Before Jeanette MacDonald, There Was BERNICE CLAIRE

Bernice Claire (Bernice Jahnigen, 1906-2003) was a star of operetta and vaudeville, which translated into a brief movie career in the early days of talkies. Originally from Oakland, California she made her stage debut in 1918 as a child performer. Trained as an operatic soprano, she performed in high school musicals, including such challenges as Mlle. Modiste. Her professional rise was rapid. In 1927 she broke into vaudeville. By the following year she teamed with Alexander Gray on the big time Albee Circuit. The pair then toured with The Desert Song to major cities for several seasons. Gray was asked to take a screen test for Warner Brothers; Claire came along for the ride. Both were signed to contracts, and co-starred in three musical pictures together in 1930: No, No, Nanette; Spring is Here; and The Song of the Flame. The team are often compared to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, though they predated them.

Claire was next tried as a solo star in her own right. Her films included Numbered Men (1930) with Conrad Nagel and Raymond Hackett; Top Speed (1930) with Joe E. Brown; and Kiss Me Again (1931) with the all-star cast of Walter Pidgeon, Edward Everett Horton, June Collyer, Frank McHugh and Claude Gillingwater. She was reteamed with Gray for the musical short The Red Shadow (1932). She sings a number in Moonlight and Pretzels (1933). In 1934 Claire had her first and only turn on Broadway in a revival of the Straus operetta The Chocolate Soldier. She also went to London to star in one last feature Two Hearts in Harmony (1935). All of her remaining Hollywood films were musical shorts for Warner Bros.: The Flame Song (1934), Meet the Professor (1935), The Love Department (1935). Between the Lines (1936), The Pretty Pretender (1937), and Forget-Me-Knots (1938). After this she retired from performing, lived with her husband, a doctor and moved to Portland, Oregon.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Bernice Claire got her start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,