Iris Adrian: Comedies and Choruses

The visage (and gams) of Iris Adrian (Iris Adrian Hotstetter, 1912-1994) will be familiar to any old time movie buff. She specialized in playing tough cookies, gum-chewing chorus girls, and the like in a career spanning half a century.

An L.A. native, Adrian was raised by a single mom and attended Hollywood High and Miss Page’s School for Girls. She was only 16 when she appeared in her first film, Charley Chase’s silent comedy Chasing Husbands (1928). This was followed by bit parts in Mack Sennett’s Whirls and Girls (1929) with Harrry Gribbon and Andy Clyde, followed by numerous films in 1930, including chorus parts in Paramount on Parade, Let’s Go Native, and Midnight Daddies, and bigger parts in the Al Christie comedy shorts The Freshman’s Goat with Marion Shockley, Don’t Give Up with Neal Burns, and College Cuties with Eddie Tamblyn. During this period, she also won a beauty pageant, Miss Lake Arrowhead 1929, and got stage experience with a Hollywood revue, and appeared in a touring show called Rah Rah Daze with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians.

At this stage she gave Broadway a tumble, appearing in the choruses of several shows including The New Yorkers (1930-31) with Marie Cahill, Ann Pennington, Tammany Young, and the team of Clayton, Jackson and Durante; as well as The Ziegfeld Follies of 1931; and Hot-Cha! (1932) with Bert Lahr, June MacCloy, Lynn Overman, Eleanor Powell, and others. She spent the next couple of years performing in nightclubs and cabarets in London and Paris. She returned to the Great White Way one last time for her only Broadway speaking role in Kaufman and Hart’s The Fabulous Invalid with Charles King,  Jack Norworth, Percy Helton, and Sid Stone in 1938.

Meantime, she had returned to Hollywood in 1935 to appear in Rumba with George Raft and Carole Lombard. Over 150 additional film and TV turns would follow. A couple of her best remembered turns were in things like Roxie Hart (1942), Lady of Burlesque (1953), and The Stork Club (1945) — show biz yarns. Musicals included Stage Struck (1936) with William Powell and Joan Blondell, Gold Diggers of 1937, Too Many Blondes (1941) with Rudy Vallee, The Singing Sheriff (1944) with Bob Crosby, and Miss Mink of 1949.

Adrian also featured in B movies series, such as Boston Blackie, Philo Vance, Blondie, and Joe Palooka pictures. She was also in horror films, such as Horror island (1941), Bluebeard (1944) and Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Classic comedy fans will know her from TONS of things. She’s in Our Relations (1936) with Laurel and Hardy, Mister Cinderella with Jack Haley (1936), Go West (1940) with the Marx Brothers, The Road to Zanzibar (1941) with Hope and Crosby, The Paleface (1948) with Bob Hope, Always Leave Them Laughing (1949) with Milton Berle (she also appeared on Berle’s TV program at around this time), The Misadventures of Buster Keaton (1950, a British film), My Favorite Spy (1951) with Bob Hope and Heddy Lamarr, numerous episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show (both the radio and TV editions), 10 episodes of The Jack Benny Program, and The Errand Boy (1961) with Jerry Lewis. Adrian also starred in an Educational Pictures comedy short of her own Man to Man (1937), and co-starred in the short Foy Meets Girl (1950) with Eddie Foy Jr. Her last comedy short was Heebie Gee-Gees (1952) with Wally Vernon and Eddie Quillan.

Perhaps the closest thing she got to a straight up vaudeville show was the 1951 feature Varieties on Parade, in which she performed on a bill with Eddie Garr, Jackie Coogan, Al Mardo and His Do Nothing Dog, and jugglers, harmonica players, trick cyclists and a teeterboard act. She also appeared on TV variety shows like The Hollywood Palace and Gypsy Rose Lee’s talk show Gypsy. During this transitional time you can see her in films like The Helen Morgan Story (1957) and Blue Hawaii (1961) with Elvis Presley. 

By the 1960s, Adrian had ceased to be a chorus line cutie, but still had the strong air of a former one. This made her extremely castable in bit parts as bored, wisecracking waitresses, landladies and the like. She had a role like that in the movie version of The Odd Couple, and frequently did similar guest shots on shows like The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Lucy Show, and Adam-12.

Throughout the last stretch of her career, Adrian was a ubiquitous presence in live action Walt Disney comedies, including That Darn Cat! (1965), The Love Bug (1968), The Barefoot Executive (1971), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976), No Deposit No Return (1976), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Freaky Friday (1976), and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980).

Adrian was a regular on the short-lived The Ted Knight Show (1978). Her last acting gigs were several appearances on The Love Boat, with the last being in 1980.

Sadly at age 82, Adrian died a victim of the 1994 L.A. earthquake. She broke her hip in the quake, and died of her injuries several months later.

To learn more about show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.