Faylen and Hughes (Frank Faylen and Carol Hughes)

Faylen and Hughes was a mid-west vaudeville act from the late 1920s through 1935. The team were a married couple: Carol Hughes (Catherine Hukill, 1910-1995) and Frank Faylen (Charles Ruf, 1905-1985). It was essentially a Dumb Dora act, with Hughes as the nitwit female, and Faylen as the straight man. In vaudeville they were minor, but they both became relatively successful, separately, in Hollywood (though they remained a couple). So we treat of them today.

Chicago born Catherine Hukill started singing, dancing and playing the piano as a kid, and was already appearing in musical comedies in Oshkosh, Wisconsin by age 14. At 15, she took the stage name Katie Conway and joined a singing act act called the Conway Sisters. It was a couple of years later that she met up with Faylen and formed a double act with him, changing her pseudonym to Kitty Hughes. They were married in 1928.

In 1935, the pair moved to Hollywood to try their luck. They had some! Hughes’ first screen job was as a chorus girl in George White’s 1935 Scandals. For almost two decades she would alternate roles big and small, female leads to extra roles and bit parts, major movies and B pictures. Early on she was in the musicals The Singing Kid (1936), Stage Struck (1936), and Ready Willing and Able (1937). Her comedies included Earthworm Tractors and Polo Joe, both 1936 with Joe E. Brown; George Abbott’s Three Men on a Horse (1936) with Frank McHugh; The Day the Bookies Wept (1939) with Joe Penner; Ship Ahoy (1942) with Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell; The Naughty Nineties (1945) with Abbott and Costello;  and Blondie Knows Best (1946).

Hughes attained her greatest fame starring in western and adventure B pictures, including several musical westerns with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the late 1930s and ’40s, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) in the female lead of Dale Arden opposite Buster Crabbe; and the 1945 serial Jungle Raiders.

She was also a bit player in major films, such as The Women (1939), The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947), Mighty Joe Young (1949), the noir classic D.O.A. (1949), and Scaramouche (1952). Her last films were a series of comedy shorts for RKO starring Gil Lamb. Her last credits were in 1953.

At this stage Hughes concentrated on her family. Their oldest daughter, Kay (b. 1929) would become the first wife of Regis Philbin. Their second daughter, the much younger Carol (b. 1948) was a child star who appeared on Leave it to Beaver and The Bing Crosby Show.

Frank Faylen was second generation vaudeville and actually grew up on a show boat. By contrast with Hughes, Faylen was mostly a bit player and extra in Hollywood, although in the end he may have higher name recognition because he played Dobie’s father on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63). Of his over 200 film credits some notable ones include Gold Diggers of 1937, Idiot’s Delight (1939), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), They Drive By Night (1940), No Time for Comedy (1940), Sergeant York (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Maisie Gets Her Man (1942), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), Nazty Nuisance (1943), The Canterville Ghost (1944), Lost Weekend (1945), The Blue Dahlia (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Perils of Pauline (1947), My Favorite Spy (1951), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and Funny Girl (1968). His last credit is a 1978 episode of Quincy. 

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,