by Frank T. Farrell
HOW ONE LONELY RODENT CAUSED AN AVALANCHE OF ACCUSATIONS AND NOW ALICE FAYE TELLS WHY
FIVE HUNDRED drinking, smoking, talking men and women jammed in the Perroquet Suite of the Waldorf-Astoria. Movie critics, trade paper reporters, editors, sob sisters, magazine writers, columnists, people from the censor boards, movie executives, flunkies, phonies—they were all having a jolly time of it, working up their appetites on Darryl F. Zanuck’s free liquor.
It was one of those super-colossal Hollywood cocktail parties for which, by some weird paradox, everybody turned out, even the guests who were invited. What is more, everyone displayed strange symptoms of being anxious to meet the stellar guests of honor, a pair of compellingly popular young people named Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, whose future on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot seemed magnificent. It was three years ago.
Tyrone Power was forty-five minutes late. For a half-hour of that time Alice Faye trembled and paced the floor in a nearby room. She downed several glasses of champagne, but it gave her no courage, no warmth. The thought of marching into that army and captivating it froze her. She tore her handkerchief to shreds in emotion.
“I can’t do it. I just can’t do it,” she whispered helplessly, when a studio press representative told her to buck up, that it would be easy once she set her foot inside the suite, that merely her presence would make worshippers of them all.
Finally she squared her shoulders and did it. She met them all. They toasted to her beauty and success. Some there were who actually slapped her on the back. And before Tyrone Power arrived she had taken over her army.
Her triumph was not long in flourishing, however. A lowly little mouse upset all the major strategy, a canape-eating Waldorf mouse who joined the party and seemed mighty desirous of meeting a star. For, when Miss Faye happened to turn slightly from one of the groups of newspaper people with whom she was conversing, there on the floor a few feet from her was the rodent.
No expert would be required to predict what almost any other actress in the same circumstances would do, but Miss Faye obviously is made of different stuff. In the height of good humor she pointed to the little rascal and remarked:
“I haven’t met that one.”
Since that day New York’s press is made up of two schools of thought, according to Miss Faye, those who construed her jest to be a personal insult, and those who thought it as funny as she meant it to be. And since that day she has avoided both schools for fear of saying the wrong thing again. She has not consented to a personal interview in two years.
Call her the most misunderstood woman in Hollywood. Advise her that hordes of people consider her strange shyness to be pure, unadulterated Tenth Avenue snobbishness. Insist that she could have the world at her feet, if only she would receive its ambassadors and let them know what she is really like—and Alice Faye will shrug her pretty shoulders, sigh and sum it up:
“What’s the use? I’ve learned not to plan, not to count on things.”
She gazed out the window of the Sherry-Netherlands’ cocktail balcony. She wore a smartly cut black dress with white lace at the neck. Her little black hat and veil left just enough platinum hair and Alice Faye showing, and set off her watery blue eyes and the extravagant star sapphire pendant which her husband, Tony Martin, had given her for Christmas. Underneath the table she nervously tugged and twisted her handkerchief.
“It’s no use,” she confided in this exclusive interview with Modern Screen. “Every time I try to plan things at the studio so that I can get together somewhere with Tony for a week, things get all messed up and immediately there’s a flood of divorce rumors in the papers. And every time I head for New York, I vow that I’ll get no cold. Invariably, I wind up with something just this side of pneumonia.
“I don’t know what the New York writers have against me, but I’ll bet you if I made all sorts of plans to convince them that I am a nice person I’d probably still say the wrong thing. Either that or I’d go hysterical with this terrific inferiority complex. No, I’ve made a lot of plans in my time, but they’ve never worked out.”
She recalled the day she took it on the lam from Manhattan’s P. S. 84. She had absorbed all the arithmetic she could stand and was committing a sin known to all young spitball hurlers as “playing hookey.” The truant officer searched all the haunts of Manhattan’s roughneck West Side, but he never thought of looking for her on the stage of the Capitol Theater, which is where she had landed.
“I had it in my blood, I guess,” she says. “I wanted to be on the stage. I didn’t care how I got there or what I did after I got there, just as long as I was on it. Well, Chester Hale needed dancing girls, and there I was.
“From this simple, pointless, thirteen-year-old start Alice Faye soared to her present heights as one of Hollywood’s first ten attractions.
She didn’t climb. She didn’t plan. Things just happened—and she soared.
She worked at the Capitol for about two years; then she passed through the night club stages to become a chorine in George White’s Scandals.
“I was in Atlantic City when it opened. Let’s see, there was quite a cast; Willie and Eugene Howard, Everett Marshall, Ethel Merman, Rudy Vallee . .
“I’ve never told anyone how I first shifted from dancing to singing. It was all by accident. Rudy Vallee’s lawyer, Hymie Bushel, gave a party for the cast when we came to New York. He had just bought one of those home-recording machines, and he made records of every girl at the party singing a song. When he played the records back Rudy was listening. One of them interested him above all the others. It was mine.
“So I took voice lessons and joined the Vallee band at the Hollywood Restaurant and sang on the air. After that Rudy took me to Hollywood with the band to make a picture of the Scandals. It was Rudy who arranged for me to sing ‘Nasty Man.’ Then I was offered a movie contract by Mr. Zanuck, and I don’t know any man who would have done what Rudy did. He tore up my contract with him so that I could sign one with Twentieth Century-Fox and he wished me all the luck in the world.”
It is ironic and it sort of illustrates Miss Faye’s no-plan philosophy, that while Rudy Vallee strove and spent fortunes trying to be a movie actor, the little songstress in his band slid into the industry’s top brackets.
At first Hollywood cast her almost solely in singing roles, but Miss Faye has come a long way since then. Her films provide plenty of evidence of her acting worth and of the long hours she has spent under the kliegs. And if you don’t think Mr. Zanuck got his money back on his investment, then the poll for the biggest box-office money-making stars of 1939 is wasted paper, because it places Miss Faye seventh.
Though an Academy “Oscar” seems nowhere within Miss Faye’s reach at the moment, she blandly admits that she would like to win one some time, if it were only to prove to her own quiet satisfaction that she can act and that the happenings of the last few years are not a dream.
All this reads like such a rapid, easy and early success. Dispel the impression. Think of a cute little Tenth Avenue kid with a lot of talent. All Tenth Avenue kids with talent seem to have a lot of relatives, particularly when they are making money, and Alice Faye is no exception. It would take a comptometer to figure out the “pals” who climbed aboard her starwagon for a free ride when Miss Faye started toward success. And it took a lot of work to feed them.
“I want to be successful,” she declares. “Perhaps it’s because I want to submerge this shyness. Or maybe it’s because I like to work. But I never mind it greatly when my vacation plans are killed, as they always are. When Mr. Zanuck calls me for a picture I am all on edge and bubbling over with gratitude. I feel that the only way I can thank him is to plunge into the part and work like a ditch-digger to make good.”
She has made good, and apparently taken care of all her “pals” because, to date, blackmail seems to be the one misery Alice Faye has been spared. She has been hit by swinging booms and falling lamps in the making of pictures. She has had ptomaine poisoning, la grippe, nervous indigestion, influenza, and falls down staircases, and has taken her banging around on the lot with patient resignation.
“You see, there isn’t much that anybody can do to me that will really matter, so much has happened already,” Miss Faye reminds, though she will admit without any reluctance that a certain New York movie critic can get her as “mad as all hell.”
“I don’t know what he has against me —unless he was there the day I spotted the mouse. Anyway, I’d like to meet him some time.”
She says she ducked the parties at the studio this year in order to be with her husband, who was working in New York. It was the longest stretch they had had together since their marriage in 1937, and the way they made eyes at one another on their few prowls in the night clubs ought to cancel divorce rumors for some time to come.
“It was a swell trip this time, except that I got the usual cold. But it served as a good excuse to stay home and rest. We don’t have much of a married life, I guess, the way things on both of our schedules get jammed up, but every now and then we have a real time of it together.
Despite her isolation both in New York and in Hollywood, it is considered selfimposed and unimportant at the studio. Other stars love to pass the time of day with her, and among the minor characters at the studio she is nothing short of a goddess.
She was pleased with the prospect of getting back to work the day she left New York. The weather was bad here, but on top of that there is always the friendly nonsense around the studio, at which she is rather adept. She still has a score to settle with Don Ameche. It started a few months back with his perfuming her dressing room with garlic-split and rubbed on the walls and furniture.
“Then, too, there is always the refreshing thought of getting up at five again every morning. “Ah,” she sighs in mock delight. “Ah, and getting my hair done every morning before nine. And then rushing into the arms of some leading man for a terrific love scene at nine in the morning. Ah nuts. There are times when I’ve sat back and wondered what life might have been if I had finished school and taken up typing. How simple everything would have been.”
“No reporters, no getting fitted for corsets for Lillian Russell until you choke and your eyes pop out, no autograph hunters. . . . Ooogod!”
Something occurred to Miss Faye quite suddenly. She remembered that her maid had sat up at the window the night before when Nancy Kelly, who also stops at the Sherry-Netherlands, was coming home. It was freezing, but Miss Kelly obliged about fifty autograph collectors.
“I guess I’d better get my little pencil and go out on the corner and do my bit for Twentieth Century-Fox,” was her parting shot.