Sunday, April 12, 2009

Noel Francis

Noel Francis was born in Temple, Texas on November 21, 1906, and by age 20 was appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies working opposite the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey. Eventually Fox scouts noticed her and in 1929 she was signed to a Hollywood contract. Because of her Follies background, Fox intended to develop Noel as a musical and dance star. Unfortunately, musicals were on the wane at the time (they did rebound) and her contract was dropped. Luckily, she was picked up by Warner Brothers, and featured in a number of films that had her portraying the tough talking, sassy female connected to gangsters, convicts, and other underworld types, so popular with the movie going public then and now.

Noel was rarely given the lead female role, though she worked near the top with some of the era's best actors in films that included Smart Money (1931), in which she is a scheming blonde helping Edward G. Robinson lose his money, and Blonde Crazy (1931), where her target is James Cagney. Her most noted performance was in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), working with Paul Muni in one of his strongest performances. However, perhaps because of being typecast, she found herself in "B" productions after 1932, though one was as the lead female; Mayfair Picture Corporation's 1934 What's Your Racket?, opposite Regis Toomey. Needing work, Noel returned to Broadway, but couldn't resume her career there, and returned to Hollywood to make three final films with Buck Jones, including Stone of Silver Creek (1935), in which she used her Broadway musical expertise to play a saloon singer. Between 1929 and 1937 Noel made 47 films.

Noel died October 30, 1959 in Los Angeles, California.

Click on the images for a larger view.

Motion Picture Magazine - August 1931

Picture Play Magazine - September 1931

Promotional still for I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.

Promotional still for I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.

Studio Portrait - Date Unknown

Two publicity stills for Stone of Silver Creek.

As was her lot, these four films have Noel as the moll of a crooked judge in Night Court, a gangster's wife in Guilty As Hell, a woman with her own agenda in Blonde Crazy, and in a small role as a turn of the century saloon girl in So Big.

Poster for Noel's rare starring vehicle, What's Your Racket?

Noel Francis - What do you think - Allure?


Unknown said...

Thanks for this informative link of a very beautiful and talented actress.Loved that movie ' I'm a fugitive'.
It has one of the most iconic endings you'll ever see in a movie.
It was instrumental in ending the chain gang era in the USA/
Thanks again

diane said...

I have been such a fan of hers for
years - I don't think she got the
recognition she deserved. Thank you
for showing those beautiful photos
of her. She was certainly alluring
and had a very unusual look - you
definately wouldn't call her cute
(in my opinion!!!). I have only
seen her in a couple of films but
in "Blonde Crazy" she was a vamp
with a capital V and it is no
wonder that Jimmy fell for her hook
line and sinker. What happened to
her after 1937 - I can find out
nothing about her. As well as being
a Ziegfeld girl, she could also
sing (I meant as well as stand
about and look amazing!!!)

Christopher Newton said...

In the Forties, Noel moved to San Francisco and worked as a producer in radio there. My father, who was a broadcaster at NBC, got to know her pretty well and they started a joint talent agency together, with Noel in Hollywood using her studio connections to find work for their clients and Dad funneling new San Francisco talent down to her. But they went belly up within a couple of years.

Operator_99 said...

Christopher, thanks for the additional insight into Noel's life.

kstahmer said...

For me, Noel's performance as Linda in 'I was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang' was the most memorial part of the movie. At first James Allen (Paul Muni) wasn't tempted. After one good look at Linda, he was. Quite candidly, I would have been too.

Deborah said...

I just her in SMART MONEY and she was electric. I wondered what became of her career and your post is most informative-- thank you.

How sad she died so young...

oneatatime said...

Her birth name was Noel Francis Sweeney. She was likely born in 1902 given that she appeared in the 1910 (April 15) census as a 7 year old. When she died in 1959, She was listed as Noel Francis Sweeney Stevenson.

The Stevenson remains a mystery, as does if she had any children or grandchildren. Her bio other than Christopher Newton's earlier comment, reveal nothing about her for the last 22 years of her life including her cause of death at likely age 57

Christopher Newton said...

Very strange. You'd think there would have been some kind of obituary posted in one of the San Francisco or LA papers.

Christopher Newton said...

I continue to think about the missing info on Noel's later life. Here's a thought. She must have a California death certificate. These are public documents and should give the full name and current (1959) address of her spouse. They may be available online - I don't know. But you can certainly order them from Sacramento.

Christopher Newton said...

For what it's worth, I found her in the 1930 census. She is living at 1848 North Gramercy Place in LA. From Google Maps, looks like the building is gone - a modern building is there now, but still quite a nice neighborhood. She is a motion picture actress, she claims to be 21 years old. She's living with Maud Sweeney, age 54, presumably her mother (a la Ginger Rogers?)