What makes this 2010 biography of Lynn Bari (1919 – 1989) special is that Lynn herself cooperated with the author, Jeff Gordon who was able to tape conversations with Lynn in 1989.
Lynn’s comments throughout the book add so much to what might have been just a standard star biography.
Also Jeff Gordon spoke to work colleagues and family members , and through a tremendous amount of research, he provides one of the most comprehensive film star biographies I have ever read.
Sadly, Jeff died in 2020. It is sad too that Lynn died before Jeff could show her the first draft of the book.
Lynn is far left, top row, looking like the 13 year old school girl she was when she and her mother (who had moved to Hollywood) saw a newspaper ad: “WANTED:TALL GIRLS FOR MUSICAL AT MGM. BRING BATHING SUIT.”
Even at 13, Lynn was 5’ 7 and looked older ( a fact that was to affect her later career.) She landed a chorus role in “Dancing Lady”, not admitting how young she was.
Over the next few years, Lynn learned the business, appearing in many uncredited roles. In 1937 , her face could be seen in 20 films!
A contract with Twentieth Century Fox gave the teenager $50 a week, quite a sizeable salary at the time.
In “The Perfect Snob”, Lynn plays the daughter of Charlie Ruggles and Charlotte Greenwood, with Cornel Wilde as Lynn’s romantic interest.
Lynn: “I spent my spare time on sets – Loretta Young was the best picture actress I ever saw. She knew more about the camera than the cameraman!”
It took a few years but eventually Lynn started to get speaking roles in ‘B’ features.
Lynn: “Was I cooperative? You bet! I took any part that they handed me.”
Lynn: “Lloyd Nolan and I did 5 pictures together. I was always delighted when I was going to be in a film with him. He was a helluva actor.”
The following contains my favourite quote from Lynn – “It’s so hard to be active and alive in something that’s dead weight. I always tried like hell, but on some of these pictures – well, as they say, “If it ain’t there, you can’t fix it.”
The tide seemed to be turning for Lynn in the early 40s. It looked like Fox were ready to promote Lynn to the ‘A’ league, but typecasting was so easy for the casting directors . Lynn was tall, distinguished looking with a deep,rich voice, and looked older than she was .
And so she was being cast in the second lead, often as a society matron.
As Lynn said : “I was always the heavy in the ‘A’s , but in the ‘B’s, I was the heroine. I never had any desire to act like the snooty other woman parts that I played.”
In TAMPICO (1944) , Lynn was cast opposite Edward G. Robinson. She was 24, he was 50. Lynn enjoyed working with Edward G.
Lynn did star with Henry Fonda in “The Magnificent Dope”(1942), but it didn’t do so well at the box office and didn’t improve her standing at Fox.
(The film was to be called ‘The Magnificent Jerk’, but the Hays Office found the word ‘jerk’ vulgar!)
Lynn was directed by Robert Siodmak in the 1942 THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DIVORCE .
Lynn: “I liked Robert Siodmak, a very interesting guy. Mary Beth Hughes was good in it, but the studio never gave her a fair shake.”
And the film didn’t do anything for Lynn. Her leading man, Joseph Allen , played in a few ‘B’s during WW2 .)
Lynn became a band singer in two big Fox successes, ORCHESTRA WIVES and SUN VALLEY SERENADE. But she still wasn’t heading the cast. Her songs with Glenn Miller were dubbed by Pat Friday.
Lynn played a similar role in 1944’s SWEET AND LOW DOWN, as vocalist for Benny Goodman. (This time, Lynn was dubbed by Lorraine Elliot.)
Credit is due to Pat Friday (1921-2016) who sang for Lynn in Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942.)
Like many of the song dubbers of the era, Pat’s participation in the two musicals was never known till years later.
Interviewed in later years, Pat made it clear that a professional career was not for her . She had married in 1940 and followed her husband in his military postings during the war.
Pat said, “Singing was never my day job.”
She sang at military bases and on radio ( with Bing Crosby and Roy Rogers). And Pat spent two years in Britain (1950-52) when her husband was studying at the University of London.
She said Glenn Miller had heard her on the radio and arranged for an audition for the first musical.
”I was paid about $500 per film, with no residuals for recordings, re-issues etc. And no credits for many years.”
Despite being short and blonde, Pat’s voice perfectly suited the tall brunette of Lynn Bari ( though Lynn didn’t think so!)
So, Pat Friday’s short career is forever captured on these two films as we hear her lovely deep voice singing ‘At Last’, ‘I Know Why’, ‘Serenade in Blue.’
I watched SHOCK (1946) on You Tube recently and will file it under “could have been so much better”. With a better script and direction, I’m sure Lynn and Vincent Price could have made this a good film noir. As it is, Vincent walks through the film with an almost robot-like delivery of his lines, and Lynn’s part is so poorly written, there really is nothing she can do with it.
I don’t often agree with the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, but his 1946 review summed them up – “….the morose performance of Vincent Price and the purely mechanical iciness of Lynn Bari…”
It’s always annoying when you can see a good plot which needs better scripting and direction to bring it to life.
( as Lynn said, “If it ain’t there, you cant fix it.”)
Vincent Price (playing a psychiatrist) gets the best line in the film when , having murdered his wife and tried to drive one of his patients insane, says to Lynn : “There’s a limit beyond which even I can’t go.”
Anabel Shaw, who played the victim of Price and Bari in the film, had also been in Lynn’s film, Home Sweet Homicide, and said Lynn couldn’t have been nicer.
Lynn had starring roles in the independent The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944) and Captain Eddie (1945), but still fully fledged stardom eluded her.
Author Jeff Gordon keeps hoping Lynn’s star will rise at Fox – “Her durability, combined with her appearance in the prestigious “Captain Eddie”, reinforced the long standing assumption that Bari was destined for the top.”
This sentiment is repeated several times throughout the book, but Twentieth Century Fox never really gave any indication that they considered adding Lynn to their list of top female stars.
RKO borrowed Lynn for NOCTURNE (1947) which gave Lynn a good role opposite George Raft. A pity Lynn couldn’t have done more for RKO.
Lynn said: “George Raft was fine – very professional.”
Lynn was only 26 but played mother to Peggy Ann Garner, Dean Stockwell and Connie Marshall. Maternal roles were to become regular for the young actress .
Despite willing to stay at Fox, Lynn’s contract was terminated in 1947, a shock for Lynn who’d been with the studio for nearly 15 years.
Roddy McDowall commented to the author: “I never understood why Lynn never made it into the first rank.”
Film roles became sporadic and Lynn only made ten films in the 1950s. In HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL , she was 32 and played the mother of Piper Laurie who was 22.
PART TWO coming up – Private Life and life after Fox.