Alice Adair was a glorified dress extra, the girl who worked in Hollywood and even made some money out of it but never managed to get to the credited tier – sadly, she was just one of many, many girls with the same situation.
Berenice Shook was born on November 8, 1906 in Davis, Oklahoma, to George Shook and Martha Evelyn “Mattie” Williams. Her older brother Raymond was born in 1903. She also had two older sisters, Jennie May and Juanita, who both died aged one before she was born. Her parents were both born in Texas.
Her father was employed as store clerk and cotton buyer. He also was a city clerk of Davis in 1903-4. In 1920, the family moved to Murray, Oklahoma. From there, they moved to Paul’s Valley, Garvin, Oklahoma in the late 1920s, where they lived with a family friend, Callie Ryan.
Alice was an outgoing, active child who took a passion in performing, and by the age of 15 she was studying dancing, first in Oklahoma City and then in Dallas, Texas. To make ends meet she also started to model, even winning a beauty contest in Oklahoma City.
In about 1925, she left for the greener pastures – for California. She danced on several night club stages, and played the piano in the All Girls Orchestra. It was during her dancing days with the Marion Morgan troupe that she was noticed by casting director Paul Kelly. Impressed by her beauty and dancing ability, Kelly got her the role of Aphrodite in the silent version of “Helen of Troy”. This catapulted her into an acting career. She took the stage name Alice Adair.
Her parents decided to join her her in Los Angeles, and by 1930 the family (even her brother Raymond, but in his won home in Corona) was living in California.
Alice was one of many that never truly left the ranks of uncredited extras. The first movie role was arguably her biggest, as Aphrodite in the lost silent movie, The Private Life of Helen of Troy. If you think that one is obscure, just take into account Alice’s next feature, None But the Brave, a lost silent film nobody knows anything about.
Alice graduated to talkies with the rest of Hollywood in The Wild Party, the first Clara Bow sound picture. Like many pretty extras, Alice played a student (she had a name, Maizie, but was still not credited). The cute movie tells the story of a typical wild college bunch that finds out there is more to life than partying and drinking. The Saturday Night Kid will only be remembered as the first credited appearance of Jean Harlow, as even the top tier leads (Clara Bow and Jean Arthur) cannot save a formulaic (two girls after the same man) story.
Skip to 1931, and Alice was feature d in the first big western, Cimarron. Yet, she was lost in the sea of extras. A better chance at recognition came in her next two roles in Bing Crosby comedy shorts, I Surrender Dear and One More Chance. The first had her uncredited, but the second had her in a small but notable female role. Unfortunately, this opportunity did not lead to a bigger and better career. The proof: a uncredited role in Night World, one of many movies about prohibition era bars. What Price Hollywood? was a much better movie, one of the earliest films dealing with the dark side of Tinsel Town. The cast is absolutely first class – stunningly pretty Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman in perhaps his best role, and the handsome but hard-core Neil Hamilton. But, again, Alice was uncredited.
Alice again scored a top movie with A Farewell to Arms – with Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper – by far the best retelling of Hemingway’s book. Well, when you fly high, you often hit the ground brutally – Alice did just that by appearing in one of the worst comedies ever filmed, Hypnotized. Nothing need to be said about this disaster where the two leads appear in blackface! Pick-up was a typical Sylvia Sidney movie of the early 1930s – the poor girl is a magnet for all bad things – she suffers through numerous tragedies and cries her fair share of tears. George Raft and his slick manner “up” the movie a bit but not enough to make it a hit.
Alice retired from Hollywood after this, and only appeared in one more film in 1935 – Asegure a su mujer was a Spanish language production for 20th Century Fox, totally forgotten today.
Alice was a lean girl is, 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighting 114 pounds.
Alice had the honor of having a whole article about her (well, not exactly, but she was the main highlight of it):
is hailed as a top tier extra, the dress extra. She gets 15$ a day. She lives in a tiny bungalow with her mother. She says “I’m far more fortunate than most of the girls Recently, I’ve been working about three days a week, But even so, I don’t have much left at the end of a month, not enough to keep me going very long If I hit a slump. By the time I keep up my wardrobe, pay the rent, and make payment so the car there isn’t much left. It may sound that I am doing extremely well well to be able to afford a car. But I’, not. It’s necessary in order to get to a studio when I have a call. Some of them are miles away and it would be take hours to get to them on a bus. So you see, without the car I wouldn’t work at all. Most of the girl have them, sometimes two of three chipping in to buy one car. Then as a rule it isn’t much. But it gets them to the studio and back again. If it happens that they get calls from different studios for the same day. Then the first girl who is called gets the car. And the other have to pass their jobs unless they can find some other means of transportation.”
“The work itself isn’t hard. But the grief we suffer more than makes up for that. We stick because we hope some day we’ll get a break.”
And Alice tried real hard to get credited. It was at the same time funny and sad when it was announced, in 1932, that she will get a small part in “Farewell to arms” with just her legs appearing on screen, not her face. She was quoted:
“I think I could make a success as a comedienne if given the chance. And you can never tell – this bit, even thought I’m acting with my legs alone, may be the break I’ve needed.”
While it did sometimes happen, Alice obviously had no idea how Hollywood worked. By 1935, she had had enough and retired to get married.
Alice married Charles John Moffat on December 24, 1935, in Los Angeles. Moffatt was born to in Illinois on August 15, 1910, to John and Emma Moffatt. He worked as a buyer at a retail department store.
Alice and her husband lived in Glendale, Los Angeles, California. Her first daughter, Evelyn Louise, was born on October 29, 1936. Her second daughter, Mary Michele, was born on May 30, 1940. They employed a maid, Katherine Smith, in the 1930s and 1940s. Alice’s father, George, came to live with the family after his wife’s death, and lived so until his own death in 1949.
Alice lived the quiet life of a wife and mother, never hitting Hollywood again. Her husband died in November 1973, and she moved to Santa Barbara afterwards.
Berniece Moffat died on January 26, 1996, in Santa Barbara, California.