Leila Hyams — Up from a Trunk (1930) 🇺🇸

Leila Hyams — Up from a Trunk (1930) 🇺🇸

February 14, 2023

Hollywood is thronged with pretty girls who came to pictures from almost every countrv in the world.

by A. L. Wooldridge

There is, for instance, Barbara Kent, born in a ranch house on the prairies of western Canada; Marian Douglas, who gnawed at her teething ring in far-off Australia; Raquel Torres, who smelled her first tortillas in Hermosillo, and Clara Bow, who hails from Brooklyn. Then there is Leila Hyams.

She came from a trunk.

Sometimes when I hear actresses sadly lisping their tales of the "tehbble, tehb-b-le" handicaps they had to master to become the great artists that they are, in their own minds, I want to say, "Go talk to Leila Hyams. Maybe you'll learn something."

Which they wouldn't, because this quiet, beautiful girl, who is striding rapidly toward stardom, will not admit she knows what a handicap is. And yet, as a baby she was taken from city to city by her parents, as they played their vaudeville act. Her crib was the lid of a trunk.

She got her education on the road, save for some study at the Clark school in New York, at the age of ten, and at the Alviene school at fourteen.

She made her first appearance on the stage at the age of two months — carried in the arms of her mother — and at five sang with her in Girl of My Dreams.

Just at the time other little girls were playing with dolls, making mud pies and digging in sand piles, little Leila was thinking of the rules she some time would play before great audiences and the applause she would win.

Leila doesn't think that missing much of her childhood play, and not getting to know intimately the fairies which dance on the lawn, should be catalogued as a regret. There is a large, rambling house at Stony Brook, Long Island, where John Hyams and Leila McIntyre, her parents, spent their between-season time, and there little Leila put in some happy days. The home is still there, housing many of the playthings she had.

"Happiness depends on one's perspective on life," Leila said, as we lunched in the Metro-Goldwyn commissary. "I was born and raised in the atmosphere of the stage, and my life developed in the perspective of the stage. It was my play. I loved it as much as other girls loved their dolls. I grew up with no other idea than that some day I should be before the footlights. I worshiped my mother and idolized my father, and my greatest desire was to be as good as they. So it was only natural that I absorbed happiness from my ambitions.

"Don't get the idea that I didn't have the chance to be a kid a lot of the time. That old home of ours at Stony Brook afforded the opportunity."

She seemed to be going back in memory over some incidents which happened there just a few years ago, and presently a smile spread over her features.

"Did I ever tell you," she continued, "that I am a member of the government life-saving corps? Well, I am, and I have my certificate."

Her gray-green eyes — some one has said they are the color of a storm at sea — lighted in a humorous smile.

"It was at Stony Brook," she said. "I was about eighteen. The government announced an examination, and I asked permission to take it. I had learned to swim with all the youngsters thereabout, and I thought I was good. The first thing they asked me to do in my test was to bring in a dummy from beyond the breakers. Then I was directed to rescue a 'drowning' man, and show how to resuscitate him on the beach. Next I was asked to demonstrate the correct way to hurl a life preserver into the waves, and so on.

"All very well and good! But then they put a dress on me which buttoned up the back, over my bathing suit. They made me put on heavy stockings and high, laced shoes. Then they rowed me out to sea and dumped me overboard.

"'Take off the dress, shoes, and stockings, and bring them ashore!' the examiner shouted.

"Now if anyone thinks unfastening a dress hooked up the back — a dress so long you couldn't swim, with its skirt around your ankles — then unlacing one shoe and holding it, together with the dress, while you unlaced the other shoe — I say if anyone thinks that's kid's play, he's goofy!

"I managed to unhook the dress and wrap it around my neck. Then I got off one shoe. But what was I to do with it? I couldn't wrap it around anything. I didn't have any pockets. The shoe was too big to slip under my bathing suit. So there I was out in the ocean, with a wet Mother Hubbard about my neck, a shoe in one hand, another still to get off, and I had to stay ' afloat long enough at least to get air. What could I do? What would you do?

"Well, little Leila took the top of the first shoe in her mouth and went down. She began tugging at the laces on the other shoe. She would stay under water as long as she could, then come up for air. Down again she'd go for more unlacing. After a while she got that second shoe loose, and set out for shore looking like a cross between a clothes peddler and a drowning rat. Of course they all gave me a hand as I made it. And when, a little later, my emblem from Washington came, I was about the chestiest girl on Long Island. I went about looking for some one to rescue. To be a dyed-in-the-wool government life guard, you know, you must save at least one person from a watery grave, as the novelists say.

"I did it. I was standing on the dock one day, new uniform 'n' everything, as the tide was going out. The sea swirls about the dock rather nastily at times. As I stood there, the body of a little boy, not more than five or six years old, came floating by. The current was carrying him toward the sea. Two minutes, three minutes, and he would be beyond human aid. Life Guard Hyams plunged in and brought the little fellow up on the dock.

"He was not in a bad fix and presently scurried away.

"Pretty soon, to my horror, there came another body along in that swirling current, and again Life Guard Hyams did her stuff. She hauled the youngster out. It was the same boy!

"'Now you run along and be careful!' I admonished. 'I've saved you twice, but we might not be so fortunate next time. Don't fall in Where are your parents?'

"He raced off and disappeared. Before long, here he came a third time, grinning from ear to ear. I found that the little brat could swim like a Mississippi mud hen. He just liked being saved." Leila helped revive numerous half-drowned persons at Stony Brook beach, and one of her most valued possessions is the government certificate of her appointment as a life guard, which is framed and hanging in the Long Island home.

Miss Hyams' adventure as a life guard is only one in a life of adventures. She spent five years as a member of the Mclntyre and Hyams act in vaudeville, then went on the legitimate stage with William Collier, Sr. Three years ago she decided to plunge into Hollywood's great melting pot — to plunge in and take her chances. Jobs were painfully scarce. Rather than turn to her parents for aid, she did modeling and posed for advertisements. Her face has peered from many posters and street-car placards advertising cold creams, tooth pastes, stockings, and shampoos.

Miss Hyams was about ready to give up the cinema quest, when Allan Dwan summoned her to play in "Summer Bachelors." She did her best, but her work did not appear to make any impression upon the motion-picture world. In fact, it seemed that that would be about all. But Leila would not quit. She was too good a trouper for that. She believed, too, that "it's always darkest just before dawn." Her beauty was unquestioned, but she was in the city where beauty moves about in droves. Just as hope was at the lowest ebb, the turning point came. She signed a year's contract with Warner Brothers. Her first opportunity was in "The Brute," opposite Monte Blue. There followed "The Bush Leaguer," "Honor Bound." "One-round Hogan," and a few others. And then Metro-Goldwyn signed her.

Calm, unperturbed by trifles, understanding, Leila is of the kind which finds, as the Bard of Avon says, "sermons in stones, books in the running brooks and good in everything." She makes one think of warm nights in the South, of magnolias in bloom, of the gentleness and graciousness of daughters born in the splendid old families below the Mason and Dixon Line. Her voice is low and pleasing. Yet she is filled with a restless energy which makes her go, and keep on going when others would tire. She swims, plays tennis, rides horseback — and drives an automobile. Once, about a year ago, in traffic court, she got on Judge Reed's private telephone line and called up the studio.

"Hello!" she said. "Send me some money. Judge Reed, the old crab, has just fined me ten dollars for speeding."

And it so happened that "the old crab" had taken down the other receiver on his two-party line, and was trying to get a number when Miss Hyams' voice broke in.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Hyams," his honor said.

And she recognized the voice! "Oh, memories that bless and burn," Leila repeats, when she recalls the incident. " 'O, barren gain and bitter loss!' I did not know there were two phones on that line."

Leila was married to Phil J. Berg, manager of several stars, in November, 1927. Mr. Berg sent out an announcement not long ago, letting it be known that he is Leila's manager — in a business way. Director Al Rogell framed the announcement and hung it in the library of his home. "The only man in Hollywood who can publicly announce that he manages his wife," Rogell says, "and get away with it!"

Leila was born May 1, 1905. She is five feet, four and one half inches tall, and weighs one hundred and twenty pounds. Under her new contract with M.-G.-M., she will play nothing but leads, and many believe that stardom is not far distant. She made her talking debut opposite William Haines, in "Alias Jimmy Valentine," but many consider the prima donna in "Wonder of Women" her best role.

And this is the girl who came from a trunk!

Leila Hyams dreamed of playing before great audiences when most little girls would have been dressing dolls and making mud pies.

Photo by: Ruth Harriet Louise (1903–1940)

Miss Hyams appeared opposite Conrad Nagel, in The Thirteenth Chair.

Swimming is Leila's favorite sport, and she likes to recount her adventures in winning a life-guard certificate.

Photo by: Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896–1979)

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1930