Alice Faye (1915-1998) was the star of the new Fox studios from 1935 to 1944, appearing in numerous musicals that showcased her fabulous singing ability. Even though she never won any awards she earned many fans and was a huge box office success.
Alice Faye was born as Alice Jeanne Leppert on May 5, 1915 in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. From a young age she was attracted to the glitz and glamour of show business and spent lots of time in the movie theaters close to her home. When she was only thirteen she applied for chorus work with the Chester Hale dancers. She said she was born in 1912 and made herself look three years older in order to win the part. It was during this time that she took the stage name Alice Faye. Some sources attribute this name to Frank Fay, a popular comedian, while others claim she took the name simply because she liked the way it sounded. She worked for several years until producers discovered her real age and fired her. Faye didn’t give up and continued to audition for other musical parts.
Rudy Vallee a well-known singer and radio star at the time, played a big part in Faye's early rise to stardom. He heard her voice at an audition and persuaded a producer to hire her as his costar in the musical George White’s Scandals. The show ran from 1933 to 1934. Vallee regularly had Faye sing on his radio show, which gave her national recognition. She also toured New York as a singer in his orchestra, Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees. In 1934 Faye and Vallee both decided to move to Hollywood in order to pursue acting careers. The two seemed to have nothing more than a professional relationship, however whatever happened was enough for Vallee’s wife to sue Faye for alienation of her husband’s affections.
In 1934 Vallee and Faye starred in a big screen adaptation of George White’s Scandals at Fox studios. Faye was originally slated to only perform one song, however the leading actress Lillian Harvey decided to quit during filming and Faye took over. The film was a great success and earned her a seven-year contract at the studio. The studio envisioned Faye as the next Jean Harlow, so her hair and wardrobe were changed and she played similar “tough girl” roles as Harlow. However, in 1935 Fox merged with 20th Century Pictures and producer Darryl Francis Zanuck took over the studio. He softened Faye's image by returning her hair to its natural color and gave her more feminine roles. This change made a big difference and she quickly became a box office success with several musicals that featured her lovely contralto voice. She starred with Shirley Temple in the films Stowaway and Poor Little Rich Girl, where they did a tap dance number together. These two movies helped make her a star.
In 1939 Faye’s career reached its peak. She put out a long string of successful musicals, including Rose of Washington Square, Weekend in Havana, That Night in Rio, and Hello Frisco Hello, which featured her most famous song, “You’ll Never Know”. Theater owners nationwide voted Faye the number one box office star. She was also voted America’s number one female song plugger by well-known songwriters such as Cole Porter and George Gershwin. The group stated, “There’s something about the way Alice projects a song that spells immediate success for it.” She was responsible for introducing 23 Hit Parade songs, more than twice as much as her competitors which included Judy Garland, and Doris Day.
In 1936 Faye married singer and frequent co-star Tony Martin. Their relationship was short-lived and they divorced in 1940. She later met Phil Harris, the bandleader on the Jack Benny radio show. They married in 1941 and had two daughters, Alice Regan and Phyllis Harris.
After a while Faye became bored with musicals and wanted more complex parts. She joked, “Six films I made with Don Ameche and in every one of them my voice was deeper than the plot.” She frequently fought with Zanuck over her roles. He was hesitant to fire her because she brought so much money into the studio, so instead he hired Betty Grable as her eventual replacement. Surprisingly, the two actresses got along very well even though the press continually published false stories about their fights. Faye and Grable even costarred in the film Tin Pan Alley in 1940 and they remained good friends until Grable’s death in 1973.
In 1945 she finally persuaded Zanuck to cast her in a drama titled Fallen Angel. However, after seeing most of her scenes cut out of the film in favor of rising star Linda Darnell she walked out of her contract. Zanuck responded by blackballing her from Hollywood. Faye instead devoted her time to raising her daughters and starring with her husband on the popular Alice Faye-Phil Harris Show, which ran from 1948 to 1954. The couple also did a NBC radio show called Fitch Bandwagon from 1946 to 1948.
She returned to the Fox studio in 1962 for the film State Fair. The movie did very poorly and Faye was disappointed with how Hollywood had changed. “I don’t know what happened to the picture business," she said. "I’m sorry I went back to find out. Such a shame.” Her last film was The Magic of Lassie in 1978, where she starred opposite Jimmy Stewart.
Faye was very busy in her later years. She made numerous television appearances, including documentaries about Hollywood's golden age. She toured nationally in the Broadway musical Good News. She was also the spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and wrote a self help book titled “Growing Older, Staying Younger.”
Faye died of cancer on May 9, 1998. She was 83. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- George White’s Scandals (1934)
- Now I’ll Tell (1934)
- She Learned About Sailors (1934)
- 365 Nights in Hollywood (1934)
- George White’s 1935 Scandals, (1935)
- Every Night at Eight (1935)
- Music is Magic,(1935)
- King of Burlesque (1935)
- Now I’ll Tell (1934)
- Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)
- Sing, Baby Sing (1936)
- Stowaway (1936)
- On The Avenue (1937)
- Wake Up And Live (1937)
- You Can't Have Everything (1937)
- You're A Sweetheart (1937)
- Sally, Irene And Mary (1937)
- In Old Chicago (1938)
- Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
- Tail Spin (1938)
- Rose Of Washington Square (1939)
- Hollywood Cavalcade (1939)
- Barricade (1939)
- Little Old New York (1940)
- Lillian Russell (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 (1943)
- Four Jills In A Jeep (1944)
- Fallen Angel (1945)
- State Fair (1962)
- Won Ton Ton (The Dog Who Saved Hollywood) (1977)
- Every Girl Should Have One (1977)
- The Magic Of Lassie (1978)
- Filmography and more: www.alicefaye.com