen; Faye returned all the scripts.
It wasn't until 1962 that Alice Faye returned to Fox, for a character role in a remake of an old Fox property, State Fair. While she received good reviews, the film was not a success. She made only infrequent cameo appearances in films thereafter, playing a secretary in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood in 1976 and in The Magic of Lassie as a waitress in 1978.
Marriage and radio career
Faye's first marriage, to Tony Martin in 1937, ended in divorce in 1940; both had busy careers that monopolized most of their time, leaving few opportunities for togetherness. In May 1941, she married bandleader Phil Harris. Their marriage, one of the most successful in Hollywood, became a plotline in the hit radio comedy, The Jack Benny Program where, for 16 years, Harris was a regular cast member.
The couple had two daughters, Alice (b. 1942) and Phyllis (b. 1944), along with Harris's adopted son from his first marriage, Phil Harris, Jr. (1935–2001). Faye and Harris began working in radio together as Faye's film career declined. First, they teamed to host a variety show on NBC, The Fitch Bandwagon, in 1946. The Harrises' gently tart comedy sketches made them the show's stars. By 1948, Fitch was replaced as sponsor by Rexall, the pharmaceutical company, and the show, now a strictly situation comedy with a music interlude each from husband and wife, was renamed The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.
Harris's comic talent was already familiar through his tenure on Jack Benny's radio shows for Jell-o and Lucky Strike. From 1936 to 1952, he played Benny's wisecracking, jive-talking, hipster bandleader. With their own show revamped to a sitcom, bandleader-comedian Harris and singer-actress Faye played themselves, raising two precocious children in slightly zany situations, mostly involving Harris's band guitarist Frank Remley (Elliott Lewis), obnoxious delivery boy Julius Abruzzio (Walter Tetley, familiar as nephew Leroy on The Great Gildersleeve), Robert North as Faye's fictitious deadbeat brother, Willie, and sponsor's representative Mr. Scott (Gale Gordon), and usually involving bumbling, malapropping Harris needing to be rescued by Faye.
Faye's singing ballads and swing numbers in her honeyed contralto voice was a regular highlight of the show as was her knack for tart one-liners equal to her husband's. The show's running gags also included references to Alice's wealth from her film career ("I'm only trying to protect the wife of the money I love" was a typical Harris drollery) and occasional barbs by Faye aimed at her rift with Zanuck, usually referencing Fallen Angel.
In its early years, the Harris-Faye radio show ranked among the top 10 radio programs in the country. The radio show also provided Faye with the perfect balance between show business and home life: since radio only required her to be present for a read-through and the live broadcast, Faye was still able to spend most of her time at home with her daughters.
Later life and death
Faye and Harris continued various projects, individually and together, for the rest of their lives. In 1974, Faye made a return to Broadway after 43 years in a revival of Good News, with her old Fox partner John Payne (who was replaced by Gene Nelson). In later years, Faye became a spokeswoman for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, promoting the virtues of an active senior lifestyle. The Faye-Harris marriage endured 54 years until Harris's death in 1995. Faye admitted in an interview that when she married Harris, most of the Hollywood elite had predicted the marriage would only last about six months.
Three years after Phil Harris' death, Alice Faye died of stomach cancer in Rancho Mirage, California, four days after her 83rd birthday. She was cremated and her ashes rest beside those of Phil Harris at the mausoleum of the Forest Lawn Cemetery (Cathedral City) near Palm Springs, California. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her contribution to Motion Pictures at 6922 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1994, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to her. The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show remains a favorite of old-time radio collectors.
Popularity and legacy
Her voice, The New York Times wrote in her obituary, was "inviting". Irving Berlin was once quoted as saying that he would choose Faye over any other singer to introduce his songs, and George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her the "best female singer in Hollywood in 1937". During her years as a musical superstar (from the 1930s to the early 1940s), Alice Faye managed to introduce 23 songs to the Hit Parade. She was the first female crooner and equivalent to Bing Crosby.
Although Faye has had fans around the globe, she was never more popular than in Great Britain and in The Alice Faye Movie Book an article is devoted to Faye's popularity there. The author, Arthur Nicholson, mentions how enormously popular she was even in her Harlow days and though other films shown in England were usually shown for three days a week, Faye's films played for an entire week. After Faye retired in 1945, her reissued films made as much money (in some cases, more) as current releases. When Faye returned to the screen for State Fair in 1962, the film broke records in England. In 1966, the BBC televised Alexander's Ragtime Band, and soon other Faye films followed with the BBC stating there were more requests for Faye's films than any other star.
|1950||Lux Radio Theatre||Alexander's Ragtime Band|
|1951||Suspense||Death on My Hands|
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