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The Tragedy of Sidney Fox

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Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 12:00 am

It’s one of the shockers of the Golden Age of Hollywood horror, but for the wrong reason.

The movie is Murders in the Rue Morgue, Universal’s stylish, picturesque, dramatically ditzy 1932 thriller. The opening credits roll (under “Swan Lake,” of course), and we see the billing:

Carl Laemmle Presents

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Based on the Immortal

Edgar Allan Poe Classic

with

SIDNEY BELA

FOX LUGOSI

The immediate reaction: Murders in the Rue Morgue was supposed to be Lugosi’s great Universal follow-up to Dracula. So who is Sidney Fox? Who is she to get top-billing? Or, as some garden variety movie watchers might understandably ask, “Who is he?”

Miss Fox was a Universal starlet who played the Rue Morgue heroine, Mlle. Camille L’Espanaye, heartthrob of Lugosi’s Erik the Ape. It’s a role essayed (under Robert Florey’s direction) as a throwback to silent melodrama. Not since Mary Philbin in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera had a horror movie heroine cooed, swooned, posed, giggled, pursed lips, fluttered eyelashes and been such a total ninny; nor has one since. It’s a performance which frequently grates, and the fact that the actress won billing over Lugosi while flaunting such affectations has led many bitter Lugosi fans to console themselves with decades-old Hollywood gossip:

1. Miss Fox was having an affair with Universal’s General Manager, “Junior” Laemmle.

2. Miss Fox was having an affair with Junior’s dear old dad, studio founder “Uncle Carl” Laemmle.

3. Miss Fox was having an affair with both Junior and Uncle Carl Laemmle.

Whatever the facts, Sidney Fox never lived down (in the Hollywood colony) her reputation as inamorata of the Laemmle family—just as she never lived down (for the legions of horror fans) her performance in Murders in the Rue Morgue.

It was a tragedy. The 4’ 11” brunette was actually a fine actress, a Broadway veteran whose (perhaps) best performance—the coveted lead in Universal’s 1931 Strictly Dishonorable—is rarely revived today. Her favor at Universal faded; her stormy marriage in 1932 to writer Charles Beahan and her ensuing matrimonial misadventures left her little energy for her career. It all crashed to a tragic close in 1942, a decade after the release of Murders in the Rue Morgue, when Fox died, after an overdose of sleeping pills, a probable suicide.

In truth, Sidney Fox’s performance in Murders in the Rue Morgue was just what director Florey ordered—her coquettish Camille is actually in total style with the rest of that bon-bon horror show. It also was apparently quite different from her real-life personality. That Murders in the Rue Morgue survives as her best-remembered performance (probably her only remembered performance) is yet another aspect of the tragedy of Sidney Fox.

“My greatest cross is that my face and body don’t match my mind and soul. People expect me to be an ingenue, 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.”

Sidney Fox, Motion Picture magazine, August 1931

Sidney Fox was born in New York City, December 10, 1907 (1910 being the publicized year). Her Jewish family reportedly lost its fortune in the early 1920s, and she later claimed she was self-supporting from the age of 13. Sidney worked a variety of jobs: a Fifth Avenue model; the author of an “Advice to the Lovelorn” column; apprentice to a modiste. A 1934 PR release also claimed she had been organizer and head of a Film Fan Club “bossing around a secretary ten years older than herself, and making money, scads of it.”

For a time, the tiny, no-nonsense brunette planned to study law. Instead, she opted for acting, joining a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, stock company and playing in such shows as The Big Pond, Wedding Bells, The Ghost Train and Gregory’s Woman.

Sidney’s Broadway debut: It Never Rains (Republic Theatre, 11/19/29, 178 performances), a comedy about “madcap youth” and Los Angeles real estate, in which she played the role of Dorothy Donovan; “Sidney Fox is pretty and demure,” reported the New York Times. There followed Lost Sheep (Selwyn Theatre, 5/5/30, 96 performances), a comedy in which the Rev. William Wampus (Ferdinand Gottschalk) and his family (including Sidney as his youngest daughter, Rhoda) move into a house recently vacated by a madam and six prostitutes. “As Rhoda,” reported the New York Times, “little Sidney Fox 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.”

One audience member “tenderly disarmed” by Sidney’s Lost Sheep performance: Carl Laemmle, Jr., “Crown Prince” of Universal City, Hollywood.

News of his “discovery” of Sidney Fox appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner November 14, 1930, nine days after he had won the Academy Award for All Quiet on the Western Front, and one day before his new production, Dracula, wrapped at Universal. The “Baby Mogul” seemed to be coming into his own.

Yet Hollywood humor would never ease up on this tiny, toothy hypochondriac, who had received the General Manager post from his dad, studio founder Carl Laemmle, as an April 28, 1929, twenty-first birthday gift. Sidney Fox’s sponsor might have had an Academy Award, but he himself was no prize. Most of Sidney’s female Universal compatriots were outspoken in later years about the “Crown Prince”:

Gloria Stuart: “Junior really wasn’t qualified to produce pictures.”

Rose Hobart: “Junior didn’t know his ass from a shotgun!”

Mae Clarke: “Junior was retarded!”

And so on. Even Junior’s cronies laughed how the hypochondriac was so frightened of catching cold that he wore Kotex in his trousers.

“Uncle Carl,” however, was pleased with Junior’s new “find.” She was Jewish, unlike Alice Day and Constance Cummings. (Sr. vowed to disinherit Jr. if he wed Constance; Jr. came to regret his decision as a major mistake of his life.) Also, Sidney was so small that she could wear her highest heels without intimidating the hypersensitively-short Junior (who, as Pauline Moore giggled, once met Pauline in his New York office standing on a box behind his desk).

Junior presented Sidney with a flashy film debut: Marianne Madison, the Bad Sister (1931). “The bad sister is Sidney Fox, not Bette Davis,” notes Michael Fitzgerald in his book “Universal Pictures.” Davis also made her film debut (as the good sister) and lamented over the years that Sidney’s relationship with Junior Laemmle cost Bette the role she craved. Hobart Henley directed; Conrad Nagel was top-billed; Karl Freund was the cameraman; and in the supporting ranks, as a character named Valentine, was Humphrey Bogart.

On loan-out to Fox, she was Spencer Tracy’s leading lady in Six Cylinder Love, released in May 1931. Universal kept giving Sidney Fox a build-up, per Junior’s directive. On August 12, 1931, she was named one of the 13 “WAMPAS Baby Stars” of 1931. It was a great bunch that year: Sidney and Anita Louise from Universal; MGM’s Karen (The Mask of Fu Manchu) Morley and Joan Marsh; Columbia’s Constance Cummings; Paramount’s Frances Dee and Judith Wood; Warner Bros.’ Marian (Svengali) Marsh; First National’s Joan Blondell; United Artists’ Barbara Weeks; RKO’s Rochelle Hudson; Pathe’s Marion Shilling; and Frances (Dracula) Dade, then an independent player.

Sidney won Universal’s plum female role of 1931: the lead in Strictly Dishonorable, based on the Preston Sturges 1929 Broadway comedy hit. She played Isabelle Parry, the Southern gal whom Italian opera star Count di Ruva (Paul Lukas) meets in a Southern speakeasy. Lewis Stone came over from MGM to play the juicy role of the Judge. John M. Stahl directed the comedy, which, for 1931, was the last word in sexy innuendo. (MGM would remake Strictly Dishonorable as a 1951 vehicle for Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh.)

Winning Strictly Dishonorable was a mixed blessing for Sidney. Jealousy caused the rumors about Junior and his leading lady to fester; along with the gossip came reports that Sidney was “high-hat,” “difficult” and “snooty.” Jerry Hoffman of the Los Angeles Examiner ran a studio-delighting interview, with Sidney claiming:

“Of course, you heard I was very snobbish. Unbearably so. But I can’t help it if I didn’t go about tossing myself into people’s laps when I arrived here. Or if I didn’t maul and paw everyone to whom I was introduced. I can’t gush over everybody—even those I like. If they like me, they know soon enough that their friendship means much to me.”

Jerry Hoffman found her “an unusual child . . . highly sensitive, very intense. Particularly about her work . . . She’ll be that way when she is 50, and more . . . .”

It was about the time of Strictly Dishonorable, and her finest role, that Sidney became aware (as did all Universal) of a bugaboo who was stealing all attention on the lot. The gawky, giant Monster was Boris Karloff—James Whale was shooting Frankenstein.

Strictly Dishonorable had a gala Hollywood premiere at the Carthay Circle Theatre on Friday night, November 6, 1931. “Sidney Fox is very lovely as the Southern girl,” reported Louella Parsons, “and her accent, whether real or imitation, is so convincing no one need care.”

The Strictly Dishonorable premiere followed the 17th day of shooting of Sidney’s new Universal movie, Murders in the Rue Morgue, which had commenced October 19, 1931. The budget was $164,220, the shooting schedule was 18 days and the star was Bela Lugosi.

“Dracula and Frankenstein having softened ‘em up, this third of U’s baby-scaring cycle won’t have the benefit of shocking them stiff and then making them talk about it. Had it come first there’s no doubt it would have created a stronger impression . . . .” Variety review of Murders in the Rue Morgue, February 16, 1932

Long regarded as Robert Florey’s booby prize for losing Frankenstein to James Whale, Murders in the Rue Morgue has traditionally been branded proof that Fate was kind when Whale won the directorship. Brian Taves’ well-researched book “Robert Florey: The French Expressionist” (Scarecrow Press), with its “revisionist” attack that Florey would have made a superior Frankenstein (based primarily on the “French Expressionist’s” love for painting shadows on sets), actually has had a boomerang effect: a few critics have started nailing Rue Morgue harder than ever.

The film has grievous faults. However, if watched in the proper spirit, Murders in the Rue Morgue is a great deal of fun.

For example, study the ennui on the face of “Lady Fatima” as she and her “Arab Angels” sway in the film’s colorful carnival opening. Observe the thespic poses and attitudes of Charles Gemora as Erik, sporting the same ape suit he would wear in the Laurel & Hardy 1932 two-reeler The Chimp (but without the tutu). And look at Florey’s absurd intercutting of Gemora’s gorilla shots with close-ups of a real chimp—a brainstorm that must have proved a new experience for Karl “Papa” Freund, the film’s legendary cinematographer.

Best of all, there’s Bela Lugosi.

Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle is unbridled Bela. This is the Devil playing Hamlet at the top of his lungs, a passion performance that Poe (and his 19th century actress-mother) probably would have given a standing ovation. Lugosi, in his black high hat and cloak, haunting the old 1923 The Hunchback of Notre Dame sets by night; sharing his coach with Erik, with “Janos the Black One” (black actor Noble Johnson—in white-face!) as their driver; screaming “Rotten blood!” at diseased doxy Arlene Francis (over two decades before What’s My Line?), trussed to a cross-shaped rack in his Frankenstein-converted laboratory . . . .

Perhaps best of all, there’s Lugosi in the circus tent, grinning ear-to-ear as he speaks to the caged Erik, and translates the ape’s soliloquy:

“My home is in the African jungle, where I lived with my father and my mother—and my brothers and sisters. But I was captured by a band of hairless white apes, and carried away to a strange land.

“I am in the prime of my strength! And I’m lonely.”

The way Lugosi sings his “lonely” line is unforgettable—full of that “cornball poetry” the late Carlos Clarens saluted in his An Illustrated History of the Horror Film.

Despite Florey’s claims that he tried to “hold down” Bela’s emoting, the star blows virtually everyone and everything else off the screen. “What a funny-looking man,” marvels Sidney Fox’s Camille as she first sees Bela’s Mirakle in the tent, joyfully smirking, showing off his curled hair and incredible, one-long eyebrow. “He’s a show in himself!” Indeed, one can argue that, in Murders in the Rue Morgue, Bela Lugosi is the whole show. It’s mind-boggling that Robert Florey claimed to lament Lugosi’s inclusion in the film, opining that “the story would have been much better without the Mirakle character.”

We first meet Miss Fox, as Camille, in charming costume and bonnet, at the carnival, gently slapping boyfriend Pierre Dupin (played by Leon Waycoff, aka Leon Ames, and destined for more subtle things) for gazing at the Arab Angels; she also sticks out her tongue at Lady Fatima. They wander into Mirakle’s tent, through its giant, 20-foot-high gorilla cut-out entrance.

Bela’s smirks and eye-popping leave no doubt that he wants Camille as a mate for Erik, to prove his “mad” theory of evolution. Thereafter, some of Murders in the Rue Morgue’s most endearingly dizzy moments come when Bela casually namedrops Erik as he plays Cupid for ape and ingenue.

“Erik is only human, mademoiselle,” grins the villain. “He has an eye for beauty!”

Or, after Erik has destroyed Camille’s bonnet after she hands it to him in his cage: “I’ll send you a new one . . . with Erik’s compliments!”

Or, later, at her apartment, when Bela shows up at the door and insists on a midnight meeting: “But I have a message for you . . . from Erik! He talks only of you. He can’t forget you!”

To be fair, one can hardly expect a timeless performance from an ingenue who must endure such fruity lovemaking from Ames as his Mayday litany: “You’re like the song the girls of Provence sing on Mayday. And like the dancing in Normandy on Mayday. And like the wine in Burgundy in Mayday . . . .” (John Huston supposedly worked on the dialogue!) Or, who in her big moment of horror, is menaced by an ape captured in shadow by Florey, looking, for all the world, like he’s performing a Mummer’s strut.

Erik shoves Camille’s mother feet first up the fireplace flue (one of the film’s only dashes of pure Poe), absconds with Camille and carries her back to the laboratory. In a fit of impatient ardor, Erik strangles Bela’s Mirakle, and the film (for many buffs) dies right there. Yet Sidney (and the audience) must endure a rooftop chase, with Erik (here doubled, reportedly, by Joe Bonomo) bouncing over the Caligari-esque houses. Pierre finally shoots poor, “lonely” Erik, who rolls off the roof and into the Seine; Pierre catches Camille before she can splash down with him. The crowd cheers.

Universal’s starlet of the hour was, at best, picturesque in her non-horror moments. She’s sweet in the Tyrolean scene where she stands on the balcony, in her new Mirakle-surprise bonnet, as her friends serenade her below on horseback in the village. Sidney sings too, warbling a few solo lines before breaking up in giggles and making an exit throwing a kiss. And there’s the famous picnic swing scene in which Karl Freund managed to have his camera glide with Sidney (sporting her bonnet, giggling, smiling) as Ames pushed her toward the camera. Once again, however, the scene seems too much like an 1845 operetta, with Sidney, no doubt at Florey’s direction, so sugary as to make the audience’s teeth hurt.

Murders in the Rue Morgue originally wrapped at Universal Friday, November 13, 1931, five days over schedule but several thousand dollars under budget. Junior Laemmle looked at Florey’s film, and quickly approved a “Retakes and Added Scenes” budget of $21,870, placing Rue Morgue back into production. On December 10, Florey began seven days of retakes, much of it night shooting of the rooftop chase. It was a clear move to try to make Murders in the Rue Morgue more in the league of the sensational Frankenstein, which had opened on Broadway December 4. The company worked hard; on Monday, December 14, the Rue Morgue company labored on the back lot from 12:30 P.M. until 3:10 the next morning. The final days of shooting, December 22 and 23, 1931, found Florey indulging one of his more aberrant decisions: shooting close-ups at the Selig Zoo of a real monkey which he intercut with long shots of Gemora in his ape suit. Murders in the Rue Morgue’s final cost: $190,099.45. (To be fair, Florey had to make Murders in the Rue Morgue for $100,000 less than James Whale spent on Frankenstein, and $150,000 less than Tod Browning lavished on Dracula.)

On February 10, 1932, Murders in the Rue Morgue braved the Mayfair Theatre in Times Square, which had hosted Frankenstein (and later would house The Mummy). Variety cited Lugosi’s “customary fantastic playing,” noted that Poe wouldn’t have recognized his story, reported how the Mayfair audience “hooted the finale hokum” and voiced the opinion:

“Playing could have been better in a few cases, especially in the femme lead. Sidney Fox overdraws the sweet ingenue to the point of nearly distracting an audience from any fear it might have for her. Most likely the greatest possible contrast was sought between the gigantic gorilla and the frail, defenseless girl, but it might have been more compelling if not so broadly painted.”

Photoplay did offer a kind review for Murders in the Rue Morgue:

“[Lugosi] plays Dr. Mirakle and, although folks who like the repressed school of acting will get a little annoyed with his tactics, he is, nevertheless, the perfect type for this sort of film. Score another one for smiling Junior Laemmle, the producer. Score a nice performance for Sidney Fox. And give the ape a hand.”

By and large, posterity would not be so gracious to Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Sidney’s Camille has enjoyed few kind critiques.

“Fox is a lackluster leading lady,” wrote Tom Weaver in Universal Horrors, “giggling and simpering coquettishly and having all the sex appeal expected from a girl named Sidney.”

“I was always secretly sorry that Erik the ape stuffed the mother up the chimney instead of the annoyingly cute ingenue,” wrote Scott Wilson, Indiana-based historian, “but I was not consulted.”

“Film benefits from expressionistic photography by Karl Freund and Lugosi’s sinister portrayal,” notes Danny Peary in Guide for the Film Fanatic, “but the ape is too obviously a man in a hairy costume and Waycoff and the baby-voiced Fox are just awful.”

Murders in the Rue Morgue was one of the only films to make money on Broadway during a very cold spell of the Depression. For all of Lugosi’s showboat diabolics, Florey’s several effective splashes of atmosphere (particularly the carnival episode and Lugosi’s foggy pick-up of Miss Francis’ “Woman of the Streets”), Murders in the Rue Morgue is virtually all style, no substance. It has none of the profound poetry and theatrics of Frankenstein, in which Karloff and Colin Clive realized epic performances under James Whale’s directorial power. “Style” become Florey’s own Frankenstein Monster on Murders in the Rue Morgue, which could have used less Caligari-esque shadows and more dramatic meat.

Historically, the film convinced Universal that Whale and Karloff were the true discoveries of Horror. Lugosi deserved a better showcase, and Florey never made another Universal horror film.

Nor did Sidney Fox.

Nice Women (1932), completed at Universal the day Rue Morgue began shooting, was released after it. It co-starred Sidney with Frances Dee and Alan Mowbray; it was one of those “Should-you-marry-a-rich-man-if-you-love-a-poor-one-so-to-help-your-family?” soapers.

Sidney shared the screen with Boris Karloff—she as herself, he as himself—in The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood (1932). Lew Ayres, Genevieve Tobin, Tom Mix, Frank Albertson, Sidney and a very dapper Boris (in tuxedo and mustache) all did cameos in the Cocoanut Grove episode. When the comedy opened at the Mayfair in New York, Variety reported the “mob” to be “unimpressed” by the Universal constellation.

Just how unlike the real-life Sidney was from Camille L’Espanaye was evident in the spring of 1932, when she backed her Cadillac coupe out of her garage at 6774 Wedgewood Place, Whitley Terrace, Hollywood, felt her brakes fail, and tumbled 40 feet backwards down an embankment, the car “somersaulting” to the street and landing upside down. Drivers of a passing truck ran to her rescue; Sidney emerged with only “a few cuts and bruises about the head and shoulders.”

“I seemed to just bounce around inside the car when it landed,” said Sidney, who claimed “her diminutive size was her salvation.”

Universal loaned out Sidney to Warner Bros. for The Mouthpiece (1932), a slick melodrama starring Warren William. (It was remade as 1940’s The Man Who Talked Too Much and 1955’s Illegal.) She returned to Universal for another top assignment: the lead role of Susan Walker in Once in a Lifetime (1932), based on the Broadway hit by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Sidney joined Jack Oakie and Aline MacMahon as vaudevillians who crash Hollywood during the manic silents-to-sound transition. It was one of Universal’s top comedies of the early ‘30s, and is well-regarded today as one of Hollywood’s best self-spoofs.

By now, however, the rumors of Sidney’s affair with Junior had become very ugly; there was even talk that she was also the protege of 65-year-old “Uncle Carl” himself. Before Once in a Lifetime was released, Sidney took courageous action: She ran away to Europe, proving herself by making two films abroad.

Paris found her as the niece in Don Quixote, starring with Feodor Chaliapin (and released in the U.S. in 1934); it was directed by the illustrious G. W. Pabst. Vienna saw her as the leading lady of Emil Jannings in Roi Pausole. Proving she could make it on her own, far across the ocean from the Laemmles, Sidney came home to Hollywood just in time for her Universal contract to lapse December 1, 1932. Her final film there as a contract star, Afraid to Talk, was released later that month.

SIDNEY FOX, MOVIE ACTRESS, ELOPES AND WEDS AT DAWN read the Los Angeles Herald headline of December 14, 1932. The groom was Charles Beahan, Universal’s 29-year old, 250-lb. New York story editor. Beahan had been a playwright, whose credits included the 1928 Broadway play Jarnegan, in which he collaborated with Garrett Fort (whose name appeared on the credits of such films as Dracula, Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter). Beahan’s film work included such fare as Virgin Lips (Columbia, 1928), Naughty Baby (First National, 1928), and Murder by the Clock (Paramount, 1931)—a wild and wicked horror film that boasted Lilyan Tashman’s evil vamp, Irving Pichel’s bestial heavy and an old woman who installs a siren in her tomb in case she’s buried alive.

Faced with a five-day waiting period in Greenwich, Connecticut, Beahan and Sidney (“with a party of friends,” noted the Hollywood Citizen News) wed at the Harrison, New York, home of Justice of the Peace Winfred C. Allen, who performed the ceremony.

Reporters naturally noted the contrast between the “unusually large” Beahan and the petite Sidney as they settled together in Hollywood. Sidney resumed her career, returning in Midnight (Universal, 1934), co-starring with Henry Hull and Humphrey Bogart, and RKO’s 1934 musical Down to Their Last Yacht, with Mary Boland, and another Sidney (Blackmer). This musical became notorious as the worst film ever made by RKO; it cost the producer his job; as historian John Cocchi wrote, “In the 30s, all bad musicals were measured against this Yacht.”

A decade of marital misery upstaged what was left of Sidney Fox’s career.

December 14, 1933: Sidney and Beahan celebrated their first anniversary with a wedding at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.

New Year’s Eve, 1933: The couple had a fight at a Hollywood New Year’s Eve party. Sidney went home with actress Ann Dvorak and her husband Leslie Fenton. Beahan sprained his ankle helping his chauffeur push his car out of the mud.

January 6, 1934: The Los Angeles Examiner announced Sidney was filing for divorce. Beahan claimed he would “vigorously contest” it; “She has been ill for a couple of months,” he told reporters.

February 14, 1934: The Beahans made up for Valentine’s Day.

February 18, 1934: At a reconciliation party at their Bel Air home, Beahan (according to Sidney) became intoxicated, demanded guests join them on a motor ride along Malibu Beach and, as the excursion began, proceeded “to choke and curse” his wife. “I couldn’t stand it any longer,” Sidney told Louella Parsons. The actress moved into the Chateau Elysee.

April 19, 1934: Sidney won a divorce decree from Beahan. “He had a most terrible temper,” said Sidney. “I was afraid to go near him, most all the time. He would insult me and call me horrible names.”

May 26, 1934: The Los Angeles Times announced a surprise reconciliation “How about it, dear?” Beahan asked Sidney, who vowed, “Yes, we intend to start anew with faith that things will work out satisfactorily for us . . . .”

Hollywood-at-large soon became sick of the whole business, to the extent that the Los Angeles Examiner ran an open letter to Sidney, signed “The Courthouse Reporters,” snidely summarizing her woes with Beahan, and noting:

“It is our sincere wish that you refrain from further divorce suits against Mr. Beahan. It is our understanding that almost everyone in the film colony shares the latter wish with us. Thank you, Miss Fox.”

The nasty publicity abated, for the most part. On Christmas Eve, 1934, the Examiner reported that Judge Clement D. Nye had ordered the Beahans to pay $176.67 to the La Quinta Hotel near Palm Springs, where they had stayed during a reconciliation in February of that year. Beahan had declared bankruptcy, so Sidney got stuck with the bill.

In February of 1935, Variety reviewed School for Girls, released by Liberty Films. Sidney starred in this female reform school melodrama, supported by Kathleen Burke (the Panther Woman from Island of Lost Souls), Lona Andre (who had been one of Burke’s rivals for the Panther Woman role) and, as the heavy, Lucille LaVerne (who would be the voice of the Wicked Witch in Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Variety prophesied “a comfortable career of double billing” for the Poverty Row picture.

In May of 1935, Sidney appeared at the Orpheum Theatre in New York in a live vaudeville sketch. The little drama (approximately 14 minutes) saw Sidney as a woman in a bar, waiting to learn if her lover had been convicted in a murder trial.

“The dialogue is extremely dull,” reported Billboard of the sketch, “and Miss Fox’s acting doesn’t help either. Audience here was bored and showed it too.”

On February 23, 1936, Sidney was a guest star on Magic Key of Radio with Gene Raymond and Rudy Vallee. Then, on June 16, 1936, the Los Angeles Examiner reported that Sidney was on the verge of a major comeback: she was to play Lotus, second wife of Paul Muni in The Good Earth. In the end, she lost the role to Tilly Losch. Sidney played in no more films.

On December 3, 1936, the Los Angeles Times announced that her father, Jacob Liefer, had died in a Buffalo, New York, charity hospital, the cause of death being “stomach ulcers and complications which developed while he was laboring with a W.P.A. gang.” The Times claimed that the 58-year-old Liefer was separated from his wife, had lived the past eight years in an eight-dollar-a-month lodging house, and that Sidney “had aided him at various times.”

“Friends said he was inclined to be proud,” wrote the Times, “and didn’t want his daughter to know he was in need.”

On April 10, 1937, Sidney returned to Broadway: replacing Margo in the Theatre Guild’s The Masque of Kings at the Shubert Theatre.

Then, come October 11, 1940, the largely-forgotten Sidney once again made a Los Angeles Examiner headline: ACTRESS SIDNEY FOX ASKS DECREE, MEANS IT. “I’m filing a new suit for divorce right away,” she said. “This time the decree will become final. At last I know we can’t make a go of it.” To nobody’s surprise, the decree did not become final, and Sidney and Beahan continued their torturous marriage.

By late 1942, most of the Who’s Who of Junior Laemmle’s crazy, 1931-1936 Universal reign were still working. Karloff was touring nationally his Broadway hit Arsenic and Old Lace. Lugosi was busy at Monogram and Universal, where, come Halloween of ‘42, he was playing Frankenstein’s Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Lew Ayres, star of All Quiet on the Western Front, had been starring in MGM’s hit Dr. Kildare series, and was about to begin a controversial but ultimately triumphant stint as a conscientious objector medic in WW II. Paul Lukas was soon to reprise his Broadway triumph in the film of Watch on the Rhine, for which he would win an Oscar. Robert Florey was a Warner Bros. contract director. And Bette Davis, who had so resented Sidney’s starring in Bad Sister, was the Queen of the Warner Bros. lot, and owner of two Oscars.

James Whale was in exile in Pacific Palisades. But the curtain had crashed most sadly on Junior, and his rumored “paramour” of the early ‘30s, Sidney Fox. Junior was a lowly Signal Corps private; he had never produced a film after leaving Universal in 1936, nor would he ever again. Sidney had not worked since a 1939 straw hat stock engagement. For nearly two years, she was under a physician’s care; in that fall of 1942, she had complained of “a growing illness” although her regular physician, Dr. Roland C. Nelson, later told the press she “had no ailment likely to prove fatal.” She was coping with the agony of being a 34-year-old “has-been” and she was exhausted by the battles with her husband.

Saturday night, November 14, 1942.

The Beahans entertained company at their Beverly Hills house, 516 North Crescent Drive. Late that night, Sidney suggested that they all go dancing, but, as Beahan later told Capt. W. W. White of the Beverly Hills police, they “decided instead to retire and go to church” the next morning. Around midnight, the company departed. Sidney (according to her spouse) was in “good spirits” as they went to their separate bedrooms.

The next morning, Sunday, November 15, 1942, shortly before 8 A.M., Beahan discovered his wife stricken in bed. An empty prescription bottle was near her bedside. Dr. Nelson was “occupied,” so Beahan telephoned Dr. Samuel Hirshfeld, famed movie colony physician. It was too late. Hirshfeld pronounced Sidney dead. She was 34.

The Pierce Bros. Mortuary in Beverly Hills, handled final arrangements. On November 16, following an autopsy, Dr. Frederick Newbarr announced he was “unable to determine the cause of death.” A “chemical examination of the vital organs” was ordered, and finally, on December 3, 1942, coroner Frank Nance reported that death was due to an “overdose of sleeping powders.” The coroner claimed that he did not know if the death was accidental or suicidal.

Sidney Fox Beahan was buried in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, Glendale-Ridgewood, Queens, New York City. The large marker gives her age as “34 years” (making her three years older than her publicity claimed). “Our Beloved Daughter,” reads the marker.

Charles Beahan survived his wife by almost 26 years—he died August 18, 1968, age 65, following surgery. Junior Laemmle, Sidney’s “discoverer,” never married and died September 24, 1979, at the age of 71, and on the 40th anniversary of the death of Laemmle, Sr.

In 1992, 60 years after Sidney Fox so tantalized Bela Lugosi and Erik, Universal released Murders in the Rue Morgue on videocassette. The package featured a striking close-up of Lugosi, with Sidney—her face away from the audience—in the Caligari-esque rooftop backgrounds, and in the arms of Erik. The packaging of Murders in the Rue Morgue, to nobody’s surprise, now gave Bela Lugosi first billing; so did the box for 2005’s DVD release The Bela Lugosi Collection, which included Murders in the Rue Morgue among its five films.

It’s been a sad legacy for Sidney Fox—and she surely deserved much better.

The Films of Sidney Fox

1931: Bad Sister (Universal, Hobart Henley); Six Cylinder Love (Fox, Thornton Freeland); Strictly Dishonorable (Universal, John M. Stahl). 1932: Murders in the Rue Morgue (Universal, Robert Florey); Nice Women (Universal, Edwin H. Knopf); The Cohens and the Kellys in Hollywood (Universal, John Francis Dillon); The Mouthpiece (Warner Bros., James Flood and Elliott Nugent); Once in a Lifetime (Universal, Russell Mack); Afraid to Talk (Universal, Edward L. Cahn); Roi Pausole (Vienna, Alexis Granowsky). 1934: Midnight (Universal, Chester Erskine); Down to Their Last Yacht (RKO, Paul Sloane); Don Quixote (Waldemar D. Bell, G. W. Pabst). 1935: School for Girls (Liberty-William Nigh)

Editor’s Note: This article is from Greg Mank’s book Women in Horror Films, 1930s. The book, and its companion, Women in Horror Films, 1940s, are both available from McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina, 28640.