Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lillian Roth

Born Lillian Rutstein on December 13, 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts, Lillian was six years old when her mother took her to Educational Pictures, where she became the company's trademark, symbolized by a living statue holding a lamp of knowledge. The following year
she made her Broadway debut in The Inner Man. Together with her younger sister Ann, she toured as "Lillian Roth and Co." when and wherever permitted by the Gerry Society. At seventeen, Lillian made the first of three Earl Carroll Vanities. This was soon followed by Midnight Frolics, a Flo Ziegfeld production.

Her Ziegfeld performance led to Ernst Lubitsch's invitation to Hollywood for his musical The Love Parade (1929) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Then Paramount cast her in Honey (1930), in which she debuted her signature standard "Sing You Sinners." Other roles included Trixie in Cecil B. DeMille's Madam Satan (1930) and as Margaret Dumont’s daughter in the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers (1930). She occasionally made films for other studios, such as Warner’s Ladies They Talk About (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck. Unfortunately, the sudden death of her fiancé in the early 30's devastated Lillian and fairly quickly led her to a lifetime of alcohol addiction.

While tragic endings were often the case with so many young actresses of the time, Lillian was eventually able to pull herself back up from the depths of alcoholism and mental illness when, in the late 40’s, she met and married former alcoholic T. Burt McGuire, Jr., who introduced her to AA. With his support, Lillian revived her career and began singing again, receiving glowing reviews and making a number of recordings.

Her searing autobiography “I'll Cry Tomorrow” (1954) was made into a hit film the following year starring Susan Hayward, who was nominated for an Academy Award. Lillian continued to work on and off, including stints on Broadway, until her death in 1980 due to a stroke.

The inscription on her marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, reads: "As bad as it was it was good."

Click on images for a larger view.

Stars of the Photoplay 1930

Photoplay magazine - May 1930

Undated photo still by Seymour

The Love Parade (1929)

Publicity still for Honey (1930)

Animal Crackers (1930)

Madam Satan (1930)

Publicity still for Madam Satan

Lillian Roth - What do you think - Allure?


Anonymous said...

Rather than allure, to me she has
a real cuteness about her. It is
hard to forget her terrible life.
Reading "I'll Cry Tomorrow" years
ago, her life was far worse than
the film of the same name. After
that, it was hard to get some of
the images out of my head.
I have seen "Madame Satan" (which I
thought she stole the show).
Also "Animal Crackers" -where she
had a role that any starlet could
have done.I think at that point she
was having "mama management"
problems. (I read that term
describing her situation in a 1930
I think her voice was so powerful.
I was knocked out when I first
heard "Sing You Sinners" years ago.
In my opinion she had much more
powerful voice than Ethel Merman.

Operator_99 said...

Diane, Cute and alluring, that's my take. She sure lured Bob Brooks in Madam Satan. Yes, if one wants to learn about her life, they should read the book, not watch the movie, Susan Hayward's performance aside.

It's been said that if Lillian hadn't lost her way, no one would have ever heard of Ethel Merman.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"It's been said that if Lillian hadn't lost her way, no one would have ever heard of Ethel Merman."

Fascinating. Thanks for a great post.

Operator_99 said...

Thanks for the comment Jacqueline, and thank you for your July 21st post on Jo Stafford, a true singer's singer.

Anonymous said...

operator 99, your comments about
Ethel Merman. There is a clip of
Lilian Roth on youtube singing
"Eadie Was a Lady" and in my
opinion she wipes the floor with
Ethel. Her voice is so strong and
she is very beautiful. It is from
the 1933 film "Take a Chance". I
have a feeling that it is one of
her last films. Oh Lilian, why did
you lose your way!!!!

Haris said...

nice work no doubt

Unknown said...

I met her when I was a teenager. Talked to her briefly when she was checking in at a hotel in Havana, Cuba and she invited me to see her show that night. We became pen pals until the day she died. She was a great lady and all her letters were handwritten by herself even when she had a secretary. I truly loved her.