Lillian Roth at 67
Today is the birthday of Star of Vaudeville # 91: Lillian Roth (1910-1980) (for more on her and her vaudeville beginnings go here). I’ve seen more of her films since my earlier posts — I have to say she is one of the most charming starlets ever to be in pictures. Reasonably talented, too, but her charm truly sells it. Unfortunately, starting with her 1954 autobiography I’ll Cry Tomorrow and the campy melodramatic film version the following year starring Susan Hayward, all the attention she got going forward was related to her alcohol problem. Roth was one of the first Hollywood people to go public as an alcoholic. And she wasn’t just a drunk – -when she bottomed out it was all the way down (use your imagination). Still, she was and always will be a star.
The attached interview, from 1977, is atrocious. At one point, interviewer Bill Boggs quips that a nurse who introduced Roth to booze should be sued for “ex post facto malpractice”, though the purpose it had been used for was a legitimate one. On the other hand, Boggs DEFINITELY should be sued for malpractice for conducting such a shoddy, craven interview, ghoulishly dwelling on only the negative aspects of Roth’s life, probing her wounds with a dull scalpel. At one point he asks her, “Do you have any friends?” It isn’t until 10 minutes into the 18 minute interview that we hear anything good about her wonderful career – - a 30 second tour through her scrapbook, before we return to another 7 minutes on her substance abuse. The main reason I enjoy watching this clip, is that every ounce of her charm (and confidence apparently) is still there. Roth sits there and absorbs this hideous drubbing on live New York television and treats it like so much…attention. Well, there you go. It’s a crazy business we’re in. We’re putting the camera at substance abusers more than ever for entertainment these days. How much better to point them at singers, dancers, actors, and comedians.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.