b. Frances Jellinek, 3 November 1901, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, d. 27 January 1959, New York City, New York, USA. Performing from childhood, at the age of 16 Williams toured with an acrobatic troupe. Among her 20s shows were Innocent Eyes (1924) and, with the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts (1925). Of this appearance Alexander Woollcott wrote: ‘... the high moments had been pretty much the goings on of Groucho and Harpo, plus the singing and dancing of a startling girl named Frances Williams, who shuddered a devastating Charleston and vanished from sight, her head tossing like a chrysanthemum, all gold and agitation.’ Other 20s shows were The Cradle Song and Big Lake (both 1927), Martine (1928), The Lady From Alfaqueque and Katerina (both 1929), as well as several editions of George White’s Scandals. Her 30s work included A Glass Of Water and The New Yorkers (both 1930), Everybody’s Welcome (1931, a musical comedy with book by Lambert Carroll, music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Irving Kahal), Gentlewoman, Life Begins At 8:40 (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg and Ira Gershwin) and Gold Eagle Guy (all 1934), Call It A Day (1936), and Casey Jones (1938).
Several of Williams’ New York shows were also staged at Washington, DC’s National Theatre, among them Three After Three (1940, by Guy Bolton, music by Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, in which Simone Simon and Jack Whiting appeared) and Du Barry Was A Lady (1940, by Herbert Fields and Buddy De Sylva, music and lyrics by Cole Porter, in which Lahr starred). Her 40s New York shows included Walk With Music (1940), Let’s Face It! (1941) and Bright Lights Of 1944 (1943). Her last New York appearance was in The Enchanted (1950).
Among songs Williams introduced are, from The New Yorkers, ‘The Great Indoors’ and ‘Take Me Back To Manhattan’, and, most notably, from Everybody’s Welcome, Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Williams made a few records and film appearances, none of which capture her reportedly startling stage presence. Among the films, some only shorts, are Broadway’s Queen Of Jazz (1927), Let’s Stay Single (1930), Broadway Thru A Keyhole (1933), Hollywood Party (1934), and Shoes With Rhythm (1937). Williams also appeared in vaudeville, including playing New York’s Palace Theatre, and on television, in Incident In The Rain (1950), an episode of Fireside Theatre.