The Dynamite Girl
The Beautiful Alexis Smith
Cheers to Canada's Alexis Smith
Born on June 8, 1921--Margaret Alexis Fitz-Simmons Smith, would see a meteoric flame burn with steady heat on the silver screens of Hollywood, then continue to fan fame's flickering fire on the stages of America. It would be an exciting ride for the girl given the explosive monicker of--The Dynamite Girl!
Margaret, to become known as Alexis, was born in Penticton, British Columbia. She moved, with her family, when she was five years old to southern California.
At ten, she won a dance school scholarship in 1931. At 13, she won the lead part of Carmen in a Hollywood Bowl production, her professional dancing debut. Later while attending Hollywood High School, she won a california state acting contest.
In 1941, at 20, Smith signed a contract with Warner Brothers and given the tag--Dynamite Girl--she accepted the description with reluctance. Smith was contracted to perform in a few B movies, then rose quickly, starring opposite several leading males in feature films. She starred opposite the likes of Errol Flynn (Gentleman Jim), Charles Boyer (The Constant Nymph), Jack Benny (The Horn Blows at Midnight), and Cary Grant (Night and Day), to name but a few. Smith stood tall at 5' 9," and with the diminished height of certain leading males, proved difficult to cast. It seems some Hollywood men were sensitive of their stature.
Apparently, Hollywood wanted to give the tall, dark-haired starlet a new name, but she would not have it--she chose to remain a Smith, but adopted Alexis as her first name. As Elsie Foote explains in a 1943 article:
"Canada has thus produced four screen actresses of outstanding merit; Norma Shearer of Montreal, Mary Pickford (born Gladys Smith, sharing the same last name as the future Alexis, Wikipedia lists Alexis, incorrectly I might add, as being born Gladys) of Toronto, Diane Dunham of Winnipeg, and our very own Alexis Smith of Penticton."
In 1944, she married Craig Stevens, a fellow Warner Brothers actor, Errol Flynn, the couple's mutual friend, was best man at the wedding. The marriage proved to be enduring--it was Alexis' only coupling till the day she died.
IN 1959, after 18 years in film, the first phase of her career came to an end. Smith, along with her husband, then performed in live theatre, touring productions of Mary, Mary, the Critic's Choice, and Cactus Flower till the early '70s.
During this part of the "Me" decade, she reached a personal pinnacle of achievement when she won a Tony for her part in the hit Broadway production, Follies, leading to a renewal of her film career. She played Jodie Foster's aunt in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, as well as a retired widow named Belle in the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas vehicle, Tough Guys.
From Tony to Television
The Tony win also brought her roles on the small screen. She appeared in an episode of Cheers with Sam Malone, the bartender, falling for the 69-year-old actress. She played the role of a professor named Alice Anne Volkman and in the episode, as Kirstie Alley's old prof and lovesick, mature woman, she chases after actor Ted Dansen, portraying the always sexually-charged Sam. Other TV roles saw her on the Marcus Welby, MD serial.
Her final performance occurred in Martin Scorcese's epic Bostonian masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, wherein she portrays the New York aristocrat, Louisa Van Der Leyden. Alexis Smith worked till the last year of her life and succumbed to brain cancer a day after her 72nd birthday on June 9, 1993.
Her husband, Craig Stevens, best remembered for his role as a savvy, suave private detective on the television series, Peter Gunn, died seven years later. Alexis died one year short of their fiftieth wedding anniversary--and the enduring pair remained childless over the course of their long love affair.