1/28/08

HOTSY-TOTSY'S OF THE BOOTLEG YEARS-LILLIAN ROTH

Susan Hayward's portrayal of actress/singer/alcoholic Lillian Roth in the 1955 film "I'll Cry Tomorrow" was a harrowing portrait of a woman pushed into show business by a demanding mother (wonderfully played by Jo Van Fleet). The movie was based on Roth's memoir (same title) which was certainly one of the first--if not THE first--tell all show-biz and drug abuse books, a genre which might not have been invented if not for Roth's courageous telling of her tale. (Do we applaud her for this? Or blame her?) When Roth appeared on Ralph Edwards "This Is Your Life" in 1954 and talked openly of her struggle with the bottle and "cure" via Alcoholics Anonymous, the show received the largest amount of viewer mail in its history--the subject of addiction and treatment not yet having entered the national vocabulary. I've actually read Roth's book and its well written and terribly sad--I came across a dog-eared paperback in a house we were renting one summer in Maine and promptly stole it, along with "The Decline and Fall of the Third Reich".

Just who was this Lillian Roth, though, before she became famous for being famously portrayed by Susan Hayward? Well, in terms of analagous perfoming careers, Roth resembles nobody else today as much as Lindsey Lohan. Like Lohan, she was shoved in front of the cameras practically before learning to walk--her earliest screen credit is from 1915 (!) when she's five. She was a Ziegfield starlet while technically under age--she (and her mother) blithely lied when she was fifteen in order to get the gig (she claimed to be over eighteen). Ernst Lubitsch saw her on stage in blah and cast her in 1929's "The Love Parade". Paramount signed her and worked her hard over the next year and a half--eight movies including leads in...

Barely twenty-one years of age, Lindsey--er, Lillian--took to partying hard, showing up late for work, marrying and divorcing men at an alarming rate and drinking ever more heavily. Paramount washed their hands of her in 1932.

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