Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dead French in L.A.: Actress Lya Lys Dies in Newport Beach 1986 Pacific View Cemetery

Lya Lys (18 May 1908 – 2 June 1986) was an American actress.


Lya Lys was born Nathalie Margoulis in Berlin on 18 May 1908[1] (IMDb gives her birth name as Natalia Lyecht) to a Russian banker and French pediatrician who moved to Paris when she was about seven.[2] Her father's name is not known; her mother was Ina Löscht (née Blumenfeld), who later served at a French field hospital during the early months of World War II. Her fate during or after the German invasion is unclear.[3] Nathalie was educated in France and Switzerland and later studied language at the Sorbonne.[2]

In the late 1920s, Lya Lys was among a group of French actors that included Charles Boyer, André Berley and Mona Goya who were brought to Hollywood by MGM to work on films intended for the French market. Reportedly, after her contract expired, Lys received a Hollywood movie offer just as she was about to board an ocean liner to return to Europe. In 1930, Lys returned to Paris to star in Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's surrealistic film, L'Age d'Or (1930), considered by many as her most memorable performance.[4] She then returned to America.

In 1931 she married Charles Morton, a young silent film actor.[5] The couple divorced some months later not long after the birth of their daughter. Later a dispute over alimony payments would see Morton spending a few days behind bars.[6] Her second marriage to Percy Montague, a business manager, in April, 1932 [1] ended in divorce sometime before the end of the decade. Lys took US citizenship in 1933.[1]

Just prior to the outbreak of World War II Lya Lys was in Paris to perform in the play The King’s Dough. As the possibility of war became more imminent she decided it prudent to return to America. Because of the number of refugees fleeing Europe, Lys was unable to obtain passage on a passenger ship from France and was advised to travel north to a less crowded Scandinavian port. This meant crossing through Germany where Lys, by then an American citizen, was detained by Nazi border guards for two or three days. Sometime earlier she’d bluntly turned down an offer by a Nazi official to appear in German propaganda films. Lys was finally allowed to leave after having her luggage searched and travel money confiscated and being told never to return to Germany. Some months later she appeared in the American anti-Nazi film Confessions of a Nazi Spy[7][8]

Once while filming a scene in the 1939 film The Return of Doctor X, actor Dennis Morgan took Lys by the arm and broke into song when she became upset over blowing her lines. A moment later Humphrey Bogart, who was also in the scene, joined Morgan in the serenade.[9] Lys' early Hollywood career was hampered by her thick accent that, by the time she appeared in Paramount's The Great Gambini (1937) and toured in the play Night of January 16, had become barely noticeable.[8]

In 1940 she married John Gunnerson, a Chicago vending machine manufacturer and former husband of actress Anna Q. Nilsson.[10] Their marriage, which Lys later described as the worst mistake of her life, ended in a Mexican divorce in 1943, some nine months after she'd suffered a nervous breakdown.[11] On the same day she filed for divorce, with no request for alimony, Lys also declared bankruptcy and never returned to acting. Her last film was Murder in the Sky (1940) opposite Ronald Reagan. Lys' name continued to appear in the papers for a few years in columns giving fashion advice.[11][12]

In 1954 she married George Feit. Lya Lys Feit died on 2 June 1986 at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, from heart failure at the age of 78. Lya Lys was cremated at Pacific View in Orange County and her ashes taken by her family. She was survived by George Feit, her husband of 32 years, daughter Joyce Wells and two grandchildren.[13]


1940 Murder in the Air - Hilda Riker, aka Mrs. Steve Swenko
1939 Confessions of a Nazi Spy - Erika Wolf
1939 The Return of Doctor X - Angela Merrova
1938 The Young in Heart - Lucille
1937 My Dear Miss Aldrich - The Queen
1937 The Great Gambini - Luba
1935 The Lives of a Bengal Lancer - Girl on Train
1935 George White's
1935 Scandals - French Girl - Old Southern Custom
1935 Vagabond Lady - Pat, Tony's friend
1933 Enemies of Society
1933 Clear All Wires! - Eugenie Smirnova
1933 Jimmy and Sally - Wenski
1930 L'Age d'Or - Young Girl Legacy

Jacueline Sunsann’s play, The Temporary Mrs. Smith, is a story about a likable, but less than talented singer whose search for a rich husband to is complicated by her former husbands, was in part based the life Lya Lys. At one time the two were neighbors at the Hotel Navarro near New York’s Central Park.[14]

Critic Ado Kyrou wrote of Ava Gardner’s Pandora in the 1951 film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, “Ava now belonged in the exclusive pantheon with Lya Lys of Dalí and Buñuel’s L’Age d’Ore ‘as the greatest surrealistic woman in the history of film’.” [15]


“To be a success in this business you‘ve got to be popular. And to be popular you’d better be just as nice to the least important people as to the great ones. Why, the man who brings you a drink of water today may be your director next week.” – Lya Lys [16]


1.^ Naturalization Records August 7, 1933
2.^ Actress Lya Lys Dies at Age 78 - Los Angeles Times Jun 8, 1986 pg. 24
3.^ Jimmy Fiddler in Hollywood - Joplin Globe (Joplin, Missouri) Sunday, October 01, 1939 Pg 38
4.^ Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing By Lee Server
5.^ Budding Romances and Wedding Bells Mingle With Divorce Appeal - The Syracuse Herald 28 Jun 1931 pg. 34
6.^ Alimony Dodger To Serve Jail Term - Nevada State Journal 23 Nov 1932 pg. 1
7.^ Paul Harrison in Hollywood - Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune March 1939 pg. 9
8.^ Miss Lys and The Lingerie - New York Times by Thomas M. Pryor- April 23, 1939 pg.
9.^ Behind The Movie Scenes - Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) Sunday, December 28, 1947 Pg. 20
10.^ Actress Wed - Chicago Daily Tribune - January 12, 1940 (no pg. #)
11.^ Watch Me Soar Again - San Antonio Light, - June 6, 1943 – pg. 67
12.^ Lipstick Reigns as Queen- Hammond Times (Hammond, Indiana) Thursday, December 28, 1944 | Pg.19
13.^ Actress Lya Lys Dies at Age 78 - Los Angeles Times Jun 8, 1986
14.^ Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann By Barbara Seaman 2003 - pg. 155, 191
15.^ Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing By Lee Server (no page #)
16.^ Hollywood by Paul Harrison - The Frederick Post - June 15, 1939 pg. 4

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