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ALICE FAYE

By Kendahl Cruver

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Photo from 1930's issue of Films Selectos Magazine featuring Alice Faye1930's Alice Faye Dixie Premium PhotoThere 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 contract.

At first, the studio groomed Faye in the platinum blonde image of Jean Harlow. 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 Alice Faye featured on 1930's European Tobacco Cardin the early stages of her second pregnancy, she retired f1936 R95 Linen Portrait featuring Alice Fayerom 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 television roles 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 Suite101.com.  Watch for profiles like this one in each issue of The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.

Other Alice Faye Pages:

Denny Jackson's Alice Faye Page -- The Musical Actress Before Betty Grable!