I'm such a liar. In my most recent post over on Warren-William.com I'd said my next article would be a two-part cross site special on Employees' Entrance. Well thanks to Alice White's Polly Dale this unintended little interruption crops up to delay my EE extravaganza (EEE?).
I'd gone through most of my first draft without mentioning Alice, but how could I do that! So I decided to slip in a little aside, which has at this point been clipped from the draft and pasted into this post where it's been reworked and expanded. Here's what bugged me and landed Alice her own page:
Alice's career had supposedly come to some smashing halt after a 1933 scandal, apparently one of many. These scandals included a few names but lack any detail in their modern day retelling except for the fact that they usually fall under the lurid sex scandal heading. Fitting for Polly Dale, no?
The 1933 sex scandal in particular sounded juicy so I wanted details. Back to NewspaperArchive.com I dashed hoping that any such scandal could be sanitized enough to have been covered to some degree in the period newspapers. Sure enough the scandal in question had garnered ink back in October 1933 and we'll get to those details in a little bit, but first, here's what struck me as odd about the overall bigger picture--between December 1933 and February 1935 Alice White appeared in another seven movies split between Warner Brothers and Universal, typically third billed.
Now I know things moved slower way back when, but that's a very active 16 month tailspin!
But Alice White had already left Hollywood once by that time, from late 1931 until late 1933 when she appeared in Employees' Entrance, billed as her comeback role. The first of a few comebacks.
Alice White talks money in reference to her 1931 dismissal in a 1938 article published at the time of yet another of her comebacks:
"I was making $150 a week," she said. "I needed $1,500 to keep up my end of the parade. I was a star and I was paid like a bit player. And simply couldn't keep up the front that was necessary."
She got into an argument about money, and -- blooie! -- Alice's name vanished from theater marquees. The girl who had become one of the biggest of all the stars in town in 10 months flat faded from the Hollywood firmament in almost as many weeks.
But Chester B. Bahn of the Syracuse Herald, in an article published when Alice was touring through town in April 1932, writes that Alice White was already making $2,000 per week by that time and that her departure from Warner's came at the request of Will Hays.
Bahn is unsure of the why even then, mentioning the possibility that Alice's screen vogue was over and her fan base had dried up or, more likely due to Hays' intervention, "Alice was too frank," which I take as a euphemistic reference to things Alice may have done rather than said. Possibly even this was in reference to her screen characterizations. Bahn's article ends with Alice's prediction that "her starring days are over; only the security that is a featured player's will content her."
In an October 1932 column Hollywood reporter Dan Thomas mentioned White and James Cagney's return to Warner's in the same breath adding that "Alice's return is particularly triumphant ... she has been off the screen for nearly two years ... only to be called back by the same executives who did their best to bring about her cinema death."
Nobody puts in print specifics as to why White was banished or why Warner's called her back. It may have been as simple as money though Bahn's article certainly plants the idea that it may have been something more.
In her Alice White entry in Bride of Golden Images, Eve Golden writes that by the time Alice's contract had expired Warner's realized her talent hadn't called for the push they'd given her in 1929-1930. Golden also writes that unsubstantiated rumors had spread through Hollywood that Alice "had slept her way to success, while more talented starlets languished."
In any case Alice White would return to the screen in Employees' Entrance, which opened in New York in January 1933. Not very long after that opening came the incident that led to a nose job, which that 1938 U.P. article later claims was a voluntary beauty procedure, as well as the minor bit of scandal that today is credited for finishing her off.
Alice White's nose job was on the books as testimony given by her in October 1933. So what actually had Alice in the news back then?
In what would soon be termed "a somewhat turbulent" time by the U.P., one night after a Beverly Hills party Alice was beaten so badly by her beau, British actor John Warburton, that she was, in White's own words, "rightfully disfigured." Her eyes were left so swollen that she couldn't see and, according to the Associated Press, "she had to have a plastic surgeon work on her nose."
But Alice's testimony was not part of a domestic abuse case, it was due to what came out of the terrible beating she had taken. Supposedly screenwriter Sy Bartlett, romantically linked to Alice White as early as 1931, had sought revenge on Warburton by hiring two men to beat and actually attempt to disfigure him. The two men were indicted for robbing and beating Warburton but the grand jury did not act against Bartlett who somehow got away without testifying.
Oh, the December 1933 report that looked back on those recent turbulent times was a U.P. report of White and Bartlett's return from their Mexican honeymoon. That article concludes by stating that White and Bartlett's involvement in the Warburton beating had been "generally discredited" by that time and makes further mention that the two suspects had been acquitted of charges of robbery.
So again, this could all be candy coated but if it were and if Alice White's off-screen escapades were to cost her her on-screen career I'm left to wonder why the downward spiral wasn't quicker. White's days of stardom had already passed by the time of this scandal. After the scandal she remained active on screen at more or less the same level she had established with her return in Employees' Entrance. The effect appears to have been nil.
A 1958 A.P. article by Bob Thomas reports on yet another Alice White comeback and also takes the stance of time having passed her by:
Her kind of film faded from popular favor and her career went into a decline. She was once wed to producer Sy Bartlett, then married writer John Roberts and followed him as he traveled during wartime service.
"I went domestic with a vengeance," she laughed. "I even went to school to learn how to cook. But I don't think it was such a good idea. I think men resent women who are too domestic."
In between there actually was an Alice White sex scandal that made papers in 1950, and it read a bit juicier than the 1933 brouhaha. In an story that you'd quite seriously need a scorecard to get all of the players straight Alice White hauled former husband Roberts into court because he'd failed to make alimony payments. By this time Alice was married to a William Hinshaw, whose ex-wife, Barbara, was living with ... John Roberts. Also cited in this humorously sordid story of the "Hollywood quadrangle" was mention of Roberts previously marrying the former Mrs. Hinshaw in 1949, but having that marriage annulled because White hadn't taken the trouble to finalize their 1947 divorce.
As her career played out in the press of the day it appears likely that Alice White battled over money and then as suddenly as she shot to stardom she fell out of favor with audiences, partially due to Warner Brothers' orchestration, partially due to the general times. However, this occurred in 1931.
The 1933 scandal seems to play as a minor incident which wouldn't change what was her then current situation of playing supporting roles. In fact, White was lower billed in the three films released prior to the scandal than those immediately after indicating progress in the wake of what was likely a minor blip.
Alice White had already taken her fall prior to the scandal often credited as its cause.
Alice White Sources:
- "Alice White Tells How She Was Beaten." Frederick News-Post. 14 Oct 1933.
- Bahn, Chester B. "Alice White Fights for Vindication." Syracuse Herald. 25 Apr 1932.
- "Still Beautiful Blond, Alice White Comes Back." Mason City Globe-Gazette. 25 Aug 1938.
- "The Hollywood Roundup." The Hammond Times. 5 Dec 1933.
- Thomas, Bob. "Alice White Makes Comeback." Long Beach Press-Telegram. 23 May 1958.
- Thomas, Dan. "Stars of Screen in Hollywood and Their Doings." Reno Evening Gazette. 15 Oct 1932.
- "Who's Married to Who? 'Let 'em Talk,' Says Judge." Portsmouth Herald. 17 Nov 1950.
Alice White Elsewhere Online:
- Alice White - Showgirl in Hollywood - From Jonas Nordin's wonderful All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! blog.
- Alice White - The Boop-A-Doop Kewpie - By Edward Larusso at The Midnight Palace.
- Alice White - Too Much, Too Soon - The first few paragraphs of an Alice White biography that appear in Films of the Golden Age Magazine in Summer 1997.
These articles were found through ClassicMovieSearch.com
Thanks for a really interesting story.I love all things old Hollywood but don’t remember ever reading anything about this actress.Keep up the good work.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thank you, KIMB. Alice White really had a short peak as a lead though I know her more for her supporting roles, mostly in Employees’ Entrance and a couple of James Cagney movies. If you ever get the chance to see Employees’ Entrance she’ll definitely stick out to you!
diane byrnes says
I think anyone that has ever seen an Alice White movie, it is neither
here nor there whether she can act – or even sing or dance. She looks
exactly what I imagine a flapper cutie to look like. Yesterday we watched
“Showgirl in Hollywood” and my husband was quite disgusted by the
fact that she “couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag” and especially
when she shared the scenes with Blanche Sweet. But frankly I couldn’t
care less – I often need my Alice White “fix”.
I don’t know a huge lot about her but I have read that she was a secretary
and not connected with showbiz so I think she did pretty well to be plunged
into all these “singie, dancie” movies and she carried them off.
Another point about “Picture Snatcher” – I thought Alice stole the movie
and her scenes with Cagney were the highlight. I know she played a bit
of a floozie but I bet cinema goers would have been pleased if her had
carried her off at the end instead of bland Patricia Ellis.
Cliff Aliperti says
I like Alice and was surprised around the time of this post to discover she was a somewhat divisive talent when discussing her on social media with others. About half the people I talked to she annoyed to no end, the other half absolutely loved her and would not have an unkind word said. I can see both sides, but again, I personally enjoy her.
You’re right, her early stuff was coming with practically no experience and I guess things would have never taken off like they did if it wasn’t such a combustible period of movie history. The shame of it is her second act. She had come a long way in those supporting roles we each mentioned, Picture Snatcher by you, Employees’ Entrance by me, to make it look like there should have been at least more of the same on the horizon.
I wrote this awhile ago and there are a lot more period sources available online now. I may have to revisit this post one of these days for an update (though you’ll find I say that a lot! Time, need more time!).
In case you haven’t bumped into it yet, I wrote a pretty extensive post about the other title you mentioned, Show Girl in Hollywood, here.
Alice White was a great actress..Its the studios that are the blame for most actresses and actors getting
a bum rap..She could have handled “It h Happened One Night” with no trouble at all,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
WOW! Long time spans between Alice White comments. Just met her last evening in “The Widow From Chicago.” Thought she was great. My opinion, there were many girls competing for stardom back then. Some became more frustrated than others not making it quickly. So they rebelled, possibly to get some attention. Veronica Lake in later years may have reacted similarly. They were all special and beautiful
whether their performances were Oscar worthy or not. It was a different time and they did the best they could. Love them all!
I really, really love what you do, but for the love of god, please proof read your writing! It’s a mess and hard to read! Please!
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks! I’m sorry you feel that way, but this article is almost six years old. There is just too much content on the site to go back and proof them all later. Hopefully, I’ve improved over time.
Walter Horne says
Great story! I’m a big Alice White fan, and often wondered about the details of her various scandals. As far as her acting, there are both good and bad examples. She, like Clara Bow (whom she is often compared with), had a special quality that made her personality leap off the screen. That was truly where here talent lied. Watch “The Naughty Flirt.” It’s total bubblegum, but she was excellent in it.