Sidney Fox: Lost in Hollywood

Sidney Fox, 1907 — 1942.

In 1930, film mogul Carl Laemmle, Jr., attended Lost Sheep, a Broadway play that had garnered positive reviews. A young actress, Sidney Fox, b. Sidney Leiffer (1907), received particularly strong notices for her performance. The influential New York Times observed:

 “As Rhoda, little Sidney Fox [she stood only 4′ 10″ tall] won the hearts of the audience at once with her frail, girlish beauty and her pert spirit. Nothing could be more tenderly disarming than the freshness of her acting.”

Apparently Fox also won the heart of Carl Laemmle Jr. He brought her out to Hollywood, put her under contract to Universal Pictures and groomed her for stardom.

Cover girl for the January 1933 issue of Modern Screen.

Fox was born in New York to wealthy parents who somehow managed to lose all their money. Fox, an intelligent and ambitious young woman, quit school and went to work. She got a job as a seamstress and studied law at night. At age 15 she joined a law firm as a secretary. In her free time she wrote articles about women’s fashion. These articles led to a job as a model at a Fifth Avenue shop. Modeling, as it often does, led to an interest in acting. Fox tried breaking into the film business but was told that she was too young and inexperienced.

Fox joined a touring company and soon, with determination and talent, worked her way to Broadway.

Fox made her film debut in the 1931’s The Bad Sister opposite Conrad Nagel, Bette Davis—also in her film debut—Humphrey Bogart and Zasu Pitts. Fox was also named a Wampas Baby Star that year.

Sidney Fox, studio publicity shot.

Years later, Bette Davis sniped that Fox got the title role in The Bad Sister because she was Carl Laemmle’s mistress.

In that same year Fox appeared in the Preston Sturges penned comedy Strictly Dishonorable.  This was the best role of her career, a Southern girl who attracts the attention of an Italian opera star. Her performance received positive reviews and she seemed to be on her way to a sparkling career.

Unfortunately, Fox’s performances in dramas lacked depth. Sweet and appealing, like the girl next door, she was far more effective in comedic roles. One of her better films at the time was Once in a Lifetime (1932) co-starring Jack Oakie. With proper career guidance and better scripts, Fox could have developed into a screwball comedienne.

 

 

Sidney Fox, publicity still.

In 1932 Sidney starred as Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye in Murders in the Rue Morgue opposite Bela Lugosi. In this role Fox’s performance is less than stellar. To be fair, the role is a thankless grind requiring gasps of horror, and of course, maidenly faints. The entire film is stiff and awkwardly paced. Robert Florey’s direction never goes beyond the most rudimentary blocking. But Fox came in for particularly vicious criticism; no doubt, because her relationship with studio head Carl Jr., was an open secret in Hollywood.

Hollywood has a great deal of tolerance for immoral behavior; adultery, abortion, liquor and drugs. But an actress who sleeps her way to the top is treated with contempt.

Fox married screenwriter Charles Beahan in 1932. But Beahan was a hard drinker who physically abused the petite actress.

As her career went downhill, Fox became a regular in the cruel pages of the tabloids. Soon, she was reduced to bit parts in B films.  Fox spiraled into depression and took solace in liquor and pills. Her final movie appearance was in 1935. Thus her film career lasted a brief four years, with appearances in fourteen films total.

In 1942 Fox and Beahan were divorced. They had no children.

Fox died of an overdose of sleeping pills on November 15, 1942 in Beverly Hills. She was 34. Almost certainly it was a suicide. But her death was officially ruled an accident, probably out of kindness to her parents.

In an interview with one of the popular movie magazines of the time, Fox pondered her screen image:

My greatest cross is that my face and body don’t match my mind and soul. People expect me to be an ingénue, a baby doll, and they’re terribly disappointed when they find I’m not. At parties, I’ve seen men ask to be introduced to me, and I knew they thought I was attractive, but after talking to me a few minutes they’d turn away in dismay. Men, in Hollywood especially, don’t like intelligent women.

Like other Hollywood stars and near stars—Jeanne Eagels, Barbara LaMarr, Peggy Shannon, and Gwili Andre—whose careers held such promise, Sidney Fox crashed on her personal demons and unwise professional choices.

Sidney Fox is buried in the Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Glendale, Queens, New York.

The Hebrew reads: Buried here is Sarah daughter of Yehuda Yonah.

There is also a traditional abbreviation of a verse from the first book of Samuel, 25:29, May this soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

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5 Comments

  1. Barry
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    So, she shorted out?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Michael Kennedy
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Veronica Lake was another tiny actress who got roles with Alan Ladd because she was short. I think she also had some personal demons. At least she lived longer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Barry
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Lots of people were small. Try Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. As for Ladd, he was short, but not that short. About the same as Cagney and bigger than Raft with Bogart a little taller at 5′ 8″. And yes, there were some tall men. Gable, Grant, Cooper, Scott, McCrea and a few others, but not in the main. For some reason Ladd is targeted, probably related to body language more than anything else.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      • Barry
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        To the shorter female stars add Jean Arthur, Jane Powell, Ann Sothern, June Allyson, Natalie Wood. My, oh my. We can go on and on.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Veronica Lake was bi-polar. She drank herself to death.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

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