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Leila Hyams (May 1, 1905 – December 4, 1977) was an American film and stage actress, model, and vaudevillian, who came from a show business family. Her relatively short film career began in 1924 during the era of silent films and ended in 1936, (although appearing in a 1946 short film). She started out her career as a vaudvillian, stage performer and model, before embarking on a career in film, and although her career in this genre only lasted around twelve years, the blonde blue-eyed ingenue and leading lady appeared in more than 50 film roles and remained a press favourite, with numerous magazine covers.
|Born||May 1, 1905|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||December 4, 1977 (aged 72)|
Bel Air, Los Angeles, U.S.
|Years active||prior to 1924 vaudeville and stage, 1924 – 1936, film|
|Spouse(s)||Phil Berg (1927–1977, her death)|
She was born in New York City to vaudeville comedy performers John Hyams, (1869-1940) and Leila (née McIntyre) Hyams (1882-1953). Both parents appeared in films and mother Leila Senior was also a noted stage performer; her parents can later be seen together in several Hollywood films such as in 1939's The Housekeeper's Daughter.
Hyams appeared on stage with her parents while still a child, working in their vaudeville act for five years.
As a teenager, she worked as a model and became well known across the United States after appearing in a successful series of newspaper advertisements. This success led her to Hollywood.
She made her first film in 1924, and with her blonde hair, green eyes, delicate features, and good-natured demeanor, was cast in a string of supporting roles, where she was required to do very little but smile and look pretty. She proved herself capable of handling the small roles she was assigned, and over a period of time, she came to be taken seriously as an actress. By 1928, she was playing starring roles, achieving success in MGM's first talkie release, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928) opposite William Haines, Lionel Barrymore, and Karl Dane. The following year, she appeared in the popular murder mystery The Thirteenth Chair, a role that offered her the chance to display her dramatic abilities as a murder suspect. At Fox that same year, she appeared in director Allan Dwan's now lost romantic adventure The Far Call opposite Charles Morton. The quality of her parts continued to improve as the decade turned, including a role as Robert Montgomery's sister in the prison drama The Big House (1930) with Chester Morris and Wallace Beery, for which Hyams once again received positive reviews. She then appeared in Surrender (1931) in which Warner Baxter and Ralph Bellamy desperately competed for her attention.
Although she succeeded in films that required her to play pretty ingenues, and developed into a capable dramatic actress in 1930s crime melodramas, she is perhaps best remembered for two early 1930s horror movies, as the wise-cracking but kind-hearted circus performer in Freaks (1932) and as the heroine in the Bela Lugosi film Island of Lost Souls (1932). Hyams was the original choice to play Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but turned it down. The role was played by Maureen O'Sullivan. She also appeared in the once controversial Jean Harlow film Red-Headed Woman (1932), the musical comedy The Big Broadcast (1932) with Bing Crosby, George Burns, and Gracie Allen, and was praised for her comedic performance in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). In 1935 she made 1,000 Dollars a Minute for Republic and retired soon after.
Hyams married her talent agent Phil Berg in 1927. In 1936, after a 12-year acting career and performing in 50 films, she retired from the motion-picture industry; nevertheless, she remained active in the Hollywood community for the rest of her life. In 1977, after a "brief illness", Hyams died at age 72 at her home in Bel-Air in Los Angeles. She was survived by her husband Phil.
- Sandra (1924) - Mait Stanley
- Dancing Mothers (1926) - Birdie Courtney
- The Kick-Off (1926) - Marilyn Spencer
- Summer Bachelors (1926) - Willowdean French
- The Brute (1927) - Jennifer Duan
- White Pants Willie (1927) - Helen Charters
- The Bush Leaguer (1927) - Alice Hobbs
- One-Round Hogan (1927) - Helen Davis
- The Wizard (1927) - Anne Webster
- The Branded Sombrero (1928) - Connie Marsh
- A Girl in Every Port (1928) - Widow in San Pedro, Belize
- The Crimson City (1928) - Nadine Howells
- Honor Bound (1928) - Selma Ritchie
- Land of the Silver Fox (1928) - Marie du Fronque
- Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928) - Rose
- Spite Marriage (1929) - Ethyl Norcrosse
- The Far Call (1929) - Hilda Larsen
- The Idle Rich (1929) - Joan Thayer aka Joan Van Luyn
- Wonder of Women (1929) - Karen
- Masquerade (1929) - Sylvia Graeme
- Hurricane (1929) - Mary Stevens
- The Thirteenth Chair (1929) - Helen O'Neill
- The Bishop Murder Case (1930) - Belle Dillard
- The Girl Said No (1930) - Mary Howe
- The Flirting Widow (1930) - Evelyn
- The Big House (1930) - Anne Marlowe
- Sweethearts and Wives (1930) - Angela Worthington
- The Sins of the Children (1930) - Alma Wagenkampf
- Way Out West (1930) - Molly Rankin
- Way for a Sailor (1930) - Joan
- Part Time Wife (1930) - Mrs. Murdock
- Gentleman's Fate (1931) - Marjorie Channing
- Men Call It Love (1931) - Connie
- Stepping Out (1931) - Eve Martin
- The Phantom of Paris (1931) - Cecile Bourrelier
- New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford (1931) - Dorothy
- Surrender (1931) - Axelle von Meirbach
- The Christmas Party (1931, Short) - Herself (uncredited)
- Freaks (1932) - Venus
- Red-Headed Woman (1932) - Irene Legendre
- The Big Broadcast (1932) - Anita Rogers
- Island of Lost Souls (1932) - Ruth Thomas
- The Constant Woman (1933) - Lou
- Horse Play (1933) - Angelica Wayne
- Sing Sinner Sing (1933) - Lela Larson
- Saturday's Millions (1933) - Joan Chandler
- The Poor Rich (1934) - Grace Hunter
- Affairs of a Gentleman (1934) - Gladys Durland
- No Ransom (1934) - Barbara Winfield
- Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) - Nell Kenner
- People Will Talk (1935) - Peggy Trask
- 1,000 Dollars a Minute (1935) - Dorothy Summers
- Yellow Dust (1936) - Nellie Bryan
- First Aid (1943, short) - Red Cross Worker
- Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press. p. 545. ISBN 9780415938532. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
- "Leila Hyams, 72, 'Golden Girl' Of Movies in 20's and 30's, Dies". The New York Times. New York, New York City. December 9, 1977. Archived from the original on March 15, 2018. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
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