A good day for lady comedians! Today is also the birthday of Lyda Roberti (1906-1938). Born into a Warsaw circus family she began as a trapeze artist and singer in music halls, touring throughout Europe and Asia. In the late 20s, she moved to the U.S. and began singing in night clubs. This led to Broadway, where she featured in three shows: You Said It (1931), Pardon My English (1933), and Roberta (1934). Her beauty, talent and funny accent made her highly castable, so Hollywood too was inevitable. She is memorable in such films as Million Dollar Legs with W.C. Fields (1932), The Kid from Spain with Eddie Cantor (1932), George White’s 1935 Scandals, and The Big Broadcast of 1936. In 1936, she was also Thelma Todd’s replacement in the last iteration of Hal Roach’s ill-fated all-female comedy team (the line up had gone: Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts, Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly, then Patsy Kelly and Lyda Roberti). Unfortunately, Roberti had a fatally weak heart. She had already retired from show business for health reasons when her heart condition killed her in 1938 at the age of 32.
Here she is in her classic turn as the beautiful spy Matta Machree in Joseph Mankiewics’s hilarious nut comedy Million Dollar Legs:
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc