Alice Faye, Hollywood Star Who Sang for Her Man, Is Dead
By ALJEAN HARMETZ
Alice Faye, one of the few movie stars to walk away from stardom at the peak of her career, died yesterday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was in her mid-80's.
The cause was cancer, according to her publicity company, Jewel Baxter, which said she had had two stomach tumors removed last month.
Ms. Faye's warm, husky contralto and demure sexuality in ''Tin Pan Alley,'' ''Hello, Frisco, Hello'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' made her one of Hollywood's top 10 moneymaking stars in 1938 and 1939. Under contract to 20th Century Fox for a little over a decade, during which she made 32 movies, Ms. Faye walked out in 1945 after Darryl Zanuck, the studio's leader, chopped up her scenes in ''Fallen Angel'' to highlight the performance of a younger Fox star, Linda Darnell.
Ms. Faye handed the keys to her dressing room to the studio gate guard and drove off the lot.
''When I stopped making pictures,'' she told an interviewer in 1987, ''it didn't bother me because there were so many things I hadn't done. I had never learned to run a house. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to shop. So all these things filled all those gaps.''
It was that attitude of taking life as it came without shaking her fist at fate that informed many of her screen performances. She was the honest, good-hearted girl who stood by her man. And when that man did her wrong, her response was to sing a torch song and love him harder. Off screen she had an unlikely but happy marriage to the brash band leader Phil Harris, whom she married in 1941. Hollywood gossip columnists gave the marriage six months, but it lasted 54 years, until Mr. Harris's death at the age of 91 in 1995. They had lived for many years in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.
Ms. Faye, whose original name was Alice Leppert, was the daughter of a New York City policeman and grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Although some books list her birth date as 1912, she insisted she was born in 1915 but had lied about her age when she joined the Chester Hale vaudeville troupe at 13.
After several years in the chorus, Alice Faye, still a teen-ager, got a job on Broadway in ''George White's Scandals of 1931,'' which starred Ethel Merman, Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee. She sang ''Mimi'' at a cast party, and Mr. Vallee hired her as a singer on his radio show. When ''Scandals'' was made into the Fox film ''George White's Scandals of 1934,'' Ms. Faye replaced Lillian Harvey as Mr. Vallee's love interest. Mr. Vallee's wife sued for divorce, naming Ms. Faye as his love interest off screen as well.
Fox put Ms. Faye under contract and presented her as a brassy imitation Jean Harlow in movies like ''She Learned About Sailors'' and ''King of Burlesque.'' After Mr. Zanuck's 20th Century Films merged with Fox in 1935, the studio softened her image. Jack Kroll of Newsweek once called her ''a luscious marshmallow sundae of a girl,'' and her ripe figure fit the many period movies like ''Little Old New York'' and ''In Old Chicago'' in which she sang to Don Ameche, Tyrone Power or John Payne from the stage of a saloon.
Mr. Ameche lost her to Mr. Power in ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' and ''In Old Chicago'' but won her affections in ''You Can't Have Everything,'' ''Hollywood Cavalcade,'' ''Lillian Russell'' and ''That Night in Rio.''
It was the one-two punch of ''In Old Chicago'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' in 1938 that made Ms. Faye a top box-office draw. A year later she and Mr. Power were teamed for the last time in ''Rose of Washington Square,'' a fictionalization of the Nicky Arnstein-Fanny Brice story that was later the basis for the Broadway and Hollywood musical ''Funny Girl,'' which starred Barbra Streisand. Ms. Faye had been responsible for Mr. Power's stardom. In 1936, when he was only an extra, she insisted that Fox test him.
Her voice was inviting, and Irving Berlin once said he would choose Ms. Faye over any other singer to introduce his songs. In 1937, George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her the best female singer in Hollywood. In ''Rose of Washington Square,'' with tears in her eyes, Ms. Faye poured her love and faith in her no-good man into ''My Man.'' But the song with which she is most closely associated is the Academy Award-winning ballad ''You'll Never Know'' from ''Tin Pan Alley.''
An early marriage to Tony Martin, a singer, ended in divorce after three years when Ms. Faye had become a star and Mr. Martin had not succeeded in the movies. When she remarried, she said, she was determined not to let that happen again. She and Mr. Harris were the parents of two daughters by the time she walked off the Fox lot after ''Fallen Angel.''
So she spent the next eight years raising her children and appearing with her husband on a successful Sunday evening radio program, ''The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.''
In 1962 Ms. Faye returned to 20th Century Fox as Pat Boone's mother in a poorly received remake of ''State Fair.'' In 1973 she toured in a revival of ''Good News,'' and in 1976 joined other golden-era stars in cameo roles in ''Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.''
In 1984 Ms. Faye became a spokeswoman for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, encouraging ''young elders'' to live a healthy life. In 1990, she was co-author of a book, ''Growing Older, Staying Young,'' with Dick Kleiner.
Reminiscing about her years at Fox, Ms. Faye described the studio as a kind of penitentiary.
''So I decided to make a new life for myself,'' she said. ''A home life. I had been chauffeured to work, made up, dressed, given my meals and chauffeured back home. I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to be independent. I equated independence with seeing daylight during the week and learning how to drive a car.''