Lillian Roth Poster


Tragic songstress Lillian Roth (nee Lillian Rutstein), born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 13, 1910, was given her first name in honor of singer Lillian Russell. She was the daughter of daunting stage parents who groomed her and younger sister Anne for stardom at an early age. The girls did not disappoint. In 1916, Lillian moved with her family to New York City where the youngsters found work as extras in films. Lillian's precocious talent was picked up on quickly and at age six made her Broadway debut in "The Inner Man." All the while the girls trained at the Professional Children's School. They became billed as "Broadway's Youngest Stars" after putting together a successful vaudeville tour billed as "The Roth Kids." In this act Lillian did serious dramatic impersonations of famous stars of the day with Anna delivering amusing satires of Lillian's readings. Lillian's vocal talents also impressed and she was cast in the show "Artists and Models" at age 15. Shy by nature, the ever-increasing thrust into the limelight caused Lillian to develop severe nervous disorders, but somehow she persevered. At age 17, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. signed her up as an ingénue headliner in his new show "Midnight Frolics." This attention led to impresario Ernst Lubitsch's invitation to Hollywood for his glossy musical The Love Parade (1929) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Lillian was a hit in her second lead role. She also impressed as Huguette in The Vagabond King (1930), a rather dated early musical talkie. Paramount cast her in Honey (1930), in which she debuted her signature standard "Sing You Sinners." Other roles included Cecil B. DeMille's Madam Satan (1930) and the Marx Brothers' vehicle Animal Crackers (1930) which countered her vocal stylings with the boys' zany antics. The sudden death of her fiancé in the early 30s drove Lillian over the brink. She found liquor to be a calming sensation, which led to a full-scale addiction. Marriages, one to renown Municipal Court Justice Benjamin Shalleck, came and went at a steady pace. There would be eight in all. Her career self-destructed as she spiraled further and further into alcoholic oblivion and delirium. Decades would be spent in and out of mental institutions until she met and married T. Burt McGuire, Jr., a former alcoholic in the late 40s. With his support, Lillian slowly revived her career with club work. She became a singing sensation again and toured throughout the world, receiving ecstatic reviews wherever she went. Lillian's daring autobiography, "I'll Cry Tomorrow" was published in 1954 and topped The New York Times Best Sellers List. She left out few details of her sordid past and battle with substance abuse. She would become the first celebrity to associate her name with Alcoholics Anonymous, putting a well-known face on the disease (as Rock Hudson would later do for AIDS, albeit less willingly) while doing her part in helping to remove the social stigma. A bold, no-holds-barred film adaptation of Lillian's book followed. Susan Hayward's gutsy portrayal of Lillian won her a fourth Oscar nomination. Lillian herself would return to films in her twilight years but only in small roles and to minor fanfare. A beautiful and touching vocalist and actress, she put her own wonderful spin on such vintage songs as "When the Red, Red Robin," "I Wish I Had My Old Gal Back Again" and "Eadie Was a Lady." Lillian overcame unimaginable odds and somehow lived to tell about it. She passed away in 1980 at 69 of a stroke.