Faye Emerson

Faye Margaret Emerson (July 8, 1917 – March 9, 1983) was an American film and stage actress, and television interviewer who gained fame as a film actress in the 1940s, before transitioning to television in the 1950s, hosting her own talk show.

Faye Emerson
Emerson in 1943
Faye Margaret Emerson

(1917-07-08)July 8, 1917
DiedMarch 9, 1983(1983-03-09) (aged 65)
Alma materSan Diego State College
Years active1941–1961
William Crawford (m. 19411942)
Elliott Roosevelt (m. 19441950)
Skitch Henderson (m. 19501957)
Parent(s)Lawrence L. Emerson
Jean Emerson

Born in Louisiana, Emerson spent the majority of her early life in San Diego, California. She became interested in theater while attending San Diego State College, and subsequently pursued an acting career, appearing in stock theater in California. She subsequently signed a contract Warner Bros., and began appearing in their films in 1941. She starred in several film noirs, including Lady Gangster (1942), and Howard Hawks's war film Air Force (1943). In 1944, she played one of her more memorable roles as Zachary Scott's former lover in The Mask of Dimitrios. From 1944 to 1950, she was married to Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1949, Emerson began hosting The Faye Emerson Show, a late-night talk show series. She went on to become a prolific television interviewer, which earned her the nickname "The First Lady of Television". Throughout the 1950s, she also appeared in numerous Broadway stage productions. Emerson formally retired from show business in 1963, and retired to Europe. She resided there until 1983, when she died of stomach cancer in Deià, Spain, aged 65. For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Emerson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Her star is located at 6529 Hollywood Blvd.[1][2]


Early life

Faye Margaret Emerson was born July 8, 1917 in Elizabeth, Louisiana,[3] the fifth child of Lawrence L. and Jean Emerson.[4] The family moved frequently during her early years, relocating to El Paso, Texas when she was an infant.[5] When she was three years old, her parents separated,[5] and Emerson went to Chicago in 1924 to live with her father and stepmother.[3] At age ten, she moved to San Diego, California to live with her mother,[3] where she spent the remainder of her formative years.[4]

She became interested in dramatics during her two years[6] attending the Academy of San Luis Rey, a Roman Catholic convent boarding school in Oceanside, California.[7] She went on to attend Point Loma High School and, for one year, San Diego State College.[6] Emerson subsequently joined the St. James Repertory Theater, performing in summer stock productions in California.[8] Emerson married her first husband, William Wallace Crawford, Jr., a naval aviator, on October 29, 1938.[9] The couple gave birth to a son, William Wallace "Scoop" Crawford, III, in 1940.[10]

Career beginnings

In 1941, while appearing in a stage production of Here Today at the San Diego Municipal Theater, Emerson was spotted by a talent agent from Warner Bros. studios.[10] She subsequently signed a contract with the studio, appearing in bit parts before having supporting roles in the Western Bad Men of Missouri, and the comedy-drama Nine Lives Are Not Enough (both released in 1941). She had her first starring role as a female gangster in the film noir Lady Gangster (1942).

In 1943, Emerson met President Franklin D. Roosevelt's son, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt.[3] Howard Hughes was instrumental in bringing the two together when Colonel Roosevelt visited the Hughes Aircraft Company to evaluate the proposed Hughes XF-11. Though Elliott was married, Emerson and he linked up, strongly urged on by the generous efforts of Hughes and his social facilitator, Johnny Meyer. Emerson later asserted that despite her doubts, Hughes urged her to advance the relationship, and she could not defy him. Emerson and Roosevelt married on December 3, 1944, at the rim of Grand Canyon, where she was filming Hotel Berlin.[11] Hughes and Meyer provided the funding and airplanes for the wedding. When Roosevelt went back to Europe, he named his reconnaissance aircraft "My Faye".[12] After some months in Beverly Hills in 1945, the couple resided with Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park, New York.

Emerson continued to appear in a number of crime dramas, co-starring with Zachary Scott in three: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), Danger Signal (1945) and Guilty Bystander (1950). She co-starred with John Garfield in the film noir Nobody Lives Forever and opposite Jane Wyman in another mystery, Crime by Night. A film she made with Van Johnson in 1942, Murder in the Big House, was re-released under a new title later in the decade after Emerson began to make a name for herself in a new medium, television.

By 1947, Emerson's marriage to Roosevelt had begun to disintegrate. In late 1948, after having made her Broadway debut in The Play's the Thing,[13] Emerson attempted suicide on Christmas Day 1948 by slitting her wrists and was briefly hospitalized.[14] This same year, she had transitioned to television and began acting in various anthology series, including The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse, and Goodyear Television Playhouse. She served as host for several short-lived talk shows and musical/variety shows, including Paris Cavalcade of Fashions (1948) and The Faye Emerson Show (CBS, 1950). In January 1950, she obtained a divorce from Roosevelt in Cuernavaca, Mexico.[15][16]

Television hosting and theater

In 1949, Emerson began hosting The Faye Emerson Show, which, though it lasted only one season, gave her wide exposure because her time slot immediately followed the CBS Evening News and alternated weeknights with the popular The Perry Como Show. According to author Gabe Essoe in The Book of TV Lists, on one of the show's segments, her low-cut gown slipped and "she exposed her ample self coast to coast." The show was broadcast from a studio CBS built on the sixth floor of the Stork Club building. The studio, a complete replica of the Stork Club's Cub Room, was built for The Stork Club, also seen on CBS beginning in 1950.[17][18]

In 1950, Emerson married band leader and conductor Lyle "Skitch" Henderson in Cuernavaca. After The Faye Emerson Show was cancelled, she continued in television with other talk shows, including Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town (1951–1952), Author Meets the Critics (1952), and Faye and Skitch (1953–54), in the latter of which she appeared with her husband. She made numerous guest appearances on various variety shows and game shows. Emerson hosted or appeared on many talk shows, usually wearing elaborate evening gowns. She was such a frequent panelist on game shows like To Tell The Truth and I've Got a Secret that she was known as "The First Lady of Television" [19] (although that title was sometimes applied to others, including Ruth Lyons and Lucille Ball). During this time, Emerson was earning up to $200,000 per year.[20]

Emerson and Henderson divorced in 1957 in Acapulco, Mexico. Former brother-in-law James Roosevelt wrote: "after an incident involving some teen-age girls, [Skitch] was dropped from Johnny Carson's Tonight TV show, and his career went into eclipse. Emerson's marriage to Skitch hit the skids".[21] However, the teen-age incident happened before Carson's Tonight Show, which didn't begin until 1962, and Emerson had divorced Henderson in 1957.

While appearing on television throughout the 1950s, Emerson also appeared in numerous Broadway productions, including Parisienne (1950), The Heavenly Twins (1955), Protective Custody (1956), and Back to Methuselah (1958).[13]


In 1963, Emerson formally retired from show business, and made her final television appearance that year.[22] She subsequently relocated to Europe, residing for a time in Switzerland and then settling in Spain in 1975.[20] Emerson rarely returned to the United States, and spent much of her time in seclusion.[20]


Emerson died on Mach 9, 1983 at age 65 from stomach cancer[2] in Deià, Majorca, Spain[4], where she had lived since 1975.[23]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1941 The Great Lie Enthusiastic Film Fan in Trailer Uncredited
1941 At the Stroke of Twelve Miss LaMond Short film
1941 Affectionately Yours Hospital Nurse Uncredited [24]
1941 The Nurse's Secret Telephone Girl [24]
1941 Bad Men of Missouri Martha Adams [24]
1941 Manpower Nurse Who Lost Draw Uncredited [24]
1941 Nine Lives Are Not Enough Rose Chadwick [24]
1941 Blues in the Night Dr. Morse's Nurse Uncredited [24]
1942 Wild Bill Hickok Rides Peg - Chorus Girl [24]
1942 Lady Gangster Dot Burton [24]
1942 Murder in the Big House Gladys Wayne [24]
1942 Juke Girl Violet 'Murph' Murphy [24]
1942 Secret Enemies Paula Fengler [24]
1943 Women at War Anastasia 'Stormy' Hart Short film
1943 Food and Magic Girl in Audience Short film; uncredited
1943 The Hard Way Ice Cream Parlor Waitress [24]
1943 Air Force Susan McMartin [24]
1943 Find the Blackmailer Mona Vance [24]
1943 Destination Tokyo Mrs. Cassidy [24]
1943 The Desert Song Hajy [24]
1944 In Our Time Friend of Count Stephan in Nightclub Uncredited [24]
1944 Uncertain Glory Louise [24]
1944 Between Two Worlds Miss Maxine Russell [24]
1944 The Mask of Dimitrios Irana Preveza [24]
1944 Crime by Night Ann Marlow [24]
1944 The Very Thought of You Cora 'Cuddles' Colton [24]
1944 Hollywood Canteen Herself [24]
1945 Hotel Berlin Tillie Weiler [24]
1945 Danger Signal Hilda Fenchurch [24]
1946 Her Kind of Man Ruby Marino [24]
1946 Nobody Lives Forever Toni Blackburn [24]
1950 Guilty Bystander Georgia [24]
1953 Main Street to Broadway Herself [24]
1957 A Face in the Crowd Herself Uncredited [24]

Stage credits

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1948 The Play's the Thing Ilona Szabo Booth Theatre [13]
1950 Parisienne Clotilde Fulton Theatre [13]
1955 The Heavenly Twins Lucile Miremont Booth Theatre [13]
1956 Protective Custody Dolly Byrnes Ambassador Theatre [13]
1958 Back to Methuselah Zoo / Parlor Maid / Mrs. Lutestring / Eve Ambassador Theatre [13]


  1. "Faye Emerson - Hollywood Walk of Fame". Walkoffame.com. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  2. "Faye Emerson - Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  3. O'Dell 1997, p. 90.
  4. Prial, Frank J. (March 11, 1983). "Faye Emerson Is Dead At 65; Actress and Personality". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017.
  5. Hannsbery 2012, p. 112.
  6. O'Dell 1997, p. 82.
  7. Hannsberry 2012, p. 112.
  8. Hannsbery 2012, pp. 112–113.
  9. "Emerson: Actress Dies". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. March 11, 1983. p. 23. Retrieved September 2, 2018 via Newspapers.com. (The L.A. Times obituary and several other sources have the wrong year for Faye Emerson's first marriage. Several sources have the wrong year for the birth of her son.)
  10. O'Dell 1997, p. 83.
  11. Wead 2004, p. 117.
  12. Hansen 2012, pp. 405–408.
  13. "Faye Emerson". Playbill. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  14. O'Dell 1997, p. 85.
  15. O'Dell 1997, p. 88.
  16. Hansen 2012, pp. 527, 582.
  17. Rau, Herb (March 21, 1950). "Raund Town". The Miami News. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  18. O'Brian, Jack (March 23, 1978). "Recalling The Stork". Herald-Journal. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  19. "Faye Emerson, first lady of television, dead at 65". United Press International. March 10, 1983. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  20. O'Dell 1997, p. 87.
  21. Roosevelt, p 311
  22. O'Dell 1997, pp. 89, 91.
  23. Kendall, John (March 11, 1983). "Faye Emerson, Actress, F.D.R. Daughter-in-Law, Dies at 65". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. 3 via Newspapers.com.
  24. "Faye Emerson filmography". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved October 12, 2019.


  • Hansen, Chris (2012). Enfant Terrible: The Times and Schemes of General Elliott Roosevelt. Able Baker Press. ISBN 978-0615-66892-5.
  • Hannsberry, Karen Burroughs (2012). Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-49159-9.
  • O'Dell, Cary (1997). Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-40167-3.
  • Roosevelt, James. My Parents: A Differing View. Playboy Press, 1976.
  • Wead, Doug (2004). All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. New York City, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-743-44633-4.
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