Among the many actresses who sang, one of the best was the smokey-voiced Alice Faye, who for a while seemed to be in just about every colorful movie musical around. But she was the real thing, a trained singer and dancer who starred in a lot of films, even though her fierce independence might have helped contribute to a nearly two-decade lapse in her career.
Alice Jeanne Leppert was the daughter of a New York City cop and she grew up fast, working as a vaudeville chorus girl in the late 1920s when she was just 14. Within a couple of years she was calling herself Alice Faye while singing and dancing in the chorus of a Broadway show, and it was there that she was discovered by bandleader/singer Rudy Vallée, at that time a huge star. She joined his orchestra troupe and her career continued to build while she worked with him and others, on tour and in the recording studio.
A few years later Faye and Vallée co-starred in the movie version of the same Broadway show he’d discovered her in, George White’s Scandals. Over the next decade Faye was the go-to girl for just about every movie musical around, beginning with early black and white films and eventually blossoming into the lush color movies of the 1940s. Along the way she married and divorced Tony Martin, but then clicked for keeps with Phil Harris. Their marriage lasted for more than 50 years, until his death in 1995.
By the mid-1940s Faye had softened her look a little from the early ‘Jean Harlow’ style of thin eyebrows and platinum hair, and it suited her. It was at least partially helped along by advice from studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, but she began to chafe from his constant meddling and after he threatened to replace her with Betty Grable, she pretty much said goodbye to Hollywood. For almost two decades she preferred to be a wife and mother but she also found plenty to do working with her husband, especially on a popular radio show. She did make a brief comeback in the 1962 remake of State Fair, but it would be her last big role and she was pretty much satisfied with the occasional spot appearance in later years. She died at age 83 in 1998.