|Polly Walters and Joan Blondell in "Bleaches"|
Of all the actors and actresses who appeared in 1930s movies, Polly Walters (1913-1994) was certainly one of them.
Although she appeared in small roles in only a handful of movies between 1931-32, Walters made an impression with her blonde hair, deadpan style and Betty Boop-ish, singsong voice. She was usually a working-class girl -- a waitress, a hotel maid, a manicurist, a switchboard operator -- with a working-class name like Mabel, Ethel, Daisy or Gladys.
Born Maude Walters in Zanesville, Ohio, our heroine trained as a dancer and made her way to Broadway, appearing in several productions during the late 1920s. Then came a stage stint as Eddie Cantor's straightwoman before Warner Bros. signed her to a contract in 1931.
At Warner's, Walters appeared in three James Cagney films -- "Taxi," "Smart Money" and "Blonde Crazy." In "Blonde Crazy," she plays a hotel maid who warns another maid -- the film's female lead, Joan Blondell -- to stay away from Cagney, as a bellhop who knows all the angles:
Walters also appeared in Warner films with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ("Union Depot"), Loretta Young ("Play-Girl"), Edward G. Robinson ("Five Star Final") and Warren William ("The Mouthpiece" and "Beauty and the Boss").
For the most part, her Warner roles were bits. It wasn't until she was lent out to other studios that Walters played roles that were actually important to the plot.
In the 1932 RKO film "Young Bride," for instance, she is Daisy, the streetwise best friend of innocent heroine Allie (Helen Twelvetrees). They work together as librarians, and Daisy introduces Allie to nogoodnik Charlie (Eric Linden). Allie ends up marrying Charlie while Daisy ends up with Pete (Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards), and doing lots of heavy partying:
Then in one of her last films, Frank Capra's "American Madness," released by Columbia the same year, Walters's switchboard operator character starts the gossip that threatens to bring down a bank headed by honest Thomas Dickson (Walter Huston):
After appearances in only 17 films, Walters left Hollywood in 1933 and went back to Broadway, appearing in a production called "She Loves Me Not" with Burgess Meredith. After that, there was talk of returning to Hollywood, but nothing materialized. From 1936-37 Walters was on stage in "Red, Hot and Blue" with Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman and a young Bob Hope. Then came roles in plays that ran only a few performances -- her last work was in a 1942 production called "The Life of Reilly" that closed quickly.
For the next 50-odd years, Walters lived a quiet life in New York City -- she had no other film, play or TV credits. Maybe she found a job as a switchboard operator.