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, received particularly good 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.

Fox was born in New York to wealthy parents who lost all their money. Fox, an intelligent and ambitious young girl, had to quit school and go 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 to break 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.

Sidney Fox, studio publicity shot.

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

In that same year Fox appeared in the Preston Sturges penned light comedy Strictly Dishonorable,  the best role of her career as 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, Sidney’s performances in dramas lacked depth; she relied on her obvious beauty to carry whatever character she played. Sweet and appealing, she was far better 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, the right scripts and direction Fox could have developed into a screwball comediennce in the mold of Carole Lombard.


In 1932 Sidney starred as Madamoiselle Camille L’Espanaye in Murders in the Rue Morgue opposite Bela Lugosi. In this starring role, Fox’s performance is less than stellar. To be fair, the role is a thankless grind requiring gasps of horror, cringing, shrieking, 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 by this time her relationship with the married 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 was and still is treated with scorn for Hollywood has always prided itself on talent and professionalism.

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 movies.  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 appearences in fourteen films.

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 the shoals of 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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8 Comments

  1. Bill Brandt
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    She reminds me of the story of Carole Landis, whom who profiled some time ago. Beautiful and lousy choice in men and likely suicide by sleeping pills. 

    Don’t know if during your early walks you listen to Mark & Brian – a duo out of Los Angeles – but they had an interesting interview this morning with a young actress named Mayim Bialik – she starred from age 14-19 in a series called Blossom (1990), took 12 years off from acting, got married and a Phd in neuroscience – as for acting she seems to have her head together – it isn’t her whole world) 

    No ditzy actress, she…. 

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Bill:

      I know Mayim. She’s a lovely young woman who became an observant Jew a few years ago. We almost worked on an interesting project together but it never happened.

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  2. Johnny
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    This might be the definition of career flameout.  From title role to out of the business in 4 years.  It’d be hard to do that if you tried.
     
    I wonder if she ever regretted not making a career as a legal secretary.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Johnny:

      I have a feeling that Sidney would have had serious emotional problems even if she never landed in Hollywood. Very sad. She could have had a nice career.

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  3. Posted November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and Happy Birthday to the Marine Corp and Mr. Avrech!

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Prophet Joe:

      Thanks so much. I am older and hopefully wiser.

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  4. Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    So sad, just think what she could have done with her writing or her legal skills.

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