Sunday, April 03, 2011

Leila Hyams

Born in New York on May 1, 1905, to vaudeville comedy performers John Hyams and Leila McIntyre, Leila appeared on-stage with her parents while still a child. As a teenager she worked as a model and became well known across the United States after appearing in a successful series of newspaper advertisements. This success led her to Hollywood.

She made her first film, Sandra, in 1924, and thirteen more supporting roles followed, and her looks and general professionalism led her to be taken seriously as an actress. By 1928 she was playing starring roles, achieving success in MGM's first talkie, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928) opposite William Haines, Lionel Barrymore and Karl Dane. The following year she appeared as the female lead opposite Conrad Nagel in Tod Browning's The Thirteenth Chair, a role that offered her the chance to display her dramatic abilities as a murder suspect. The quality of her parts continued to improve as the decade turned, including a role as Robert Montgomery's sister in the prison drama The Big House (1930) with Chester Morris and Wallace Beery, for which Hyams once again received positive reviews. She also appeared earlier that year in The Bishop Murder Case starring Basil Rathbone.

Although she succeeded in films that required her to play pretty ingenues and developed into a capable dramatic actress in 1930's crime melodramas, she is perhaps best remembered for two early 1930's unique classics, working for Tod Browning again as the tough but vulnerable circus performer Venus in Freaks (1932), and as the heroine in Island of Lost Souls (1932). Leila was the original choice to play Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but turned it down. The role was ultimately played by Maureen O'Sullivan.

She also appeared in the Jean Harlow film Red-Headed Woman (1932), the musical comedy The Big Broadcast (1932) with Bing Crosby, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and was praised for her comedic performance in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) opposite Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles.

After twelve years and 52 films, Leila retired from acting in 1936 to concentrate on raising a family, but remained part of the Hollywood community. She was married to the agent Phil Berg from 1927 until her death on December 4, 1977.

Click on the images for a larger view.

Ad in a British Newspaper for Alias Jimmy Valentine, MGM's first talkie.

Publicity still for The Bishop Murder Case.

Frame captures from The Bishop Murder Case.

Frame captures from The Big House.

Leila got the role in the 1930 film Way For A Sailor when Edna Best fled Hollywood for the safety of London.

New Movie Magazine - June 1931

Screen Romances Album -1931

Movie Mirror - February1932
For the film Surrender.

Undated publicity still.

Frame captures from Freaks.

Freaks publicity still.

Freaks publicity still.

Photoplay - March 1932

New Movie Magazine - May 1932
Part of a summer fashion spread

New Movie Magazine - May 1932

Frame captures from Island of Lost Souls.

Frame captures from Red-Headed Woman.

Undated publicity still.

Undated publicity still.

Undated publicity still.

Leila Hyams - What do you think - Allure?