Friday, August 1, 2008
Favorite Classic Movie Stars - ROSS ALEXANDER
Ross Alexander was born on July 27th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. His birth name was Alexander Ross Smith. He was the son of a leather merchant.
Alexander began his acting career on Broadway in the 1920's. By the age of 26 when he broke into movies, he was regarded as a promising leading man, very good looking, with an easy and charming style and subsequently began to appear in more substantial rolls. He was signed to a film contract by Paramount Pictures, but his film debut for them was not a success. So, for a while, he returned to Broadway. In 1934 however he was signed to another film contract, this time with Warner Brothers studios.
Alexander was much better suited to the Warner Brothers type of film and the studio persevered with him and gradually increased his roles to commensurate with his growing popularity with film audiences. His biggest success of the period was "A Midsummer Nights Dream" and "Captain Blood" (both made in 1935).
Alexander married an actress with whom he knew from and appeared with on Broadway named Aleta Friele in 1934. The marriage ended however the following year when she committed suicide on December 7th, 1935, at the age of 28. Alexander soon after married another actress, Anne Nagel and appeared with her in the films "China Clipper" and "Here Comes Carter" (both in 1936). But by the time he had married Nagel, the studio had lost patience with him after having to cover up a potentially career threatening homosexual scandal, so he career looked very shaky at this point.
In 1936 he starred in an underrated Warner Brothers comedy that was well written as a business venture type of film called "Hot Money". It was a defining role in his persona as a glamorous, wore-clothes-well, leading man, not the usual Warners gangster mold of rough hewn stars like Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. But Warner Brothers had decided by this time that his potential as an actor was limited and that his personal troubles did not allow him to focus completely on his career. And although they continued casting him in films, the importance of his roles were greatly diminished. With his professional and personal life in disarray and deeply in debt, and less than five months after his second marriage, Alexander shot himself in the head in the barn behind his home on January 2, 1937, at the age of 29. He used the same gun, a .22 caliber rifle that his first wife had used to kill herself with two years earlier. Yet there is still a mystery surrounding the actors motive for committing suicide. On the day after New Years in 1937 for example, Ross and Nagel had dismantled their Christmas tree in their Encino ranch home. They had discussed plans for the following year and planned a trip together. Ms. Nagel testified at the coroner's inquest. She stated that her husband seemed happier on the day of his death than he had been in weeks. Ross was an expert shot and used to handling firearms. He left no notes. However, Anne said he had been writing poetry and tossing the crumbled papers into the fireplace. Police speculated a possible motive may have been grief over his ex wife's death. The coroners jury ruled that he had taken his life with suicide intent. It seems that even though he was so good looking, and had such a breezy personality, Ross was an acutely self destructive young man who suffered from career instability and domestic tragedy.
Ross was a close friend of the actor Henry Fonda and in 1933, they both appeared together in summer stock. Fonda was also his best man for his first wedding in East Orange, New Jersey.
Another bit of trivia concerns Alexanders infatuation with fellow actor Bette Davis.... he used to send her many love letters. At first she thought that he was a homosexual and found the series of letter in 1936 amusing and harmless, so she did not discourage him. As he attention became more so though, she began to find it annoying and Alexander was confronted by her husband who assaulted Ross.
His last film was "Ready, Willing & Able" with Ruby Keeler and was released posthumously.