Sunday, May 1, 2016

Born Today May 1: Leila Hyams


Born in New York City into a vaudeville family on May Day, she was named after her performing mother--who was also a successful dramatic stage actress.  Both of her parents went on to appear in films in their own right, often together, ironically continuing to work in film after their daughter had retired from the profession.  As is the case with children born into the vaudeville life, "little Leila" appeared as a child on stage with her parents. When older, as a teenager, she began a modeling career; appearing in series of widely published newspaper advertisements, which got the attention of Hollywood.  She appeared in her first film, Sandra, in 1924 at the age of 19.  Although her appearances in silent film number well into double digits, it was her work in early talkies of the 1930's that she is most remembered for.  Her most famous role came in Tod Browning's 1932 controversial horror drama Freaks, as the wise-cracking Venus.  As with most actors born into vaudeville childhood stage appearances, she was easily a hit in sound film; the first film to have any sort of sound that she appeared in came in 1928 with the partial silent Land of the Silver Fox, a Rin Tin Tin feature. He first fully mono sound film came with her very next film appearance, also in 1928, in Alias Jimmy Valentine, starring Lionel Barrymore. After appearing in more than 50 films, fully 21 of which are from the 1920's, she decided to retire from acting in 1936; however she remained in the Hollywood circle until death from a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 72 in Bel Air. She was cremated and her ashes scattered.  

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