Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alice White - Showgirl In Hollywood

I have mentioned Alice White several times before in my posts, so I think it's about time she had her own entry. Alice was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1904 (some sources say she was born in 1907). Still a child when her mother died she moved to Hollywood to live with her grandmother. After college she started to work as a secretary and occasional script girl in different productions. I guess it was a job like any other. Most people living in Hollywood worked in the movie business at this time and still does. One could easily say the movie studios in Hollywood were like the steel mills or textile factories of other towns.

Alice got lucky to work as a script supervisor for well known director Josef von Sternberg in the 1926 movie A Woman Of The Sea, made for Charles Chaplin Productions. Von Sternberg eventually fired her and sent her back to the office. According to von Sternberg she wasn't serious enough for the job. I guess it was because of this incident she was sent in to have a talk with Chaplin himself. Chaplin who had a soft spot for young perky girls liked her style and thought she would do better in front of the camera than behind. Chaplin pulled some strings and got her to do bit parts in different productions starting with The Sea Tiger for First National Pictures in 1927.

In her seventh film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), made for Paramount she finally got a leading role. This got her a real contract with First National who had decided they needed an "it-girl" of their own. The choice fell on Alice who indeed had much of Clara Bow's youthful pep but perhaps a little less of the "it". However, Alice's career didn't really want to take off in the silent world. Perhaps she wasn't a very good actress but she definitely had something. When Warner Bros bought the control of First National in September 1928 they decided to make Alice a talkie star. Her 15th picture, Hot Stuff (1929) was a part talkie and the 16th, Broadway Babies became her first 100% talkie. Alice White had finally found the missing part of her jigsaw puzzle. As Clara Bow's star fell with the advent of the talkies, Alice White's started to rise.

Broadway Babies was a smash! It tells the story of the "three Broadway musketeers" trying to break into showbusiness. While Alice is more interested in the showbusiness part, her two musketeer friends, played by Marion Byron and Sally Eilers, are only in it to nab rich boyfriends. Alice eventually gets her break, a wealthy potential lover and bootlegger, but naturally she also have a real sweetheart waiting in the wings. Alice finally admits her love for her sweetheart to the wealthy bootlegger, and having a big heart he releases her, clearing the way for a happy ending. Let's take a look at Alice White strutting her stuff in the final number in Broadway Babies, The song is called Broadway Baby Dolls and was written by George W. Meyer and Al Bryan:



Alice's next big musical was Showgirl In Hollywood which I have shown a clip from in my post about the static talkie. It tells the story of Dixie Dugan a Broadway showgirl who is lured to Hollywood by the empty promises of a pompous film director. Well in Hollywood she meets and becomes friends with Donny Harris (played by Blanche Sweet), a once popular film star. Dixie finally gets her break but ruins Donny's chances for a comeback. Devastated, Donnie attempts suicide but is saved. Dixie realizes her selfishness and convinces the studio bosses to "go on with the picture", for Donny's sake. Showgirl In Hollywood is in many ways a remarkable picture. It was adapted from two quite risqué novels written by J.P. McEvoy. Show Girl (1928) and Showgirl In Hollywood (1929). It was the first all talking movie which actually showed what it was like to make a talkie rather than a stage production.

With the sucess of the movie the McEvoy novel was turned into a comic strip where Dixie Dugan was modeled after Alice White's character in the movie but with Louise Brooks' hair style. The comic strip was to bacome the most well known version of the Dixie Dugan character.
Let's take a look at the final number from Showgirl In Hollywood, a sequence originally filmed in Technicolor. The clip is also interesting as it features cameo appearences from several big Warner stars of 1930. The song is Hang On To A Rainbow written by Sam H. Stept and Bud Green. Being a no expences saved movie it was decided Alice White's singing voice wasn't good enough for this picture. Therefore she was dubbed by Belle Mann, a house vocalist at Victor who did quite a few recordings with the Ben Pollack Orchestra.



Alice continued to make sucsessful talkies until 1933 when she was victim to a tabloid press scandal having alleged affairs with two men at the same time, her then boyfriend, actor Jack Warburton, and her future husband Sy Bartlett. She made occasional movie appearances until the late fifties but her days as a movie star were then long gone. Alice White left us in 1983.

Fellow blogger Jeff Cohen of The Vitaphone Varieties once described Alice White like this: "From this vantage point --- so distant to 1929, perhaps the most enjoyment that can be had in watching Alice White in her surviving early talkies is that she's so utterly unlike the vast majority of her peers. There's neither forced raucous demeanor, nor transparent attempts to appear cultured and refined that just come across as creepy --- no, she's simply herself: good, bad or indifferent. Mostly indifferent. Never seeming to quite connect with her surroundings or co-stars, or even fully understanding the lines she's speaking for that matter, Alice White defies the odds and manages to charm rather than repulse or dismay, and that's no small feat."

8 comments:

Maura said...

Great post and wonderful blog! I’m a huge fan of Alice. So far I’ve only been able to see her in Employees Entrance and Picture Snatcher; I’ve had absolutely no luck finding any of her starring vehicles but they sound like lots of fun.

KING OF JAZZ said...

I was curious about Alice White some years ago and I did some research at Lincoln Center in New York City, and her folder of clippings was a bittersweet snapshot of her career. Long after her stardom ended, she's pictured at a 1940s pier, looking forward to more roles, but at best they were uncredited bits.

Then there was one last article from the late '50s which showed a much older White; it was less about her former stardom than about her playing cards with friends, from what I recall! The next clipping was an obit.

Still, we have those film clips. :)

retroliving said...

Amazing post, I never knew much about Alice untill now.
♥Darla

Raquelle said...

All I can say is that this is an awesome post! I'm at a loss for words. Thank you Jonas.

~Raquelle~ <-- your biggest fan.

Jonas Nordin said...

Thank you all!
Sadly none of Alice White's movies are publicly available today.

kittypackard said...

When I look at Alice White, I see Clara Bow and Marion Davies—anyone else with me on this?

Thank you very much indeed for this glimpse into the life of this all but forgotten star. As always, your posts are enlightening and a total joy to read!

(And you were right about Hollywood: at the end of the day, it’s just another factory town like Detroit or Scranton, home to the legions of 9 to 5 factory workers.)

Keith said...

Great pictures and clips. I don't really know much about Alice, so I really enjoyed this post. Cheers!

patrick said...

Watching JIMMY THE GENT now and she certainly caught my eye. Looked her up and enjoyed your blog. Thank you.

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