Thursday, November 14, 2013



fig. 1 Alice White and Chas Delaney

Broadway Babies is the story of three women. No, not the three girls of the title played by Alice White, Marion Byron and Sally Eilers. In fact, although billed just below Miss White, Byron and Eilers have really little to do other than provide pulchritude appeal. No, the interesting women are Miss White, motherly character actress Bodil Rosing, and junior league femme fatale Jocelyn Lee. Alice, you see, is all set to follow her greed rather than her heart and ditch her poor boyfriend Charles Delaney in favor of gambler Fred Kohler. And she is supported by Miss Rosing who, to her regret, had followed her heart instead of her head and gone from vaudeville stardom to performing menial backstage work. Miss Lee, meanwhile, goes after every man in sight, more of less indiscriminately. Alice at one point calls her "a big hunk of baloney."

All of this comes to us from faraway 1929 which was supposedly a time where actors were standing still better to  e n u n c i a t e  into flower pots. Nothing could be further from the truth regarding Babies, which constantly moves. No, what sinks this backstage movie - and, to be frank, the reputation of Alice White along with it - are production numbers featuring singers who can't really sing and dancers who can't dance. A common complaint at the time and the main reason why backstage musicals took such a hit at the box offices around 1930 that most were sold as dramas instead. 


fig. 2 Alice White

A former secretary for, of all people, Teutonic auteur Josef Von Sternberg, Alice White (1904-1983) was heavily promoted in this and several other backstage musicals by director Mervyn LeRoy who clearly saw in her another Clara Bow. But like Clara herself, Alice became somewhat grating in sound films and her time in the sun proved brief.

Not so brief, however, than Jocelyn Lee (1902-1980), the villainess of Broadway Babies, who enjoyed a 1926-1933 screen career but was much better known for marrying and quickly divorcing movie directors Henry "Pathe" Lehrman and Luther Reed. (In the case of Lehrman, Jocelyn followed in the footsteps of one Virginia Rappe, whose death after a wild Labor Day party in 1921 became a cause célèbre still discussed today.) Neither of Lee's divorces was done in quiet and she even faced an arrest warrant after physically attacking Reed. A third union, to movie executive James Seymour apparently quieted her down but by then her career was running purely on fumes.

Née Mary Alice Simpson and hailing from Chicago, Jocelyn Lee had trod the boards as a chorus girl with the "George White Scandals" and the "Follies" before embarking on a screen career playing mostly chorus girls and minor Bad Girls. I wish I could say that her performance in Babies was memorable but, alas, her quick fade from Hollywood is quite understandable.     


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