Born Lillian Rutstein in Boston, Massachusetts, she was merely six-years-old when her mother took her to Educational Pictures, where she became the company’s trademark, symbolized by a living statue holding a lamp of knowledge. The following year she made her Broadway debut in The Inner Man. Her motion picture debut came in 1918 in Pershing’s Crusaders. Together with her sister Ann she toured as “Lillian Roth and Co.” At times the two were billed as “The Roth Kids.” One of the most exciting moments for her came when she met U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
Roth entered the Clark School of Concentration in the early 1920s. She appeared in Artists and Models in 1923 and went on to make Revels with Frank Fay. During production for the former show, she told management she was nineteen years of age. When she was seventeen, the youth made the first of three Earl Carroll Vanities with Ray Dooley. This was soon followed by Midnight Frolics, a Flo Ziegfeld production.
Soon the young actress signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures. Among the films she made for Paramount were The Love Parade (1929) with Maurice Chevalier, Paramount On Parade (1930), Honey (1930), in which she sang “Sing You Sinners,” Madam Satan (1930) with Reginald Denny, and the classic comedy Animal Crackers (1930) with the Marx Brothers. Roth occasionally made films for other studios, such as the women’s prison film Ladies They Talk About (Warner Brothers, 1933) with Barbara Stanwyck.
In 1930, Roth left Paramount to go out on her own. She played the Palace Theatre in New York City and performed in the Earl Carroll Vanities in 1928, 1931, and 1932. She continued to make strides as a singer in an era when so much was being set to music.
Unfortunately, her personal life was increasingly overshadowed by her addiction to alcohol. Although her parents were not stereotypical stage parents, as a response to their influence Roth came to rely too much on other people. In her books and interviews, she said she was too trusting of husbands who made key decisions concerning her money and contracts.
Roth was out of the limelight from the late 1930s until 1953 when she appeared on an episode of the TV series This Is Your Life with Ralph Edwards. In response to her honesty in relating her story of alcoholism, she received more than forty thousand letters.
Her theme song, which she began singing as a child performer, was “When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along.”
Roth’s sensational autobiography I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1954) was made into a hit film the following year starring Susan Hayward, who was nominated for an Academy Award. The book became a bestseller worldwide and sold more than seven million copies in twenty languages, and the film renewed the public’s interest in her. In 1958, Roth published a second book, Beyond My Worth, which was not as successful as its predecessor.
Roth sufficiently recovered to re-invent herself as a concert and nightclub performer. She appeared at venues in Las Vegas, and was a popular attraction in Australia. In 1962, she was featured in the Broadway musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, but most of the reviews focused on a newcomer in the cast named Barbra Streisand. Roth had begun drinking again but remained with the show for 301 performances. She was also featured in the touring company of Funny Girl in 1964.
Roth was married a number of times. Among her husbands were aviator William C. Scott, David Lyons, Air Force Cadet Willie Richards, Judge Benjamin Shalleck, Eugene J. Weiner, Edward Goldman, and Mark Harris. Lyons and Scott both died and she was divorced from the last five.
In 1955 she met Thomas Burt McGuire, scion of Funk and Wagnalls Publishing Company at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Lillian first joined A.A. in 1946. The two were married and McGuire managed Roth until September 1963. At this time she received a note from him stating that their marriage was finished. According to Roth, he left her penniless after withdrawing all funds from their joint bank account.
In 1970, Lillian Roth was sharing a penthouse on Manhattan’s West Fifty-Eighth Street. Her fellow occupants were another woman, three poodles, a police dog, a chihuahua, and three dachsunds. She wanted to act and sing again. Her most recent employment included work as a bakery employee, hospital attendant, and a package wrapper. A year later, she returned to Broadway in the Kander and Ebb musical 70, Girls, 70. Lillian returned to feature films, which she had left in 1934, to make the horror mystery Communion in 1976, possibly setting a record for such a recess. Her last film gave her a supporting role in the cult favorite Boardwalk, made in 1979. Lillian died one year later. The inscription on her marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, reads: “As bad as it was it was good.”
Edited by [deleted user] on 8 Aug 2008, 19:45
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