'Ageless' actress, according to Hugh Heffner, prolific in the 1930s and married to heartthrob William Boyd
Published 28/11/2010 | 05:00
GRACE Bradley, who died on September 21, her 97th birthday, was frequently cast as a Hollywood femme fatale in the 1930s, and married the actor William Boyd at the height of his fame as the cowboy star Hopalong Cassidy.
Her most important film -- and one which has since become a cult classic -- was Come On Marines! (1934), in which Richard Arlen leads a group of US Marines to rescue several women, all in evening dress, from a remote desert island. In one scene she added spice to the production by dancing in front of mirrors dressed in leather, a daring touch in the early days of the Hays Code enforcing moral standards.
Grace Elsa Bradley was born on September 21, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. The only child of a wealthy family, she started playing the piano when she was five, spoke fluent French by the age of nine and gave her first recital at 10. By the time she was 12, she had won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, and a career as a concert pianist beckoned.
Among her schoolgirl crushes was William Boyd. "I fell in love with him and wrote his name on all my school books -- Bill Boyd, Will, My Boy Billy and so on. How could I ever have dreamed that he would one day become my husband?"
From Rochester she joined a dance school where she excelled in tap and modern ballet. In 1930 the Broadway producer George Abbott gave her a job in the chorus line of Ballyhoo, in a production starring WC Fields. Other shows quickly followed, including Strike me Pink (1933) in which she performed in the chorus to 'When Yuba Plays the Rumba on his Tuba'. She also modelled and performed in cabaret, rarely getting more than four hours' sleep a night.
While dancing at the Paradise Club, New York, she caught the eye of the Hollywood director A Edward Sutherland, who suggested she follow him to Hollywood. Although she took several screen tests, she failed to get a job. Then she was introduced to Bing Crosby and he suggested her to Adolph Zukor, the mogul at Paramount Studios. A contract soon followed.
Grace was put to work in Tip Tap Toe (1932) and Too Much Harmony (1933), singing second lead to Crosby. Her other appearances in film musicals at Paramount included The Way of Love (1933), starring Maurice Chevalier; Six of a Kind (1934), which reunited her with WC Fields; and Wharf Angel (1934), alongside Victor McLaglen and Alice White.
She was released from her Paramount contract in 1935. "To be honest, I think they were sick of seeing me about the lot," she joked. "I didn't want to leave the studio, not because of my film career, but because William Boyd was there and a big star."
Boyd heard of her hankerings and, learning that she was to be released from her contract, quickly asked her out to dinner. At 42, Boyd already had four failed marriages behind him but was eager to marry again. In June 1937, only three weeks after their first dinner date (at the Coconut Grove), the couple wed.
After her marriage, Boyd found increasing fame as Hopalong Cassidy. Meanwhile Grace continued working and made featured appearances in more than 30 films. But she hated being separated from her husband.
"The marriage was not always easy. I used to have to fight the women off with a club," she said.
When production of the Hopalong Cassidy films ceased in 1944, Boyd set about purchasing the rights and the subsequent television re-releases made the couple rich.
After Boyd's death in 1972, Grace took a job as a nurse's aide at the hospital where he died. She continued to maintain a high profile in Hollywood, even becoming a frequent guest at the Playboy mansion of Hugh Heffner, who described her as "ageless, with a hint of Mae West but with a lot more class". Grace Bradley had no children.