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Alice Faye, ‘30s Musicals Star, Dies

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Alice Faye, whose lilting songs, blond beauty and sunny personality brightened 20th Century Fox musicals of the 1930s and ‘40s, died Saturday. She was 83.

Faye died at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where she underwent surgery last month for the removal of two tumors, according to her publicity company, Jewel Baxter.

Nursing supervisor Debbie Lutzow confirmed the actress’ death but would provide no further details.

Faye’s daughters, Alice Regan and Phyllis Harris, were at her bedside when she died, the statement said.

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The actress reigned as the queen of the Fox lot from 1935 to 1944, starring in such films as “Sing, Baby, Sing,” “In Old Chicago,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Tin Pan Alley.”

During World War II, pinup beauty Betty Grable became the favorite of studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, and Faye retired from films.

She remained active in radio, starring with her bandleader husband on the successful “Alice Faye-Phil Harris Show.” She returned to Fox in 1962 for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “State Fair” and later toured in “Good News” with former co-stars John Payne and Don Ameche.

In a 1990 interview, she recalled the era of glittering musicals:

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“It was great, it was glamorous, it was wonderful. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it, but when I do, it was lovely.

“I have great memories--of the working people, wonderful stars like Don Ameche, John Payne, Tyrone Power, Jack Oakie, Jack Haley, on and on. We had so much fun, we really did. They don’t seem to have that kind of fun today.”

The actress was born Alice Jeanne Leppert on May 5, 1915 (some sources say 1912), in New York City, the third child of a city policeman. As a girl, she was attracted to the theaters that were a brief walk from her home.

Looking older than her age, she applied for chorus work at 14 and was hired for the Chester Hale dancers at the Capitol Theater. She took the stage name of Faye, borrowed from the popular comedian Frank Fay.

Chorus work led to a $60-a-week job in the 1931 edition of “George White’s Scandals,” starring Rudy Vallee, Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger. After hearing Faye’s warm, lyrical voice, Vallee persuaded producer White to give her a singing spot in the show at double her salary.

Vallee developed a personal and professional interest in his protegee and featured her on his radio show. In 1934, the pair starred in a movie version of “George White’s Scandals” at Fox. The film’s success brought Faye a seven-year contract.

With successes like “On the Avenue,” “Wake Up and Live” and “Sally, Irene and Mary,” Faye became a top box-office draw. She chafed at being pressed into one mindless musical after another.

In 1939, the nation’s theater owners voted her the No. 1 box office star, and she continued her success with “Rose of Washington Square,” “Hollywood Cavalcade,” a rare nonmusical in which she played a silent movie queen, “Lillian Russell,” “That Night in Rio,” “Weekend in Havana” and “Hello Frisco, Hello.”

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Among the songs she introduced: “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “This Year’s Kisses,” “You’re a Sweetheart” and her biggest hit, “You’ll Never Know.”

In 1936, Faye married singer Tony Martin. They were divorced in 1940. That year she renewed an acquaintance with Harris, the rambunctious bandleader on the Jack Benny radio show. They were married in 1941; they had two daughters.

For many years, Faye and Harris maintained their home in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. He died in August 1995 at age 89.

In addition to her daughters, Faye is survived by four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending, the publicist’s statement said.


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