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Lyda Roberti (née Pecjak; May 20, 1906 – March 12, 1938) was an American stage and film actress, and singer.
May 20, 1906
|Died||March 12, 1938 (aged 31)|
Glendale, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Bud Ernst (1935-1938; her death)|
Born in Warsaw, then part of Imperial Russia, Lyda Roberti was the daughter of a German father (surnamed Pecjak), a professional clown, and a Polish mother. As a child she performed in the circus as a trapeze artist, and was a vaudeville singer.
As her family toured Europe and Asia, Roberti's mother left her husband. To escape the upheaval in Russia after the Communist revolution in 1917, they settled in Shanghai, China, where Roberti earned money singing. She had an elder brother named Robert (1905-1996), also born in Poland. Their Kiev-born younger sister, Mary Pecjak, was briefly an actress, known as Manya Roberti (1908–1983); later Mrs. Louis Schneider, she left show business.
After having appeared in vaudeville, Roberti made her Broadway debut in You Said It in 1931, and with its success became an overnight sensation. During her run with the show, she was nicknamed "Broadway's preferred Polish blonde". Historian Edward Jablonski found that "much of her appeal to the audiences at the time was due to her Polish accent" and cited instances where her pronunciation of certain consonants would "stir audiences to gales of laughter." She also appeared in the short-lived Gershwin musical Pardon My English in 1933. She moved to Hollywood and during the 1930s played in a string of films. Her sexy but playful characterizations, along with the accent she had acquired during her years in Europe and Asia, made her popular with audiences.
She starred in Edward F. Cline's comedy Million Dollar Legs (1932) as "Mata Machree, The Woman No Man Can Resist", a Mata Hari-based spy character who is hired to undermine the President of Klopstokia (played by W. C. Fields) in his efforts to secure money for his destitute country. Her plan is to seduce the athletes that Klopstokia is sending to the Olympic Games, and thereby prevent them from winning medals. Highlights of the film include Mata Machree's steamy rendition of "When I Get Hot in Klopstokia", and the dance she performs to inspire Fields's opponent in the weightlifting competition.
In the film version of Roberta, Ginger Rogers played the role that Roberti had originated on Broadway. Roberti had replaced Thelma Todd in a couple of films after Todd's death, but Roberti's own health was failing due to heart disease. She began to work less frequently although two days before her death she performed a radio show with Al Jolson.
According to her friend and co-star Patsy Kelly, Roberti died suddenly at age 31 from a heart attack while bending to tie her shoelace. In an interview with Leonard Maltin for Film Fan Monthly, Kelly said, "As a child, her father was in the circus, and he used to throw her on bareback, and we never knew it had affected her heart, and one day-- boom!" At the time of her death, she was still married to Ernst. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
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Roberti found success as a comedian, and was also popular as a singer on radio. She made few known recordings, including:
- "Sweet and Hot" (TCL-1461) 3-10-31 - (Brunswick private unissued recording)
- "Ha Ha Ho!" (TCL-1462) 3-10-31 - (Brunswick private unissued recording)
- "My Cousin in Milwaukee" 1/26/33 (radio broadcast)
- "Take a Number from One to Ten" (LA-227) 10-5-34 (Columbia 2967-D)
- "College Rhythm" (LA-228) 10-5-34 (Columbia 2967-D)
- Dancers in the Dark (1932)
- Million Dollar Legs (1932)
- The Kid from Spain (1932)
- Three-Cornered Moon (1933)
- Torch Singer (1933)
- College Rhythm (1934)
- George White's 1935 Scandals (1935)
- The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935)
- Nobody's Baby (1937)
- Pick a Star (1937)
- Wide Open Faces (1938)
- Undersea Revue (1928)
- Hollywood Rhythm (1934)
- At Sea Ashore (1936)
- Hill-Tillies (1936)
- Jablonski, Edward (1998). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. UPNE. pp. 63–65. ISBN 9781555533663. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Robert Pecjak (later Robert Roberti; 1905-1996)
- Manya Roberti profile, imdb.com; accessed March 30, 2014.
- Edward Jablonski (September 1, 1998). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. UPNE. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-1-55553-366-3.
- "Lyda Roberti Weds Aviator At Yuma, Ariz". Reading Times. Pennsylvania, Reading. Associated Press. June 26, 1935. p. 9. Retrieved February 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- Crivello, Kirk (1988). Fallen Angels: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of Fourteen Hollywood Beauties. Citadel Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-8065-1096-X.
- Maltin, Leonard. "FFM Interviews Patsy Kelly." March 1971, 3.
- Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 68. ISBN 9780786409839. Retrieved August 24, 2018.