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"But Mortimer, you're going to love me for my mind, too?"

- as Elaine Harper from Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Priscilla Lane was considered for the role of Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939).

A strikingly beautiful actress, Priscilla Lane (born Priscilla Mullican, June 12, 1915 – April 4, 1995) was the youngest of five sisters. Siblings Leota had established herself in a successful stage career in New York while Rosemary Lane and Lola Lane were also highly regarded performers who graced Hollywood from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, but it was Priscilla who achieved the most success on the silver screen. A fifth sister, Martha, never entered show business.

Priscilla is best remembered for her roles in as series of light romantic comedys during the 1030's, paired with other Warner contract players such as Wayne Morris, Jeffrey Lynn and Ronald Reagan. But her popularity rose above the material and she would score a major hit with Four Daughters in 1938 (today they would call it a franchise) that would spawn two official sequels and a sort-of sequel. She worked with some of the biggest stars of the day including John Garfield (with whom she would make three films) and has a number of "classic" films on her resume. The Roaring Twenties (1939) co-starring with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart; Saboteur (1942), an Alfred Hitchcock film in which she plays the heroine; and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), in which she portrays Cary Grant's fiancée and bride.

Priscilla Mullican was born, in Indianola, Iowa, a small college town south of Des Moines. She was the youngest of five daughters of Dr. Lorenzo Mullican, DDS, and his wife, Cora Bell Hicks. Dr. Mullican had a dental practice in Indianola. The family owned a large house with 22 rooms, some of which they rented out to students attending nearby Simpson College.

Priscilla and one of her sisters, Rosemary, traveled to Des Moines every weekend to study dancing and made their first professional appearance on September 30th, 1930, at the Des Moines' Paramount Theater. Priscilla, then 15, performed on stage as part of the entertainment accompanying the release of her sister Lola's Hollywood movie Good News (1930).

Priscilla and her sisters were encouraged to sing and perform by their mother Cora and after graduating from high school, Priscilla was permitted to travel to New York to visit a third sister, Leota, who was then appearing in a musical revue in Manhattan. Priscilla enrolled at the nearby Fagen School of Dramatics, and Leota paid the fee. At this time, talent agent Al Altman saw Priscilla performing in one of Fagen's school plays and invited her to screentest for MGM. She was 16 years old. Priscilla wrote to a friend in Indianola, "Leota accompanied me to a sort of theater in a New York skyscraper. Others were there being made up. One was a strange looking girl with her hair slicked back in a sort of a bun. Her name is said to be Catherine Hepburn [sic]. Not very pretty, I thought, but Mr. Altman said she has something. Margaret Sullavan, the Broadway actress, was there too!" A follow-up letter said that her test had proven unsuitable. The tests of Hepburn and Sullavan did not go very well either, both were rejected by MGM at the time.

In 1932, Priscilla's mother, Cora and sister, Rosemary arrived in New York. Cora immediately went to work pushing her two young daughters into attending auditions for various prospective Broadway productions, without success. During a tryout at a music publishing office, orchestra leader and radio personality Fred Waring heard them harmonizing. He found them attractive and talented and soon signed them to a radio contract and soon became featured vocalists with Waring's orchestra, with sister Lola briefly joining them. Priscilla, who at this time adopted the surname Lane, quickly became known as the comedienne of the group. Rosemary sang the ballads, while Priscilla performed the swing numbers and wisecracked with Waring and various guests. Back in Iowa, Dr. Mullican instituted divorce proceedings against his wife on the grounds of desertion, and the divorce was granted in 1933.

Rosemary and Priscilla remained with Fred Waring for almost five years. In 1937 Waring was engaged by Warner Bros. in Hollywood to appear with his entire band in Varsity Show, a musical starring Dick Powell. Both Rosemary and Priscilla were tested and awarded feature roles in the film. Rosemary shared the romantic passages with Powell, while Priscilla was a high spirited college girl.

Fan mail began to pour into the studio inquiring about the three Lane sisters. It was revealed that Priscilla was fresh, wholesome, sincere, and straightforward. She was blonde and blue-eyed, weighed 102 pounds, stood 5 feet 2 ½ inches and sported an 18 inch waist. She was athletic, swam every day, was an excellent tennis player, and rode horseback. She was, however, very feminine and loved perfumes and flowers. She was passionate about cats and owned twelve. Her musical tastes tended to be serious, as she preferred classical music. She read mystery stories for relaxation. She was superstitious and would not wear her favorite color blue on Mondays, considered Wednesday her best day, and seven her lucky number. In later years she said she had worn an old pair of brown shoes for luck in at least one scene in every film she made. Priscilla shared a rented ranch home in the San Fernando Valley with her mother and Rosemary.

Warner’s purchased Priscilla and Rosemary’s contract from Fred Waring and signed them to seven year pacts. Priscilla’s first film after Varsity Show was Men are Such Fools, in which she was starred opposite Wayne Morris and Humphrey Bogart (right). This was followed by Love Honor and Behave, another light romantic comedy again with Morris and Cowboy From Brooklyn again teaming with Dick Powell. Priscilla was next assigned the lead in Brother Rat, which had been a very successful Broadway play. Again she played opposite Wayne Morris, and among the cast were such newcomers as Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Jane Bryan, and Eddie Albert.

Brother Rat is a 1938 film about cadets at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia and was directed by William Keighley. The title refers to the term used for cadets in their first year at the Institute. Scenes of the film were shot on site in Lexington on the Institute's historic Parade Ground, and the baseball game scene was filmed at Alumni Memorial Field. The film is notable for featuring future US President Ronald Reagan, who, while working on the film, met the actress Jane Wyman (both pictured below far right) whom he later married. The cast returned for a sequel in 1940, Brother Rat and a Baby (below).

Warner Bros. had purchased a story by Fannie Hurst titled Sister Act and planned to star Errol Flynn in the film, along with four actresses. Flynn, however, was withdrawn from the project to star in The Adventures of Robin Hood. The script for Sister Act was then rewritten to place the emphasis on the four girls. Bette Davis was to be the star, but she refused the role. Lola Lane, always enterprising, approached Jack Warner with the suggestion she and her sisters star in the film. Warner agreed, and Leota was summoned from New York to test for the part of Emma, but proved unsuitable. The studio substituted Gale Page, a young contractee as the fourth daughter along with Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, and Lola Lane. Page would be tagged for the rest of her career as the fourth Lane sister.

When the film, now titled Four Daughters (below), was released on September 24th, 1938, it proved to be a big hit. It is a musical drama film that tells the story of a happy musical family whose lives and loves are disrupted by the arrival of a cynical young composer (John Garfield) who interjects himself into the daughters' romantic lives. The movie stars Claude Rains as the father of the girls, May Robson as Aunt Etta and Jeffrey Lynn, Dick Foran and Frank McHugh as wouldbe suitors of the Lemp daughters.

The film was written by Lenore J. Coffee and Julius J. Epstein, and was directed by Michael Curtiz. The film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (John Garfield), Best Adapted Screenplay and Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson). For Best Picture and Best Director it lost to Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You. Four Daughters' success led to two sequels with more or less the same cast: Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941).

So popular were cast of Four Daughters thay all appeared together in the film Daughters Courageous. A 1939 drama film starring the three Lane Sisters (Lola, Rosemary and Priscilla), with the fourth sister being played by Gale Page. The movie also stars John Garfield and Claude Rains. Based on the play Fly Away Home by Dorothy Bennett and Irving White, the film was directed by Michael Curtiz, but is unrelated to the other three films in the Lane Sisters' series and is about a different family. Although the story was different, it also covered the lives and loves of four sisters, and proved to be another hit with the public and is concidered by fans to be a sort-of sequel.

Priscilla's next assignment was Yes, My Darling Daughter, adapted from a successful play. The story concerned a girl, the daughter of a feminist and one time suffragette, who decides to spend a weekend alone with her fiancee, played by Jeffrey Lynn. The premise of the film in which an unmarried couple spent a weekend together unchaperoned was roundly criticized and was banned in some parts of the United States. The publicity, however, piqued public curiousity, and the film became a box office hit. Priscilla received praise for her vivacious performance, as did Lynn playing the boy friend.

Priscilla was again cast with John Garfield in Dust Be My Destiny, a melodrama of prison life. She played the sympathetic stepdaughter of a brutal prison foreman, played by Stanley Ridges. She falls in love with convict Garfield. The original ending of the film had the young lovers dying as fugitives from justice. Audience reaction at previews was so negative that the studio withdrew the film and reshot a happy ending. Rosemary Lane was also teamed with Garfield in Blackwell's Island (1939), however this was not a success.

Priscilla attained full co-starring status in her next film, The Roaring Twenties and was billed above the title along with James Cagney. A major box office hit, Priscilla was shown to advantage as a night club singer, who marries lawyer Jeffrey Lynn, but is lusted after by gangster Cagney. She sang "It Had to Be You," "Melancholy Baby," and "I’m Just Wild About Harry".



Priscilla Lane sings "It Had to Be You" from The Roaring Twenties.
Buy The Roaring Twenties HERE!



The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 crime thriller starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart and Gladys George. The epic movie, spanning the periods between 1919 and 1933, was directed by Raoul Walsh, and written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay and Robert Rossen based based on "The World Moves On," a short story by Mark Hellinger, a columnist who had been hired by Jack Warner to write screenplays. The movie is hailed as a classic in the gangster movie genre, and considered an homage to the classic gangster movie of the early 1930s and the end of the Warner Bros. gangster era. Bogart would go on to superstardom with Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon and Cagney would have great success with Yankee Doodle Dandy. Though they were leaving these gangster roles behind, both actors would revisit their ganster roots, Cagney in White Heat (1949) and Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955). The Roaring Twenties was the third and last film that Cagney and Bogart made together.

At this point, Priscilla was earning $750 a week, a fantastic salary for the Depression era, but puny compared to the salaries of other studio stars. She demanded an increase. She also felt the plot of her next movie, Money and the Woman was sordid and refused to report for work. Her agent explained, "The role is not one she should be asked to do." She was replaced by Brenda Marshall.

Priscilla was next assigned the lead in My Love Came Back, a romantic story involving a girl violinist. Again, Priscilla refused the part, so a furious Jack Warner suspended her. Olivia de Havilland, equally reluctant to act in the film, eventually did.

Priscilla dated assistant director and screenwriter Oren Haglund. Impulsively she eloped with Haglund to Yuma, Arizona on January 14th, 1939, but left him the following day. The marriage was soon annulled. In November 1941, Priscilla became engaged to publisher John Barry, whom she had first met in 1939. She wrote in the November issue of Photoplay how she looked forward to their marriage. She also stated she would continue her career. Abruptly, in early 1942, the engagement to Barry was broken after she met Joseph Howard, a young Air Force lieutenant, at a dude ranch in the Mojave Desert. A native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, he had joined the Army Air Corps straight from college in 1939. He was scouting the area for likely sites for air bases and had taken a short vacation. The couple were married on May 22nd, 1942, by a justice of the peace in Las Vegas at the home of the executive officer of an Army Air Force gunnery school.

After winning her raise, Priscilla returned to work, but the films assigned to her were no better than those she had turned down. Brother Rat and a Baby was an inferior sequel and Three Cheers For the Irish gave her little to do. At Warner Bros. she appeared opposite Jeffrey Lynn and Ronald Reagan in a light hearted comedy, Million Dollar Baby (above right) and as a night club singer in Blues in the Night. Priscilla was paired with Lynn in a number of comedys during this period and perhaps just to keep the audience guessing or maybe just to mix it up a bit in Million Dollar Baby she ended up with (spoilers) Reagan.

Blues in the Night is a 1941 American musical drama film released by Warner Brothers, directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Priscilla Lane, Richard Whorf, Betty Field, Lloyd Nolan, Elia Kazan, and Jack Carson. The film began when Elia Kazan optioned an unproduced play by Edwin Gilbert (Hot Nocturne) and began retooling it for Broadway. He eventually sold the rights to Warner Bros. who gave the script to Robert Rossen to complete. After initially retitling it New Orleans Blues, the studio named it after its principal musical number "Blues in the Night", which later became a popular hit. Kazan agreed to give up his screenwriting credit and appeared as a clarinetist in the film. He later remarked that after acting in the film he became convinced he could "direct better than Anatole Litzvak". Kazan would give up acting and become "one of the consummate filmmakers of the 20th century" after directing a string of successful films, including, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955). During his career, he won two Oscars as Best Director and received an Honorary Oscar, won three Tony Awards, and four Golden Globes.

James Cagney and Dennis Morgan were the studio's first two choices to play the gangster Del Davis in Blues in the Night, but the role was eventually given to Lloyd Nolan. John Garfield was cast in the role of pianist Jigger Pine who was eventually played by Richard Whorf.

The plot follows jazz pianist Jigger Pine (Whorf), while playing in a bar in St. Louis, meets aspiring clarinetist Nickie Haroyen (Kazan) who tries to convince him to put together a jazz band. After a drunk patron starts a fight, Nickie and Jigger are thrown in jail with Jigger's drummer and bassist. They hear a prisoner singing a blues song and are inspired to set out for New Orleans where they hope to learn how to perfect an authentic bluesy sound. There they meet fast-talking trumpet player Leo and his wife Character (Lane) who is a talented singer. Together, the quintet rides the rails, honing their technique in dive bars across the country.

Blues in the Night was met with a mixed critical reception upon its release. Hollywood columnist Fred Othman named it "the worst musical of the year". Donald Kirkley of The Baltimore Sun called it "a bizarre screen oddity" while Los Angeles Times film critic Philip K. Scheuer praised Richard Whorf's performance. It was not financially successful as its East Coast release took place shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film has since achieved a cult following, including The Simpsons creator Matt Groening.

The film's music is by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, who were also nominated for a Best Song Oscar for "Blues in the Night". Additional music was written by Heinz Roemheld and Ray Heindorf (but only Roemheld was credited). The film features the bands of Jimmie Lunceford and Will Osborne. With the exception of Priscilla Lane none of the actors were musicians so their playing had to be dubbed by other artists. The trumpet music performed by Jack Carson's character was dubbed by Snooky Young and Frankie Zinzer while the piano music was dubbed by Stan Wrightsman. Saxophonist and clarinetist Archie Rosate played Elia Kazan's clarinet solos.

In 1941 director Frank Capra requested Priscilla for the lead opposite Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace. The hit comedy film was completed in early 1942, but was not released until 1944. It was Priscilla’s last Warner film. Her contract was terminated by mutual agreement after five years with the studio.

Arsenic and Old Lace is a dark comedy based on the Joseph Kesselring play. The script adaptation was by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein. Capra actually filmed the movie in 1941 because of star Cary Grant's availability, but it was not released until 1944, after the original stage version had finished its run on Broadway. Capra's family was able to live off his salary from the film while he served in the war.

The lead role of Mortimer Brewster was originally intended for Bob Hope, but he could not be released from his contract with Paramount. Capra had also approached Jack Benny and Ronald Reagan before learning that Grant would accept the role. Boris Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, who "looks like Karloff," on the Broadway stage, but he was unable to do the movie as well because he was still appearing in the play during filming, and Raymond Massey took his place. The film's supporting cast also features Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton and Peter Lorre.

Josephine Hull and Jean Adair portray the Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Hull and Adair, as well as John Alexander (who played Teddy Roosevelt), were reprising their roles from the 1941 stage production. Hull and Adair both received an eight-week leave of absence from the stage production that was still running, but Karloff did not as he was an investor in the stage production and its main draw. The entire film was shot within those eight weeks and cost just over $1.2 million of a $2 million budget to produce.

The comedy, which concerns the sweet old Brewster sisters (Hull, Adair), beloved in their genteel Brooklyn neighborhood for their many charitable acts. One charity which the ladies don't advertise is their ongoing effort to permit lonely bachelors to die with smiles on their faces, by serving said bachelors elderberry wine spiked with arsenic. When the sisters' nephew Mortimer (Grant) stumbles onto their secret, he is understandably put out, especially since he has just married the lovely Elaine Harper (Lane). Further complications ensue when the murderous Jonathan Brewster (Massey) arrives home, on the lam from the law with his snivelling accomplice Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) and looking for a place to hide out.

The contemporary critical reviews were uniformly positive. The New York Times critic summed up the majority view, "As a whole, Arsenic and Old Lace, the Warner picture which came to the Strand yesterday, is good macabre fun." This hilariously droll black comedy is one of the most successful adaptations of theater to film. Frank Capra coaxes over-the-top performances from a cast and is one of Capra's best. A comedy classic, Arsenic and Old Lace has never lost its appeal, as new generations of audiences keep discovering its lunatic charms. AFI's voted Arsenic and Old Lace the #30 spot on it's "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list.

Priscilla freelanced next, signing a one picture deal with Universal Studios where she starred with Robert Cummings in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942). The director did not want either Cummings or Priscilla in the film. In Priscilla’s case, Hitchcock felt she was too much the girl next door. Universal insisted that they play the leads, and when the film was released, Priscilla's acting was praised.

In the film Aircraft factory worker Barry Kane (Cummings) is accused of starting a fire at a Glendale, California airplane plant during World War II, an act of sabotage that killed his friend Mason. Kane is the fall guy for a clever ring of Nazi spies, headed by above-suspicion American philanthropist Charles Tobin (played by Otto Kruger). Kane believes the real culprit is a man named Fry who handed him a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline during the fire. When the investigators find no one named "Fry" on the list of plant workers, they assume Kane is guilty. Now Kane is on a cross-country chase after the genuine saboteur, all the while pursued himself by the police. Along the way, he acquires a reluctant "travelling companion" in the form of Priscilla Lane, who at first despises Kane and intends to turn him over to the authorities at her first opportunity, but who gradually comes to realize that the guy is innocent. Alfred Hitchcock intended Saboteur to be the American equivalent to his British The 39 Steps, employing such details as the solid-citizen villain, the handcuffed hero, the unwilling blonde heroine, and any number of stopovers with a variety of offbeat characters.

Hitchcock was under contract to David O. Selznick, so he first pitched the idea for the film to him; Selznick gave the okay for a script to be written, assigning John Houseman to keep an eye on its progress and direction. Val Lewton, Selznick's story editor, eventually passed on the script, so Selznick forced Hitchcock to offer it to other studios, "causing ill feelings between the producer and his director since it not only showed a lack of belief in Hitchcock's abilities, but also because the terms of Hitchcock's contract would net Selznick a three-hundred percent profit on the sale." Universal signed on, but their budgetary limits meant Hitchcock couldn't afford Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, the two actors he wanted for the leading roles; Universal brought in Dorothy Parker to write a few scenes, "mostly the patriotic speeches given by the hero." Production on the film began less than two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hitchcock used extensive location footage in the film, especially in New York City, and utilized special long lenses to shoot from great distances. At one point Norman Lloyd glances at a capsized ship in the harbor and smiles knowingly. The ship shown is the former SS Normandie (renamed the USS Alaska in the film) which was rumored to have been sabotaged by the Germans. Regarding this scene, Hitchcock said: "the Navy raised hell with Universal about these shots because I implied that the Normandie had been sabotaged, which was a reflection on their lack of vigilance in guarding it."

There was clever matching of the location footage with studio shots, many using matte paintings for background, for example in shots of the western ghost town, "Soda City". The famed Statue of Liberty sequence takes place on the torch platform, which had actually been closed to public access after the Black Tom sabotage of July 30th, 1916. A mock-up built for filming gave an accurate depiction of this part of the statue.

Hitchcock makes his trademark cameo appearance about an hour into the film, standing at a kiosk in front of Cut Rate Drugs in New York as the saboteur's car pulls up. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967), Hitchcock says he and Parker filmed a cameo showing them as the elderly couple who see Cummings and Lane hitchhiking and drive away, but that he decided to change that shot to the existing cameo.

There was no music to underscore the film's climactic movie theatre scene; Hitchcock chose to let the action on the screen propel the scene on its own. The scene also utilized visual effects that were ahead of their time. In particular, Lloyd lay on his side on a black saddle on a black floor while the camera was hauled from closeup to 40-feet above him. Film taken from the top of the Statue was then superimposed onto the black background, making him appear to drop downward, away from the camera.

The film did very well at the box office. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "swift, high-tension film which throws itself forward so rapidly that it permits slight opportunity for looking back. And it hurtles the holes and bumps which plague it with a speed that forcefully tries to cover them up." Crowther noted that "so abundant [are] the breathless events that one might forget, in the hubbub, that there is no logic in this wild-goose chase". Time magazine called it "one hour and 45 minutes of almost simon-pure melodrama from the hand of the master"; the film's "artful touches serve another purpose which is only incidental to Saboteur's melodramatic intent. They warn Americans, as Hollywood has so far failed to do, that fifth columnists can be outwardly clean and patriotic citizens, just like themselves." So vile were these Nazi spies that at one point in the film they are holding Priscilla Lane captive and they make her pay for her own lunch while being held hostage.

Saboteur could be considered a minor Hitchcock classic and would be of interest to fans because he uses elements that he would repeat in his more well known films such as North by Northwest. Including the wrongly accused man on the run, the chase across country and the films climax at a famous landmark.

Over the years many of parodied Hitchcock's film making style. The Wrong Guy, a 1997 Canadian comedy film directed by David Steinberg tips it's hat to Hitch with it's hero on the lam plot, which includes in a Saboteur like climax on "a statue of liberty". It was co-written by Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall and Newsradio fame, along with David Anthony Higgins and Jay Kogen (The Simpsons).

Priscilla had commitments for two more films. The first was Silver Queens for producer Harry Sherman in which she was co-starred with George Brent. She played the owner of a gambling house in 1870s San Francisco. The other film was a Jack Benny comedy, The Meanest Man in the World (above), released in January 1943.

Priscilla then retired from films. For the duration of the war, she followed her husband across the country as he moved from one military base to another. She was generous with her talents and often performed at camp shows. At the war’s end in 1945, Priscilla and Joe were living in New Mexico and she was pregnant with their first of four children.

Priscilla accepted the leading role in Fun on a Weekend (left) co-starring Eddie Bracken which was released in 1947. In 1948 Priscilla accepted the offer of the lead role opposite Lawrence Tierney in a film noir, Bodyguard, starring as Doris Brewster. (Trivia alert: Priscilla also played a Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace). Bodyguard proved to be her last picture and is notable not only because it was her last screen performance, but also because it was the second film written by Robert Altman.

An expected contract with RKO Studios did not eventuate. With the advent of television, and the Supreme Court’s anti-trust ruling against the studios, the whole studio system was collapsing, and there was a drastic cut back in the number of players under contract. Priscilla chose this time to retire a devote her time to her family. Priscilla returned to show business briefly in 1958 with her own show on a local television station broadcasting from Boston. Titled The Priscilla Lane Show, she chatted and interviewed celebrities visiting the area. She enjoyed the television experience, but family demands proved too much, and she gave it up after a year.

In 1994, Priscilla was diagnosed with lung cancer and died on April 4, 1995, only two months before her eightieth birthday. She was burried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Her husband Joe, who had served in the Air Force reserve for nearly forty years had been buried there with full military honors when he died suddenly in 1976. Priscilla was laid to rest beside him.


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