Monday, December 6, 2010

Muses in my midst VIII

(Alice Faye in "The Gang's All Here.")
For the worrying multitudes, relax. Frank Lloyd Wright and Michelangelo have finally gotten their act together, and the pantheon is ready to re-open for Christmas. I've had to do some serious soul-searching as to who is to host the opening-night Yuletide cotillion. Merman always cracks the crystals in the chandelier. Dietrich makes the queens hyper-ventilate. And Betty Grable keeps chewing gum. The answer is obvious: the eternally likable Alice Faye. Climbing the ladder from Jean Harlow wannabe to America's own shopgirl thrush, she was the reigning star of the 20th Century Fox musical from 1938 until her retirement from films in 1945. She could wisecrack with Mae Westian aplomb, wring glorious tears out of her made-for-Technicolor eyes, and even steal candy from America's most illustrious youngster, filching a scene from Shirley Temple while singing "You Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby." Faye made suffering at the hands of such scoundrels as Don Ameche and Tyrone Power as moving an art form as any geisha performing in a tea house. Garland got "Over the Rainbow" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," but Faye got the third musical plum of Hollywood Americana. No one who lived through World War II can help holding back the wave of nostalgia when she breaks into Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's "You'll Never Know" (from "Hello, Frisco, Hello"). If you want to sample the ultimate Alice Faye vehicle, we suggest Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." She also accomplished something very rare for a movie star. She got out of the business in time to have a deliriously happy marriage with comedian and band leader Phil Harris, with whom she had a second career in radio. Faye elegantly ended her years promoting senior health for Pfizer. She was a doyenne of good health and good cheer with the poignancy of Garland- minus the pharmaceutical baggage.

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