Faye, Alice (1912–1998)

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Faye, Alice (1912–1998)

American actress . Born Alice Jeanne Leppert on May 5, 1912, in New York, New York; died in Rancho Mirage, California, on May 9, 1998; only daughter and one of three children of Charles (a police officer) and Alice (Moffat) Leppert; attended public school until age 13; married Tony Martin (a singer), on September 3, 1937 (divorced 1940); married Phil Harris (a bandleader-actor), on May 12, 1941; children: two daughters, Alice Harris Regan (b. 1942); Phyllis Harris (b. 1944).


George White's Scandals (1934); She Learned About Sailors (1934); Now I'll Tell (When New York Sleeps, 1934); 365 Nights in Hollywood (1934); George White's 1935 Scandals (1935); Music is Magic (1935); Every Night at Eight (1935); Poor Little Rich Girl (1936); Sing, Baby, Sing (1936); King of Burlesque (1936); Stowaway (1936); On the Avenue (1937); Wake Up and Live (1937); You Can't Have Everything (1937); You're a Sweetheart (1937); In Old Chicago (1938); Sally, Irene and Mary (1938); Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938); Tail Spin (1939); Hollywood Cavalcade (1939); Rose of Washington Square (1939); Barricade (1939); Lillian Russell (1940); Little Old New York (1940); Tin Pan Alley (1940); That Night in Rio (1941); The Great American Broadcast (1941); Weekend in Havana (1941); Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943); The Gang's All Here (The Girls He Left Behind, 1943); Four Jills in a Jeep (1944); Fallen Angel (1945); State Fair (1962); Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976); The Magic of Lassie (1978); Every Girl Should Have One (1979).


George White's Scandals of 1931 (1931); Good News (revival, 1973).

Radio series:

"The Fleischmann's Hour" (1931–34); "Music from Hollywood" (1937); "The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show" (1946–54).

Alice Faye was born on Tenth Avenue, in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York City, which she jokingly referred to as "Double Fifth Avenue." Intent on an acting career from an early age, she left school at 13 to audition for the Ziegfeld Follies but was turned down. At 14, she began singing and dancing professionally and, in 1931, landed a job in the chorus of George White's Scandals, where she was spotted by Rudy Vallee, who signed her up for his weekly radio show and later as a singer with his band. Vallee was also responsible for her role as his costar in the Fox film George White's Scandals (1934). When his original co-star, Lillian Harvey , walked off the set in a dispute over the size of her role, Vallee convinced the studio to give Faye the part. The film opened to good reviews for the young newcomer, including one from Richard Watts, Jr., of the New York Herald Tribune: "A Cute Broadway blonde of the Jean Harlow school, Miss Faye reveals, in addition to considerable personal allure, a talent for projecting a hot song number that is extremely helpful to the work." The studio, impressed with her debut, offered Faye a long-term contract.

For the first few years, Fox exploited Faye's Harlow-type image in such vehicles as Now I'll Tell (1934), with Spencer Tracy, and two comedy-musicals showcasing the comedy team of Jack Durant and Frank Mitchell, She Learned about Sailors and 365 Nights in Hollywood (both 1934). Perhaps the best to be said of these early efforts was that Faye's warm contralto emerged, which helped turn her movie songs into popular recordings. In 1935, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of the new 20th Century-Fox Films, decided to soften Faye's brassy screen image. Adopting a more natural blonde hair color and altering her pencil-thin eyebrows, the remodeled Alice Faye first appeared in Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), with the new moppet star Shirley Temple (Black) . With her toned-down looks and signature husky voice, Faye found her niche as the sweet and vulnerable girl-next-door. In her tenth film, Sing, Baby, Sing (1936), she received her first star billing and also met her future husband, singer Tony Martin, whom she married in 1937. In Stowaway (1936), again with Shirley Temple, Faye sang one of her most memorable screen songs, "Goodnight, My Love," which she recorded for Brunswick. Unfortunately, around this time, Zanuck decided to save the talents of his musical stars for the camera and banned all of his studio stars from the recording studio. As a result, Faye did not make another recording for a decade.

Faye hit her stride at Fox with two big-budget 1938 musicals, In Old Chicago and Alexander's Ragtime Band, both co-starring Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. However, it was the eight films that she made between 1940 and 1943 that are commonly believed to be the most memorable of her career. Among them was Lillian Russell (1940), in which she portrayed the entertainer in a less than factual account of her numerous romances. Faye was paired with Betty Grable in Tin Pan Alley (1940) and also worked for the first time with Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941), which was her sixth and last picture with Don Ameche.

After divorcing Tony Martin in 1940, Faye married the bandleader-actor Phil Harris, whom she had met while singing with Vallee. "My career for the first time in my life doesn't mean a thing to me," she pronounced after the nuptials. Soon after her marriage, she was once again paired with Miranda in the very successful Weekend in Havana (1941), proving that she still had box-office appeal. Faye gave birth to her first child, Alice, in 1942, losing starring roles in two pictures due to her pregnancy. She returned for two films before giving birth to a second daughter, Phyllis, in the spring of 1944.

During 1945, in a surprising bit of casting, Faye was announced for a dramatic role in Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel, playing a sedate rural girl who marries Dana Andrews, only to find out that he wants to leave her for the town "trollop" played by Linda Darnell . "I became tired of playing those big musicals," she told columnist Hedda Hopper , who questioned her about the role. "But I felt if I could make pictures I'd be proud to show my kids some day, that would be different…. I wear simple dresses and tailored knits and, above all, I'm a real person—a human being—a woman with a heart. Not just a painted, doll-like dummy." But Faye was not up to the heavily dramatic part and much of her performance, including her only song, "Slowly," landed on the cutting-room floor. Parting with Fox and blaming Zanuck for what she believed to be a "betrayal," Faye withdrew from films, even though the studio continued to offer her decent roles.

From 1946 to 1954, she co-starred with her husband on the hugely popular Sunday-night radio program "The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show." Her first experience with television was in 1959, when she appeared with Harris on a Timex Hour special, singing songs from her various movie roles. In 1962, she returned to films as Pat Boone's mother in a forgettable remake of State Fair. This was followed by a series of guest spots on several popular television variety shows, including "The Red Skelton Show" and "The Hollywood Palace." "I feel as though I'm starting all over again, slow but sure," she told an interviewer in 1962. "I'm doing a little dance routine with Perry [Como] and I feel as though I've got two left feet…. I can't just sit and rot. I've got to do something." She appeared on stage in a revival of Good News (1973) and was one of many former stars who did a cameo in Paramount's Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). During the 1980s, Faye was an occasional guest on "The Love Boat" and became the spokesperson for Pfizer's "Help Yourself to Good Health," a fitness program for seniors.

Faye reminisced nostalgically about her past movie career. "They were beautiful days," she told the London Evening Standard. "Everything was first class…. Not any more." Aside from turning down producer David Merrick's offer to play the lead in the Broadway hit Hello, Dolly!, she appears to have had few regrets.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Parish, James Robert. The Fox Girls. Arlington House, 1974.

——and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. NY: Garland, 1991.

Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1970.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts