04/12/2023
Norwich, GB 5 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

BETTY PHARES, aged 97

GENTS WITHOUT CENTS

Born in Medocino County, California, her family were of German / English extraction. She had many siblings.

She grew up at Signal Hill, Long Beach and showed exceptional ability as both a tap dancer and a singer.

She formed a stage act with her younger brother performing ‘acrobatic dancing’ and they toured local theatres throughout California.

In 1939, Betty joined the Spike Jones and his City Slickers big band as the singer / dancer. She got nicknamed ‘The Slickerette’.

Whilst here, she had a love affair with clarinettist Eddie Metcalfe, although it didn’t last.

When she left the band, she was replaced by Helen Grayco, who eventually became Spike Jones’ wife.

When the war broke out, Betty teamed up with Laverne Thompson and Lindsay Bourquin to form a dance troupe.

They teamed up with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to tour the USA entertaining troops (the equivalent of ENSA in Great Britain). They did so much travelling, Betty said, “I had a suitcase for all climates.” The girls (who didn’t have a collective name), were so popular with the troops that they were signed to Columbia.

Their first film was ‘Gents Without Cents’ in 1944. They were supporting The Three Stooges, who were enormously popular in the USA at the time.

The Three Stooges were a comedy act. They were Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard.

In the film (Betty plays ‘Shirley’), the Stooges decide to become a dance act. They practice their routine in their flat but every time they try the number ‘Niagara Falls’ they fail spectacularly, and their ceiling partly caves in. They soon realise that in the flat above them, three women are practicing exactly the same routine (at exactly the same moment). The six join together and become a sensation.

The film was a big box office success.

Harry Cohn, the Head of Columbia, was so impressed, he promised the girls they would star in their own films…but that never materialised.

Instead it continued to be supporting roles – ‘Showboat Serenade’ (1944), the slightly risqué ‘Youth Aflame’ (1944) and ‘Affairs of Geraldine’ (1946).

Inbetween, Betty danced in a different threesome in the 1945 musical comedy ‘Sensations’, along with Eleanor Powell and W.C.Fields. Although he was a massive star at the time, Betty was not impressed with Fields. “I reckon that man was born depressing. Followers noticed it as comedic and lapped it up. I believe it truly aggravated Fields that followers thought him humorous.”

After the war, she joined the Sonny Dunham Orchestra on a part-time basis whilst she pursued her acting career. She did get to star in the film ‘The Time, The Place and the Girl’ (1946), but it was not a commercial success – and her acting career just petered out.

So, she joined the Sonny Dunham Orchestra full time, until they folded in the mid-1950s.

And her showbiz career was over.

She met former boyfriend Eddie Metcalfe again in 2002. His wife had died two years earlier, so they took up again and married in the same year, moving to Arizona. She became stepmother to Eddie’s two children.

In 2003, she was invited to the 75th anniversary celebration of The Three Stooges. There, she joined Laverne Thompson and Lindsay Bourquin for a reunion dance on stage. They received a 4-minute standing ovation.

It was the last time, as Lindsay died the following year.

Betty kept appearing at meetings of The Stoogeum, the fan club of the comedy act – and was always a big hit.

Her husband Eddie, died in 2014 aged 96. His last words were, “I feel better than some, but not as good as others.”

Eddie-Metcalfe (courtesy American Federation of Musicians)

She appeared in the 2015 documentary about The Three Stooges, ‘Hey Moe! Hey Dad!’, directed by Paul Howard, the son of Moe.

Betty moved back to California.

She died aged 97 at Huntingdon Beach, California. She was the last person alive to have performed with the Three Stooges.

RIP – Routines Immensely Popular

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