The Various Permutations of The Lane Sisters


Today is the birthday of Rosemary Lane (Rosemary Mullican, 1913-1974), one of a brood of performing sisters  known as the Lane Sisters. Writing about them is a bit of a tangle, as they all had separate solo careers in addition to working together, and the line up in the group changed over time, but I shall make the attempt.

Five daughters were born to dentist Lorenzo Mullican: Leotabel (Leota), Martha, Dorothy (Lola),  Rosemary and Priscilla. Martha was the only one who did not perform or join the act. The girls were raised in Indianola, Iowa and encouraged to sing and learn musical instruments by their mother, a frustrated performer. Lola is said to have played piano in a local movie house by the time she was 12.

The older two girls got their start in Gus Edwards’ vaudeville act , and later appeared in the Greenwich Village Follies. Edwards was the one who changed their professional name to Lane. The two older girls began to get parts in Broadway shows in 1928 and 1929. Lola would prove to be the more successful; she went to Hollywood and began to get cast in films in 1929. Leota’s career would proved to lag far behind those of the other three.

The younger two sisters made their professional debut in 1930 as part of the vaudeville show accompanying a film Lola was appearing in called Good News, at the Paramount Theater in Des Moines. By 1932, the mother had moved to New York with the younger daughters and gotten them jobs singing with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. The girls’ parents divorced the following year. Rosemary and Priscilla appeared regularly on Waring’s radio show, becoming stars in their own right. Soon they were signed to movie contracts, even as their older sister Lola continued to act in films. This culminated in a projected vehicle for the four of them. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t think much of the acting ability of the oldest sister Leota, so her part was played by the actress Gale Page. Page and the Lane Sisters appeared together in three movies: Four Daughters (1938), Four Wives (1939), and Four Mothers (1941).

As for their separate lives and careers:

Priscilla Lane, a gifted comedienne, would prove the biggest movie star. Her career, which lasted from 1937 to 1948, included leading roles in such well known films as Alfred Hitchock’s Saboteur (1942), Jack Benny’s The Meanest Man in the World (1943), and Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). She ended her film career on a high note with the gritty noir film Bodyguard (1948).

Rosemary Lane’s film career was not negligible either. She starred in over two dozen movies, including Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), The Oklahoma Kid (1939) and The Boys from Syracuse (1940). Her last film was Sing Me a Song of Texas (1945). 

Lola Lane married five times. Her famous husbands included Lew Ayers and Roland West. Her film career lasted from 1929 through 1946. She starred in dozens of movies, mostly B pictures. She is best known for having played the pin-up character of Torchy Blane, and for having inspired the character of Superman’s Lois Lane. Her last film was Deadline at Dawn, penned by Clifford Odets

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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