Alice was a talented dancer who landed a Hollywood contract. Her story is shared by the vast majority of dancers-turned-actors: after appearing in countless musicals in uncredited roles (mostly as chorus girls) they were dropped by the studio, often going into retirement. Cases of international success like Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller were few and far between in the sea of thousands of young hopefuls who wanted to taste stardom. Still, in her defense, being a Busby Berkeley chorus girl is truly something to be proud of!
Alice Katherine Jans was born on July 11, 1912 in Jefferson, Iowa, to Hugo Gustav Jans and his wife, Genevieve M. Givens. The family moved to Spring Lake, South Dakota, where her bother Robert was born a year later.
The family moved to Creston, Iowa, in cca. 1922, Alice had her first taste of showbiz in Creston, attending dance classes and deciding to become an actress. She finished two years of high school before departing for Tinsel Town.
By 1930 she was living with her mother in Los Angeles, and was listed as a dancer by profession. Her dancing talent led her to a career in movies the next year, 1931.
Alice was primarily a dancer, but her road in Hollywood started on a completely different note. Signed by RKO, she was put into dramatic movies. All of her appearances are uncredited.
Her start was not a particularly good one: Too Many Cooks was a slow moving, uninteresting move with Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee (without their frequent partner Woosley). The movie is the type only Wheeler’s fans can watch, as for anyone who is not into his “man -child” act the film is simply unbearable. She Wanted a Millionaire, her next feature, was marginally better, but comes off more a didactic work condemning women who want to marry rich than a subtle film showing how everyone can make wrong choices in life. Still, the pairing of Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy is an exceptional one and today it gives the movie a more prestigious veneer than it deserves.
Alice’s first musical, 42nd Street, was a good one. The movie is worth watching just to see the great Warner Baxter at his best, but even if you push him aside, the gorgeous, scantly clad chorus girls (Alice was one of them) and interesting choreography by Busby Berkeley make it and a totally different experience from the saccharine, sometimes artificial musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.
Her next two movies were top ones. The Little Giant gave Alice a chance to appear in the same movie as the great Edward G. Robinson, and the actor is a “tour de l force” by playing a former racketeer who wants to enter genteel society. The other movie is Picture Snatcher, a showcase for Jimmy Cagney, an actor always in impressive acting form.
Alice’s three last movies were all musicals. Gold Diggers of 1933 is perhaps the best of the Busby Berkeley musicals. It has everything: a perfect cast, tons of chorus girls, great music and dance parts. Her next film, George White’s Scandals is a collage of sketches, revues, black-outs and singing and dancing turns, bound together by a flimsy story (a backstage romance, blah blah blah, the most boring part of the movie actually…), but with a name like that, it would be unrealistic to expect a Shakespeare play. For people who like that kind of stuff, it’s paradise (I prefer my movies with plot, thank you). George White’s 1935 Scandals was a lesser version of the former – also a pastiche of the George White revue, it had a slightly better plot – but only slightly, as the story is a cliche seen millions of times before (and after – a talented girl from the mid west goes to the big city and yadda yadda yadda). The musical part itself is not as good – there are no catchy songs, and despite being Eleanor Powell’s debut movie, dancing parts were mediocre.
Alice never acted again after this, leaving Hollywood aged (only) 23.
Alice’s peak year in Hollywood was 1932. Recently “discovered”, she got publicity for her dancing skills and was famous enough to actually give beauty hints! The hint she gave was:
“Few persons, I believe, know how to get the greatest value from bath salts in a tepid bath. Since they will not dissolve well unless the water is hot – too hot for the body – place the amount desired in a cup of hot water, dissolve, and then put into the bath. Much the same method gives me pleasure when applied to soap instead of baths. I often come home tired after a long day at work, dissolve a whole bar of soap in hot water, and then revel in the luxury or a whole tubful of frothy studs.”
Now, how Alice was discovered is another typical Hollywood lackluster story. The pretty youth, appearing as an extra in movies for RKO, was noticed by Douglas Fairbanks and director Al Freen because of her rhumba skills. They demanded she get meatier roles in more prestigious movies. Did it make the papers? Oh yes. Did it make her more popular? By all accounts yes, it was the first time anybody ever heard of her. Did it make her career in the long run? Heck no. It faltered just as quickly as it raised.
Like a large number of starlets in the early 1930s, she modeled clothes and was pictured doing various physical exercise for the benefit of her fans. It was later claimed Alice was tutored in several languages (English, Russian, French, German) to be able to do foreign versions of movies. She was 162 cm tall.
Surprisingly, her private life was not as covered. Alice married Dean Spencer, a sound engineer, in 1933. The marriage ended prior to 1937. Spencer did not work in the industry then, but after their divorce he turned to the seventh art and made his fist and only acting role in God’s Country and the Man, a Tom Keene western. In the late 1940s, he became a sound technician on several low budget movies.
Alice married her second husband, John A. Burns, on April 13, 1937. Burns was born in 1907 in North Carolina, eldest of three children, grew up in Montana, moved to California, finished 1st year of college before giving up on official education. In 1940, they lived in San Diego, Alice by then retired for at least 4 years, and had no children. Burns was drafted in 1942 and several photos of him wearing a military uniform exists on the net.
In 1943, when she was notified that her husband was missing in action, Alice joined the WAACs. It was later learned he was a prisoner of war in Japan. She was given an assignment at the WAAC admin center in downtown Des Moines after she finished her basic training at Fort Des Moines.
It is unclear did Burns died of they divorced after he returned from the war.
Alice married her third husband, Donald Andrew Baker, on November 29, 1946. White I cannot be 100%sure, I assume that Baker was born in 1916 in California. Again, no information is given about the marriage, but they divorced prior to 1957, when Baker married Bernice Wilhoit. Baker died in 1999.
Alice married for the fourth time to a Mr. Blood.
Alice Jans Blood died on June 21, 1992 in San Bernardino, California.