Synonymous with chic, the ever-fashionable Faye Emerson certainly qualified as one of the “first ladies” of TV glamor. Bedecked in sweeping, rather low-cut gowns and expensive, dangling jewelry, she was a highly poised and stylish presence on the small screen during its exciting “Golden Age”. An enduring presence throughout the 1950s, she could have lasted much longer in her field of work had she so desired.
Born in 1917 in Elizabeth, Louisiana, her father was both a rancher and court stenographer. The family subsequently lived in Texas and Illinois before settling in California. Her parents divorced after she entered her teens and she went to live with her mother (and new husband) in San Diego where she was subsequently placed in a convent boarding school. Following graduation from high school, she attended San Diego State College and grew interested in acting, performing in several Community Players productions. She made her stage debut with “Russet Mantle” in 1935.
Her first marriage to a San Diego car dealer, William Crawford, was short-lived, but produced one child before it ended in 1942. Both Paramount and Warner Bros. talent scouts spotted her in a 1941 San Diego production of “Here Today” and were impressed, offering her contracts. She decided on Warner Bros. and began uncredited in such films as Manpower (1941) and Blues in the Night (1941). During her five-year tenure at Warners she progressed to a variety of swanky secondary and co-star roles in such “B” war-era movies as Murder in the Big House (1942) starring Van Johnson, Air Force (1943) with Gig Young, The Desert Song (1943) starring Dennis Morgan, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) with Peter Lorre, Between Two Worlds (1944) with John Garfield, The Very Thought of You (1945) (again) with Dennis Morgan, Hotel Berlin (1945) starring Helmut Dantine, Danger Signal (1945) with Zachary Scott, and Nobody Lives Forever (1946) (again) starring John Garfield. A large portion of the roles she received were interesting at best. For the most part, however, Faye was caught in glittery roles that were submerged in “men’s pictures”.
At this juncture, Faye was probably better known as Mrs. Elliott Roosevelt, the fourth child of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she married in 1944. Her husband was a war hero and author and the couple lived in the White House for a spell (FDR died in 1945). Faye abruptly abandoned the Hollywood scene after her marriage and the couple instead became major figures in the New York social scene. Sometime after the war Elliott and Faye entered the Soviet Union as journalists where they interviewed Joseph Stalin for a national publication.
With her movie career on the outs, the recently-transplanted New Yorker made her Broadway debut in “The Play’s the Thing” (1948), then entered the world of television where she truly found her niche. Managing to combine both beauty and brains, Faye was a sparkling actress of both drama and comedy and a stylish, Emmy-nominated personality who became an emcee on Paris Cavalcade of Fashions (1948); a hostess of her own show The Faye Emerson Show (1949); a moderator of Author Meets the Critics (1947); and a regular panelist on the game shows Masquerade Party (1952) and I’ve Got a Secret (1952). In addition she enjoyed time as a TV columnist, appeared on such covers as Look magazine, and was performed as guest host for other permanent TV headliners such as Garry Moore, Dave Garroway and even Edward R. Murrow on his “Person to Person” vehicle. All the while Faye continued to return sporadically to the stage and added to her array of Broadway credits such shows as “Parisenne” (1950), “Heavenly Twins (1955), “Protective Custody” (1956) and “Back to Methuselah” (1958), the last mentioned pairing her with Tyrone Power. Regional credits included “Goodbye, My Fancy”, “State of the Union”, “The Pleasure of His Company”, “Mary Stuart”, “Elizabeth the Queen” and “The Vinegar Tree”. One highlight was gracing the stage alongside such illustrious stage stars as Eva Le Gallienne, Viveca Lindfors and Basil Rathbone in the 1953 production of “An Evening with Will Shakespeare”.
Divorced from Roosevelt in 1950, her third (and final) marriage also would figure prominently in the public eye. She wed popular TV band leader Skitch Henderson shortly after her second divorce was final. The couple went on to co-host a 15-minute music show Faye and Skitch (1953) together. This union would last seven years.
Faye was a welcomed as a guest panelist on other game fun too such as “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”. The actress, once dubbed the “Best-Dressed Woman on TV,” focused on traveling in the early part of the 1960s and never returned actively to Hollywood. For nearly two decades she lived completely out of the limelight in and around Europe, including Switzerland and Spain, returning to America very infrequently and only for business purposes. She died of stomach cancer in 1983 in Majorca, Spain.
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