by Ida Zeitlin
Have doting friends and an adoring family spoiled Alice Faye? Whatever you thought, think again—then read the intimate story of this bright star
ALL RIGHT, some day you’ll be begging me to go dancing with you, and then I’ll say no.” With which twelve-year-old Alice flounced out of the room.
Her big brother Bill grinned as he went on brushing his hair. Alice would have been gratified to hear him murmur, “You’re probably right at that.” He stopped in the living-room long enough to kiss his mother good-night. “S’long. kid,” he added. “Five years from now we’ve got a date.”
She grimaced at him. “Alice!” Mrs. Faye reproved her mildly, “you know you’re too young to go to grownup dances.”
“Well, some day I won’t be too young,” hinted Alice darkly, “and then we’ll see.”
She was the baby and the only girl in the family, so the Fayes doted on her, her parents openly, Bill and Charlie masking their secret pride behind the orthodox elderbrotherly attitude toward kid sisters. The family circle revolved around her. She was pretty and spirited and had a passion for dancing. She. danced in school plays and for her mother’s visitors and in front of the mirror for her own delectation. As if by intuition, she picked up the latest steps while they were still only rumors to most people, and was doing the Charleston well before the world realized it was anything but a city in South Carolina.
Through her gayety ran a strain of intensity, both of which she has carried into later life. Where her work is concerned, lightheartedness forsakes her. She throws herself into it with an absorption that shuts out everything else. She worries as furiously as she works. She’s always sure she’s done a job badly till she starts the next job, and so has something else to worry about. Not all her success has broken her of this habit. “And we all have to worry with her,” grins brother Bill.
It was in this spirit that she threw herself into her dancing, for as a child in hair-ribbons she had no doubt that dancing was to be her career. Broadway fascinated her. She would get her mother to walk along that fantastic thoroughfare with her and, pointing to some name that glittered over a theatre marquee, she would say, “Some day you’ll see my name there. Now come round the corner and I’ll show you how I’ll look.” They’d turn into a side street, and Alice would hide in the dark doorway of a stage entrance. Then she’d come mincing out, holding an imaginary train high, clutching a non-existent ermine wrap at her throat, very haughty till she caught sight of her mother. Then she’d extend an elegant hand, wrist drooping. “Why, howja do, Mrs. Faye. I’m Alice.
Remember me?” And the star would break into giggles.
She was never much of a child for toys, but her father found he could delight her heart by bringing her flowers and candy. “Does Miss Faye, the dancer, live here?” he’d inquire, poking his nose in at the door. “We’re expecting her back from the theatre any minute,” Alice would reply in a high-pitched voice and her own idea of a French accent. “I am her maid.” She’d leave the room with the flowers, arrange them in a vase, and return in her own person. “It was so charming of you to send me those posies, Mr. Faye,” she would chirp, before plunking herself on his knee for a hug.
The greatest thrill he could give her was a taxi ride. He had relatives living near Woodlawn, whom they’d visit together. Then they’d take the subway, get out at 72nd Street and Broadway, hail a taxi and drive home in style. “It’s not the ride I’m so crazy about,” she explained, “although that’s nice too. But the best part is standing there at the corner, and holding your finger up, and having the driver open the door for you to get in and out. That’s how a queen must feel, don’t you think so, Dad?”
Her parents wanted her to go to high school and she agreed, though she felt, at fourteen, that it was a pity to delay her career any longer. She insisted, however, that she was going to look for a summer job before entering high school in the fall. The idea rather alarmed her parents, but they didn’t forbid it, the truth being that they could deny their darling nothing. She penetrated the offices of two or three managers, and was told to run home and play with her dolls. “Even when I was young enough to play with them,” sniffed Alice, “I didn’t.” One day she flew into the house to announce that she’d landed a job with a Chester Hale dancing unit that was being sent out to Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh.
That ended high school, so far as Alice was concerned. Having edged her way into show business, she was taking no chances on being edged out again. The successive steps in her conquest of that business, a conquest which has just placed her among the first ten box-office stars in Hollywood, are already well known. Alice went from the chorus to a night club and then to George White’s Scandals, where she met Rudy Vallee and, through him, his attorney, Hymie Buschel. At a party at Buschel’s, as a gag, he asked Alice to sing for his home recording machine. He managed to communicate his real enthusiasm over her voice to Vallee.
It was the time when popular orchestras were beginning to use girl singers, and Rudy asked Alice to sing with the Connecticut Yankees. She shook with fright beforehand, and collapsed into a state of shivering ‘reaction afterward, but none of this was apparent in her performance. Rudy wanted her on his radio program, but couldn’t convince either his sponsors or the producer of the show that they wanted her too. So he took matters into his own hands and presented her without benefit of authority. Her first appearance brought an avalanche of approving letters, and a somewhat bewildered girl who loved to dance found that she’d been elected by the great American public to sing instead.
The Fayes were a clannish tribe, and Alice’s leap into the limelight served only to emphasize their closeness. She was always bringing the gang home to stay with her, and there were generally more girls in the house than the house could hold. But Mrs. Faye managed to stow them away somehow. She traveled with Alice whenever she could. When the troupe was playing the New York theatres, one of her brothers would be waiting at the close of the show to take Alice home. On every opening night, she would find in her dressing-room a box of flowers from her father to his “favorite actress,” and as she came out for her first number, she’d smile and wrinkle her nose at him where he sat. openly adoring her, in the first row.
Bill was a teller in a bank. He was hanging to a subway strap on his way home one evening when the man beside him opened his newspaper. “Rudy Vallee and Singer Injured in Auto Smashup,” read Bill. At first the words didn’t register Then Bill felt himself engulfed in a sudden sick wave of apprehension. The Vallee company was playing a series of small towns along the Atlantic seaboard. They had only one singer with them. When the wave of shock had receded, he found he was clutching the strap with both hands to steady himself.
The speeding train became a crawling caterpillar. But the caterpillar finally reached his destination and Bill’s legs, though they shook, carried him home. He found his mother calm. “They phoned me and said Alice was all right,” she told him. “Just a little bunged up.”
The car had skidded on a wet road, gone into a ditch and turned over. Alice was thrown out. Luckily, the window was open. Luckily, she’d landed in soft mud. Luckily, the car had just missed her. The local doctor had patched her up and she’d been put on an early milk train for New York.
With all this luck, the Fayes weren’t quite prepared for what followed. They were at the hospital when Alice arrived, but only her mother was allowed to go in to her. She found the girl swathed in bandages from head to foot, her face and body a mass of cuts and bruises. A back injury had not yet been definitely diagnosed. She lay there and said not a word. Only her eyes pleaded somberly for the reassurances which Mrs. Faye gave while her own heart was wrung with the need for these same reassurances.
WHAT Alice suffered during that period left its ineffaceable mark on her. Her body healed, but for weeks the doctors couldn’t be sure whether or not her face would be disfigured. To any girl at the outset of life such a prospect would be appalling. To Alice it spelled tragedy. She lay there, and saw the whole bright structure she had built collapsing under her. In a few short years she had achieved her beloved Broadway and the peak of her dreams. She was very young to be faced with the realization that in one brief mo-
ment all this could be snatched from her.
The last bandage was removed to reveal a small, hardly perceptible scar over the eye. Her worst fears had proved groundless. Which didn’t minimize the poignancy of the emotional experience she had gone though as she lay staring disaster in the face. Her sense of values was crystallized. She clung still more closely to the one thing that would have remained unchanged in a shattered world—the devotion of those who loved her.
She went to Hollywood to sing one song, “Oh, You Nasty Man,” for George White’s “Scandals.” and remained to play the lead. But she wouldn’t hear of signing a long term contract. She would have no part of Hollywood permanently. She didn’t want to be in pictures. She wanted to in New York with her friends and family. To her, Hollywood was just a place three thousand miles from Broadway.
Hymie Bushel, her friend and business adviser, finally convinced her that she ought to give herself a fair trial in the movies. Her head was persuaded, but her heart wasn’t. She worked in the West, and pined miserably for the East. She practically commuted, fighting for a week here and a few days there so she could hop a plane to New York, even if she had to turn right around and hop back again. Her mother spent as much time with her as she could. She encouraged her brother Charlie to come out and get himself a job, which he did. Her father, who had been in the hospital supply business for years, turned a deaf ear to her pleas, for once. He had his own work to do. He couldn’t give it up to sit idle in Hollywood.
THIS state of affairs went on for three years. But with “Sing, Baby, Sing” and “On the Avenue,” a change began coming over Alice’s spirit. She realized that the studio was seriously interested in advancing her career, which acted as a spur to her own interest. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her work, which meant that everything else, including Broadway, was shut out for the time being. She began to wonder whether the others hadn’t been right and she herself wrong about Hollywood from the start.
In that case, it became more important than ever to get her family out. She hadn’t been able to move her father yet, but she tackled brother Bill when he arrived on a vacation visit. Alice told Bill, “I’ve been in the business long enough that I know I can stick. I want all of you with me.”
This was only heightened when Tony Martin came into the picture. She knew that her family would have to approve of Tony before she consented to marry him. To ask her brother to consent to their marriage sounds like an echo from a more formal day. Yet that’s exactly what Tony did, casually as befits our casual age, but none the less earnestly. Mrs. Faye was in New York with her husband. So Tony called Bill aside at a party they were both attending.
“Alice and I want to fly to Yuma when the picture’s finished and get married. Is that okay with you?”
Bill was to have been best man at the wedding. Airplanes made him violently ill, but he saw his duty and was prepared to do it. He stood waiting at the airport with the wedding party, which included Helene Holmes, Alice’s stand-in and bridesmaid. Claude Smith, Helene’s fiance, had come to see them off. The plane taxied in. Bill’s stomach lurched, and he turned green. “Bill!” cried Alice. “Maybe you’d better not go.”
He stuffed his ticket into Claude’s hand. “You and Helene take care of the ceremony,” he said lirmly. “I’ll take care of the party tonight.”
Bride and groom had to go back to work on Monday. What with movies and radio, their schedule Was grinding. Alice would get home exhausted, and go to bed. The nightclubs saw nothing of them. Tony would golf alone on Sunday mornings, because Alice was sensible enough to use her one free d a y for resting. But the newsmongers, avid for chatter to till their columns, barely gave them a chance to get married before they began hinting at trouble.
ALICE’S quiet, good humored brother grows distinctly caustic on the subject. “When Alice went to New York for the opening of In Old Chicago,’ Tony couldn’t go with her, so they picked that up. Tony managed to get time off to fly east for the World Series, Alice didn’t, so they picked that up. These people don’t take the trouble to comment that, when Tony’s away, Alice doesn’t go out with anyone but me or old friends of the family. If they aren’t forever kissing each other for the candid cameras, there must be something wrong. Well, there isn’t,” he said tersely. “They’re happy, and there’s not a thing the Hollywood gossip hounds can do about it.”
Tony’s temperament acts as a balancewheel for his wife’s. He works hard, but when he’s through working, he forgets about it. His clowning makes Alice laugh and, for the time being, lose sight of her worries. When she’s feeling particularly low, he has one infallible remedy. He buys
her a dog. There’s room for plenty of dogs in their Beverly Hills home, and Alice feels she can’t have too many to repay her for her hitherto dogless existence.
They don’t go in much for nightclubbing or big parties, but love to have the family and a few intimates in for dinner. After dinner they may run a picture, or Alice and Tony may constitute themselves an entertainment committee of two. He’ll put on a hilarious imitation of Harry Richman and, reverting to the old days, she’ll dance as she used to dance for her mother’s visitors.
SHE’s pleased, as who wouldn’t be, to be counted among the ten top-ranking stars, but now she’ll probably worry about how to stay there. Her moments of unadulterated happiness are still those she spends with the people she loves. Since her father’s death, the family has drawn yet more closely together. Alice dines with her mother two or three nights a week. Recently Mrs. Faye decided she must learn to drive. She couldn’t be bothered waiting for one of her sons to come round and pick her up when she had a date. Alice herself doesn’t drive. On the day Mrs. Faye received her license, she found a shiny new Pontiac coupe at the door, “With love from Alice to a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
Alice phoned her brother one afternoon. “I’d like to have a talk with you tomorrow, Bill. Let’s go out to dinner and discuss things.” He called for her. As they passed “The Tropics,” she asked him to stop and come in with her for a moment, there was someone she wanted to see. In the restaurant a boy told them that some people out in the patio had been asking for them. They walked out. Fifteen or twenty people round a festive table began singing, “Happy birthday to you.” A huge streamer across the back of the patio said, “Happy birthday to Bill.” A candlelit cake in the center of the table bore the same message.
“I’d forgotten all about my birthday,” he said. “And there I stood like a fool, and there stood Alice smiling up at me. And all I could see, believe it or not, was that kid of twelve, looking up at me and saying, ‘Some day you’ll ask me to go dancing, and I’ll say no.’
“I got kind of choked up and couldn’t talk, so I just grabbed her and hugged her. She doesn’t know to this day it was more than thanks. I couldn’t tell you myself exactly what it was, but it covered a lot of territory—then and now and all the years between and everything she’s been to us all. Maybe it was just thanks at that—not for the party, but for Alice.”