Frances Day

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An actress and singer with a glamorous image and appealing voice that made her a West End star in the '30s and '40s.
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b. Frances Victoria Schenck, 16 December 1908, East Orange, New Jersey, USA, d. 29 April 1984, Windsor, England. This actress and singer's glamorous image and appealing voice, with its provocative, squeaky inflection, made her an incandescent star of the London stage in the 30s and 40s. While appearing as a dancer in Texas Guinan’s famous New York speakeasy in 1924, Frances Schenck was spotted by entrepreneur Beaumont Alexander, who changed her name and took her to London. In 1925 he managed to get her into the chorus of Rose-Marie at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and two years later they were married. After gaining quite a reputation as a nightclub performer in London and on the Continent, Day appeared in provincial productions of two musical comedies, Little Tommy Tucker (1930) and Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931). In 1932, she finally arrived in the West End in the book musical Out of the Bottle, the first of several shows in which she co-starred with the comic actor Arthur Riscoe. In Out of the Bottle, they performed a duet on the attractive ‘I’ve Got the Moon and Sixpence.’ From then on, until the mid-40s, Day lit up the London stage in a mixture of musical comedies and revues.

How D’You Do?, in 1933, was followed a year later by Jill Darling, the show that confirmed her as a major star. Among her songs was Vivian Ellis’ delightful ‘Dancing with a Ghost.’ Also in the cast (which included Arthur Riscoe) was John Mills, and he subsequently joined Day for the 1937 revue Floodlight, in which they sang several more Ellis numbers, including ‘A Little White Room.’ In The Fleet’s Lit Up (1938), Day introduced Cole Porter’s ‘It’s De-Lovely’ to London audiences. During the next few years she was associated with several other memorable songs, such as ‘Music, Maestro, Please’ (from These Foolish Things, 1939), ‘My Love for You’ (Black and Blue, 1939) and Michael Carr and Eric Maschwitz’s tribute to the Royal Air Force, ‘He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings,’ which she sang in the 1941 George Black revue Black Vanities.

During World War II, Day entertained the troops at home and abroad, as well as working regularly in the recording studio and on radio and appearing in the London production of Du Barry Was a Lady (1942). Shortly after the end of the war, Day starred in Evangeline (1946), an adaptation of Nymph Errant, but without Cole Porter’s songs. It folded after only 32 performances, and marked the beginning of Day’s decline. In 1949, she left the cast of the revue Latin Quarter at the London Casino to appear in Bernard Shaw’s play Buoyant Billions, but the results were disappointing. In the mid-50s she is said to have toured with an act called A Day and Her Knights. Around this time, she recorded some tracks for HMV Records, which included the single ‘The Wheels of Love’/‘Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?’ Even before she rose to fame, Day began making a number of films. They were mostly crime features and comedies, but among them was the occasional musical, such as Public Nuisance No. 1 (1936), in which she sang Vivian Ellis’ risqué ‘Me and My Dog.’ She also co-starred with Tommy Trinder, Sonnie Hale and Francis L. Sullivan in an entertaining Roman fantasy romp entitled Fiddlers Three (1944).

Shortly after her last film, Climb Up the Wall, was released in 1960, Day began refusing to acknowledge her previous career. She changed her name to Frankie Day, and often passed herself off as ‘Frances Day’s daughter.’ She continued to perform for a time, and her final stage appearance is thought to have been in 1965 with Bob Monkhouse at London’s Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre in The Gulls, an English version of an 18th-century French satirical comedy. In her later years she lived as a recluse just outside London. She was heard briefly again on the screen in 1981, when her recording of the jaunty ‘When My Little Pomeranian Met Your Little Pekinese,’ which she made with Al Bowlly in 1933, was played in the Donald Sutherland movie Eye of the Needle.