Today we celebrate Frances Williams (1901-1959) (not to be confused with African American actress, activist and produced Frances E. Williams, whom we plan to write about in future.)
This Francis Williams was born Frances Jellinek in St. Paul, Minnesota and began performing as a teenager, initially as part of a troupe of acrobats. But she also sang and danced, not only in vaudeville, but also Broadway and films. Her 20 Broadway appearances included The Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanuts (1925); George White’s Scandals of 1926, 1928 and 1929; Simple Simon (1931) with Ed Wynn; Everybody’s Welcome (1932, in which she introduced the song “As Time Goes By”); Life Begins at 8:40 (1934) with Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger; the Group Theatre’s Gold Eagle Guy (1934); and Bright Lights of 1944. In her downtime she played vaudeville, including headline appearances at the Palace in the early 1930s. During this time she was also a handful of films: a 1930 short called Let’s Stay Single; the all-star Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933); Hollywood Party (1934) and Shoes with Rhythm (1937). She made some scattered TV appearances in the early 1950s, but by 1956 she had become afflicted with the cancer which took her three years later.
To learn more about vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.