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As a singer of light opera, Bernice Claire could be called the trailblazer for Jeanette MacDonald. In the year 1930, Claire and Alexander Gray were "the" operetta duo of talking pictures.
Born Bernice Janighen in Oakland, California, Bernice was favorably influenced by her distinguished Castlemont High Schoolteacher, Alice Eggers. Claire`s publicist would later fabricate a teacher-student relationship between Claire and opera great Maria Jeritza. She possessed a remarkably clear and pure coloratura voice and had no difficulty singing demanding roles such as Victor Herbert`s "Mlle Modiste," in which she starred a revival. Bernice met Alexander Gray while performing in an operetta. Around 1929 he asked her to accompany him to a screen test for First National-Vitaphone at the time the studios were hastily bolstering their music departments. The producers liked the team so much, they were both signed. Subsequently, Bernice Claire made the first screen versions of such hits and "Mlle Modiste" (released as "Kiss Me Again" and "Toast of the Legion"), "Spring is Here" (in which she sings "With a Song in My Heart"), "No, No, Nanette," "Song of the Flame," and an original film musical "Top Speed" with Joe E. Brown. When the craze for musical films cooled down, Warners tried her in some dramatic parts, which were not in her oeuvre. Claire returned to radio and appeared with many prestigious orchestras, including Rudy Vallee, Erno Rapee and others. She made very few phonograph records. A few short subjects were made, and a British musical film "Two Hearts in Harmony." Her cameo with Alexander Gray in "Moonlight and Pretzels" was intended as a "nod," or acknowledgement of their former prominence in earlier musical films.
When her first husband died, she felt unable to continue her performing. She and her second husband, Douglas Morris, owned property in southern California, including convalescent homes. During the 1970s and `80s Bernice was honored by local film societies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Bernice Claire (January 27, 1906 â€“ January 17, 2003) was an American singer and actress. She appeared in 13 films between 1930 and 1938.
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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein
The star of no less than three screen operettas in 1930, all opposite baritone Alexander Gray, Bernice Claire's film career suffered due to the sudden unpopularity of all things musical. Although she performed such hits as "With a Song in My Heart" in Spring Is Here, Claire was already considered box-office poison and audiences would have to wait for Jeanette MacDonald to revitalize the operetta genre in the mid-'30s. She starred in one final musical film, the British Two Hearts in Harmony, but then concentrated on radio work and civic light opera productions.
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