Alice Faye was an American actress and singer, called by the New York Times “one of the few movie stars to walk away from stardom at the peak of her career.” She is remembered first for her stardom at 20th Century Fox and, later, as the radio comedy partner of her husband, bandleader-comedian Phil Harris. She is also often associated with the Academy Award?winning standard, “You’ll Never Know”, which she introduced in the 1943 musical, Hello, Frisco, Hello.
Born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York City, she was the daughter of a New York police officer of German descent and his Irish-American wife, Charles and Alice Leppert. Faye’s entertainment career began in vaudeville as a chorus girl, before she moved to Broadway and a featured role in the 1931 edition of George White’s Scandals. By this time, she had adopted her stage name and first reached a radio audience on Rudy Vallée’s The Fleischmann Hour, where she may have met her future husband and comedy partner Phil Harris for the first time.
Meanwhile, she gained her first major film break in 1934, when Lilian Harvey abandoned the lead role in a film version of George White’s 1935 Scandals, in which Vallee was also to appear. Hired first to perform a musical number with Vallee, Faye ended up as the female lead. And she became a hit with film audiences of the 1930s, particularly when Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck made her his protege. He softened Faye from a wisecracking show girl to a youthful, yet somewhat motherly figure such as she played in a few Shirley Temple films.
Faye also received a physical makeover, from being something of a singing version of Jean Harlow to sporting a softer look with a more natural tone to her blonde hair and more mature makeup, including her notorious “pencil” eyebrows. This transition was practically a plot point of 1938’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, in which Faye’s ascent is dramatized by her increasingly elegant grooming.