Beware when people in show biz (or writers about show biz) describe anyone as the first anything. Shirley Chambers (1913-2011) is often described as the first “Dumb Blonde”, but, come now, that’s beyond preposterous. There were such characters in silent pictures, and on stage dating at least as far back as the mid 19th century and Lydia Thompson, right? Anyway, I had made a note to write about her today and for the life of me I can’t remember what prompted it. It was likely either The Iceman’s Ball (1933) with Clark and McCullough, or the Carole Lombard comedy Nothing Sacred (1937) in which she does a Lady Godiva turn in a fantasy sequence. She had her one co-starring part in Melody Cruise (1933) with Chick Chandler and June Brewster. She also had fair sized supporting parts in The Half Naked Truth (1932) with Lee Tracy and Lupe Velez and Calm Yourself (1935) with Robert Young and Madge Evans.
Most of the time, she was either one of the chorus or had walk-ons (albeit usually eye catching ones). She was a Goldwyn Girl in the Eddie Cantor pictures Whoopee! (1930) and The Kid from Spain (1932) and a chorus girl in Her Majesty Love (1931), 42nd Street (1933), Dancing Lady (1933), and Gold Diggers of 1933. Her bit parts are almost as delicious: she’s “Blonde in Bath” in The Roadhouse Murder (1933), “Blonde Secretary” in Vagabond Lady (1935), “Blonde Girl in Dive” in The Last Gangster (1937), “Girl in Bath” in The Women (1939), and one of Belle Watling’s cathouse girls in Gone with the Wind (1939). You can also see her in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Diplomaniacs (1933), among other films.
During WWII, she toured with the USO, and then appeared in the Broadway show Winged Victory (1943). After the war she acted in regional theatre, did bit parts on television, and tv commercials. She died just a couple years shy of the century mark!
To learn more about show biz, 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.