Today is the birthday of Alice White (Alva White, 1904-1983). Though her mother had been a showgirl, White was one of those who fell into the business as a non-actor, working first as a secretary for Von Sternberg and Chaplin. She began getting roles in films in 1927 (when films were still silent). The most famous of these was the original 1928 version of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, in which she played Dorothy, the friend of Lorelei Lee. Her biggest period was the first two years of sound (1930-1931) — this despite the fact that she couldn’t really talk or sing (though she was A-OK in the hot-cha-cha department). See here for the Mad Marchioness’s impeccable assessment of her in Show Girl in Hollywood, which we caught at Film Forum a few years ago.
In 1931 she took some time off from films to work on her performing chops on the vaudeville circuits.
She returned to Hollywood in 1933. (Among the films she did that year was the terrific Employees’ Entrance starring one of my favorite cads Warren William). But she was immediately beset by a scandal involving her in a love triangle with two different men, which ended up thwarting her career. The pictures after this were minor ones, and her roles got progressively smaller, though she worked steadily through 1942. After a 7 year gap she got one last movie credit in 1949’s Flamingo Road.
To find out more 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.