b. 8 September 1898, New York City, New York, USA, d. 5 August 1978, Burbank, California, USA. As a child Smith studied ballet and in her teens became principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Company. She was also in plays and musical comedies, several on Broadway. Among the musicals was Tip-Toes (1925), in which she appeared as Tip-Toes Kaye, introducing the songs ‘That Certain Feeling’ and ‘Looking For A Boy’, by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. She was also in Hit The Deck (1927), songs by Vincent Youmans, Clifford Grey and Leo Robin. In 1929 she was in The Street Singer, a play that is not connected to the 1924 British musical comedy with the same title.
Smith may have made films as early as 1915, but her film career proper began in the mid-30s. In California, she taught at the Hollywood Professional School, reputedly planned marriage to Cary Grant, and appeared in minor roles or bit parts in films such as Mississippi (1935), which starred Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields and had songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. She took the role of Ellie May Chipley in Show Boat (1936), songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and featuring Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan. She was Lil Dolan in On Your Toes (1939), a version of the stage musical with Rodgers and Hart’s songs relegated to background music, but which does have Vera Zorina performing George Balanchine’s choreography for ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’. In the 40s Smith had small roles in The Killers and Nocturne (both 1946), and The Snake Pit (1948). Smith’s 50s films included Caged (1950), My Sister Eileen (1955) and Sweet Smell Of Success (1957). In the late 60s and through the 70s she was in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), The Day Of The Locust (1975) and Foul Play (1978). On television from the early 70s, Smith appeared in various series and situation comedies, including The Monkees (1967), The Funny Side (1971), Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1971-72), The Odd Couple, Here’s Lucy, and The Waltons (all 1973), McMillan And Wife (1974), Little House On The Prairie (1974), Chico And The Man and Dawn: Portrait Of A Teenage Runaway (all 1976) and The Love Boat (1977).