Dancing with Franchot Tone: Tenth Avenue Girl Gets to Be “Lady for a Day”

Fancy that, Florence Farley! You were one lucky teenager, when, early in March 1939, a photographer from the ever enterprising Hearst paper New York Journal American came to see a fashion show planned by you and the kids in your neighborhood—the none too fashionable Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. Subsequently, you were chosen to go to Hollywood and become a “Lady for a Day.” What’s more, on this day, 1 May, you got to tell millions of Americans about your experience, dutifully marvelling at the “simply swell” Lux toilet soap in return. After all, you were talking to Cecil B. DeMille, nominal producer of the Lux Radio Theater, and there had to be something in it for those who made you over, young lady, and made your day.

Mr. DeMille was in New York City for the premiere of his Union Pacific, while Leslie Howard took over as narrator and host in Hollywood; so, C. B. didn’t really have to go out of his way (or send you back, all expenses paid, to Tinseltown) to meet up with you. You had returned by then from your West Coast adventure, the title of “Lady” being bestowed upon you “with the understanding” that you would return to your “own workaday world.”

“I was just another girl,” you told the famous director, just as the script had it. “Gee,” you exclaimed, as anyone should, having had a break like yours. When prompted to do so, you told listeners of going to your “first nightclub,” where you met Dorothy Lamour and “danced with Franchot Tone.” He probably felt like dancing, too, considering that he was single again, his marriage with Joan Crawford having recently ended in divorce, which might not be as bad as going back to the tenements. By the way, I’m watching Harriet Craig tonight and wonder what it must have been like, living with Crawford. But never mind that now.

While in Hollywood, you also got to make a screentest, go for a “bicycle ride with Bob Hope,” and appear in a Paramount picture. Not that I could find your name anywhere on the Internet Movie Database. Who knows just how much of your dream come true is true, Florence Farley. Tell me, were you really glad to return to the tenements to live with your grandma and go out with boys who only dream of being Errol Flynn? Did you get to keep those “Cinderella slippers,” never having “paid more than $2 for shoes” before?

Yours was another thin slice of Hollywood baloney, a West Coast diversion from the butchery about to commence in the east to the east of you. It’s no coincidence, either, that the Lux Radio Theater presented an adaptation of Damon Runyon’s ”Madame La Gimp” (later aired under original title on the Damon Runyon Theater program and remade as Pocketful of Miracles starring Glenn Ford, who would have celebrated his 91st birthday today, had he not died last August). Nor is it surprising that your fairy tale fits so well into the scheme of selling things, of carving the mess of life into neat bars of soap.

You know, Flo, listening to your voice (more real than the hooey you were asked to repeat) and wondering about the life behind those lines of yours—the life behind the “human interest” story and the publicity act you were that spring—sure beats following the sentimental play on offer that night. Now let’s wash our hands of the whole affair, without so much as thinking about lathering with the sponsor’s product . . .

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