Lillian Roth (December 13, 1910 - May 12, 1980) was an American singer and actress and noted performer on Broadway. Roth's given name was Lillian Rutstein and she was named after actress Lillian Russell. Lillian was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1916 her mother took her to Educational Pictures. She became the company's trademark, symbolized by a living statue holding a lamp of knowledge. The following year she made her Broadway debut in "The Inner Man". Her motion picture debut came in 1918 in "Pershing's Crusaders". She was known as Broadway's youngest star. Together with her sister, Ann, she toured as "Lillian Roth and Co." At times the two were billed "The Roth Kids". One of the most exciting moments for her came when she met President Woodrow Wilson. Source: "Whatever Became of...? Vol. III 1970."
Lillian entered the Clark School of Concentration in the early 1920s. She appeared in "Artists and Models" in 1923 and went on to make "Revels" with Frank Fay. During production for the former she told management she was nineteen years of age. When she was seventeen the youth made the first of three "Earl Carroll Vanities" with Ray Dooley. This production was soon followed by "Midnight Frolics", a Flo Ziegfeld feature.
Soon the young actress signed a contract for seven years with Paramount. Among the films she appeared in include "The Love Parade" (1929), with Maurice Chevalier, "Paramount On Parade" (1930), Honey (1930), "Madame Satan" (1930), with Reginald Denny as a co-star, and the Marx Brothers classic "Animal Crackers" (1930). In "Honey" Lillian is noted for singing "Sing You Sinners".
Also in 1930 Lillian left Paramount to go out on her own. She traveled to New York to play the Palace and performed in "Earl Carroll Vanities" in 1931 and 1932. She continued to make strides as a singer in an era when so much was being set to music.
It is unfortunate that her personal life was increasingly troubled by her addiction to alcohol. This affected most everything she was involved in. Her parents were not stereotypical stage parents. However, as a response to their influence, Roth came to rely too much on other people. In the future she was too trusting of husbands who made key decisions concerning her money and contracts.
Lillian was out of the limelight from the late 1930s until 1953 when she appeared on "This Is Your Life" with Ralph Edwards. In response to her honesty in relating her story of alcoholism, she received more than forty thousand letters.
Her theme song, which she began singing as a child performer, was "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along". She was one of the "Earl Carroll showgirls," appearing in his 1928 and 1931 "Vanities" musicals.
Her sensational (for the 1950s) autobiography I'll Cry Tomorrow was made into a hit film starring Susan Hayward as Lillian. The book and subsequent film chronicled Lillian's long battle with alcoholism, which destroyed a very promising Broadway and Hollywood career in the 1930s. The book became a bestseller worldwide and sold more than seven million copies in twenty languages. In 1958 she published a second book, "Beyond My Worth". This one was not as successful as "I'll Cry Tomorrow".
She sufficiently recovered to start over as a concert and nightclub performer. She appeared at venues in Las Vegas, and was a popular attraction in Australia. One of her later efforts was a successful Broadway show called I Can Get it for You Wholesale, but most of the reviews focused on a newcomer in the cast named Barbra Streisand. Lillian had begun drinking again but carried out a 301-performance Broadway run in this 1962 production. She was encouraged by this. She was also featured in "Funny Girl", a road company production in 1964. She was accused of drinking again by the road company but contended that she had finally quit drinking for good.
Lillian Roth was married a number of times in the early portion of her career. Among her husbands were aviator William C. Scott, David Lyons, Air Force Cadet Willie Richards, Judge Benjamin Shalleck, Eugene J. Weiner, Edward Goldman, and Mark Harris. Lyons and Scott both died and she was divorced from the last five. In 1955 she met Thomas Burt McGuire, scion of Funk & Wagnalls Publishing Company at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Lillian first joined A.A. in 1946. The two were married and McGuire managed Roth until September 1963. At this time she received a note from him stating that their marriage was finished. Lillian believed McGuire was living with another woman. According to her he left her penniless after withdrawing all funds from their joint bank account.
In 1970 Lillian Roth was sharing a penthouse on Manhattan's West Fifty-Eighth Street. Her fellow occupants were another woman, three poodles, a police dog, a chihuahua, and three dachsunds. She wanted to act and sing again. Her most recent employment included work as a bakery employee, hospital attendant, and a package wrapper. Source: "Whatever Became of...?, Vol. III, 1970, The World Almanac 1966, Published by the New York World Telegram and The Sun.