How Sidney Fox Wound Up in a Hole

The story of Sidney Fox (Sarah Liefer, 1907-1942) is like that of a boat that gets lifted by a tidal wave and then stranded on the beach. Born in Galicia (now Poland), she emigrated with her family to New York at age four. In early adulthood she worked as a stenographer, a secretary, a seamstress and a clothes model while trying t break into the theatre. Initially she used the stage name Sadie Fox, combining a common nickname for “Sarah” with the surname of her stepfather. Then that was tweaked to Sidney. For a time she learned the ropes by acting with a stock company in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

It Never Rains (1929-30) was Fox’s first Broadway play, followed by Lost Sheep (1930) with Cissie Loftus, in which she played a character with the prophetic name of “Rhoda Wampus”. The equally young Carl Laemmle Jr, Boy Head of production at his father’s studio Universal saw her in this and fell for her. They had an affair, and with his sponsorship, Fox became a star. Her first film Bad Sister (1931) also featured Bette Davis in her film debut and also starred Conrad Nagel, ZaSu Pitts, and Humphrey Bogart (also very early in is career). Fox was second-billed, after Nagel. That same year of 1931 she was also the female lead in Six Cylinder Love with Spencer Tracy and Edward Everett Horton, Nice Women with Alan Mowbray, and the adaptation of Preston Sturges’ Strictly Dishonorable, and was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. This is an auspicious beginning to a career.

1932 was her most prolific year, when she starred in Murders in the Rue Morgue with Bela Lugosi, The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood, The Mouthpiece with Warren William, Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime with Jack Oakie and Aline McMahon, and Afraid to Talk, a crime drama.

However, that same year she married agent Charles Beahan, and this proved perhaps to be a miscalculation, at least in terms of her career. It is probably not coincidental that without a romantic attachment to Laemmle, she immediately ceased to appear in films at Universal. Her three films in 1933, Adventures of Don Quixote, The Merry Monarch, and The Adventures of King Pausole, were all made at foreign studios. In 1934 came the independently made Midnight, and two for RKO: School for Girls, and Down to Their Last Yacht, in which she is fourth billed behind Mary Boland, Polly Moran, and Ned Sparks, but above Sidney Blackmer, Sterling Holloway, and Irene Franklin. This was her last film. Back at Universal, Laemmle was deposed as head of production in 1936 so she probably couldn’t have returned there even if she had tried. It is also thought by many that her relationship with Laemmle may have hurt her career by making her success appear unearned, although she was quite a decent actress. After this, she acted in radio a little and also performed on the Orpheum circuit, which by now had morphed from vaudeville to presentation houses. In 1937 she went into the cast of the Broadway comedy Having Wonderful Time as a replacement for the original star Katherine Locke. This seems to be her last professional credit.

As an agent for his wife at least, Charles Beahan seems to have been a washout. By 1940 the pair were living in a modest rented home and Fox had permanently left the business. Two years later, she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills.

To learn more about vaudeville (including circuits like the Orpheum), please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.