Wednesday, May 1, 2013


If you look at the movies made just as talking pictures took over, you will see countless stars that were pretty popular for a spell and then faded into celluloid obscurity. On this day, May 1st, in 1905 one of those beautiful but forgotten actresses were born - Leila Hyams. Born in New York, New York to vaudeville comedy performers John Hyams and Leila McIntyre, Hyams appeared on-stage with her parents while still a child. 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, delicate features, and good natured demeanour, 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 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).

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 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 ultimately played in that film and several other Tarzan films 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 widely praised for her comedic performance in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) opposite Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles. After ten years and fifty films, Hyams retired from acting in 1936, but remained part of the Hollywood community for the rest of her life. She was married to the agent Phil Berg from 1927 until her death in Bel Air, California.

I mostly remember Leila in the movie Freaks (1932), and as Bing Crosby's leading lady in his first starring role in The Big Broadcast (1932). It was a shame she retired from acting so young, but her youth and beauty is preserved on film forever. Hopefully other film lovers will remember Leilia Hyams on her birthday as well...


  1. I love watching Leila. She took nothin' from nobody. Nice look at her all too brief career.

  2. Happy Birthday, Leila. Thanks for this wonderful tribute.