By Kendahl Cruver
was never an Alice Faye type. With her mellow persona and warm, sincere style of
singing, she had a unique appeal that made her one of the biggest musical stars
of the thirties and early forties.
She was born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York City on May 5, 1915. Her German
and Irish immigrant parents raised their daughter in the then notorious Hell's
Kitchen neighborhood. At age thirteen, Faye lied about her age to get a job with
the Earl Carroll Vanities. It was not long before her ruse was discovered and
she was fired. A couple of years later, she tried again with the Chester Hale
Vaudeville Unit and this time, possibly because she looked more the age she
claimed to be, she kept her job. She got her first big break when Rudy Vallee
pulled her out of the chorus to sing with his band.
When Vallee went to Hollywood in 1934 to appear in Fox studio's George White's
Scandals, he brought Faye with him to appear in a supporting part. When lead
actress Lilian Harvey suddenly quit the movie, she was rushed into the role. Not
only did she headline in her first screen appearance, but the movie was a hit.
She was offered a
At first, the studio groomed Faye in the platinum blonde image of
While she could carry off the look a lot better than many of her contemporaries,
the style didn’t suit her more down to earth personality. When Fox merged with
20th Century in 1935, new studio head Darryl Zanuck picked her to be his first
star. It was Zanuck who had her appearance softened to an image that suited her.
Faye thrilled audiences with her warm contralto in movies such as Alexander's
Ragtime Band (1938) and Rose of Washington Square (1939), where she appeared
opposite her best costar, Tyrone Power. She was an even bigger hit in her
Technicolor productions in the forties, including That Night in Rio and Week-end
in Havana (both 1941).
After a three-year marriage with singer Tony Martin, Faye married bandleader
Phil Harris in 1940. With him she had her first daughter, Alice Jr., in 1942.
Once she became a mother, Faye’s priorities changed drastically. After
completing The Gang’s All Here in 1943, while
the early stages of her second pregnancy, she retired from making movies so that
she could devote all of her time to her family.
Though it has been rumored that Zanuck had abandoned Faye’s career to focus on
promoting Betty Grable, when she left she was still a hugely popular star and
one of the studio’s greatest assets. Fans and executives alike were actually
desperate for her to stay. There was certainly no tension between Faye and
Grable; they were friends until Grable’s death in 1973.
After giving birth to daughter Phyllis in 1945, Faye finally gave in to studio
pressure and returned to Fox to make the drama Fallen Angel. At a screening of
the final print, she was offended when she realized that Zanuck had cut her
favorite scenes. She immediately left the studio for another sixteen years.
Faye spent most of the fifties with her family, though she did take a few
and perform on the radio with Harris. She returned to the studio in 1962 for a
role in State Fair, but she was unhappy with the way the studio had changed over
the past two decades. Aside from a few movies in the seventies, she was content
to retire. Her last film role was in The Magic of Lassie in 1978.
She may have had enough of Hollywood, but Faye wasn’t quite finished with public
life. She enjoyed a successful run in the Broadway production of Good News in
the early seventies and a whole new generation got to know her in a series of
Pfizer commercials she did in the 1980's.
On May 9, 1998, Faye died of stomach cancer in Rancho Mirage, California. The
favored singer of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin left behind
many still-devoted fans who would never forget her warm, mellow voice.
Kendahl Cruver is a writer based in Seattle, Washington. She also writes about
classic actresses for
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Other Alice Faye Pages:
Jackson's Alice Faye Page -- The Musical Actress Before Betty Grable!