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May Robson was an unlikely movie star. She was in her mid-seventies, stout, and her face betrayed her age. But she, like Marie Dressler, had an abundance of talent and the ability to create characters that attracted Depression-era audiences. Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1858, Robson never intended on being an actress until her husband died after only three years of marriage and she found herself with three small children to support. For a few years she worked as a gem designer which put her into contact with theater people who encouraged her to try acting. She spent several years on the stage before breaking into silent film and continued into the Talkies.
1934 was a good year for May Robson. She had just starred in Frank Capra's Lady for a Day (1933) for which she had earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In that film she plays "Apple Annie," a down and out apple seller who is helped by gangsters to appear as a grand lady to fool her daughter who she hasn't seen in years. Although she lost out to Katharine Hepburn for Morning Glory, Columbia Studios liked Robson and the character enough to stretch it out into another film, this time, instead of being Apple Annie, she was called Patsy Patterson.
1934 was also a good year for Carole Lombard's career. After years of playing decorative roles that gave her little to do but look beautiful and wear gorgeous clothes, she was finally given the opportunity to show her comedic side in Columbia's Twentieth Century. Lombard stunned audiences and critics alike who didn't think she had it in her, although in her personal life she was an extremely funny woman and had learned comedy while a teenager at the Mack Sennett Studios. Twentieth Century changed her career for the better and while still on loan-out to Columbia from her home studio Paramount, she was given another opportunity at a comedy in Lady by Choice (1934). The film had originally been titled Hello, Big Boy but renamed to capitalize on Lady for A Day . Lombard's character was called Alabam' Lee, (supposedly based on nightclub owner Texas Guinan and fan-dancer Sally Rand) who is convicted on a morals charge. Her agent hires Patsy Patterson from an old ladies' home to pose as Alabam's mother to give her a more wholesome image.
While Lady by Choice didn't have Frank Capra directing, it was still well received by the critics. The New York Times review on November 17, 1934 was complimentary, "Having looked backward into its comparatively recent past and having discovered, probably without too much research, that a film called Lady for a Day did well indeed at the box office last season, Columbia Pictures decided to produce another constructed along somewhat similar lines. The picture, Lady by Choice had its first local showing yesterday at the RKO Palace. Ordinarily these copies are sad affairs, lacking in the very qualities that made for the success of the original. It is a pleasant surprise, then, to be able to report that Lady by Choice is an exception. It is a well-rounded story, enacted by a tried and true cast, directed with sureness by David Burton and spiced with Jo Swerling's natural, robust and clever dialogue. ...For box-office reasons Miss Lombard's name heads the cast, but no one in the audience will be fooled. Lady by Choice is Miss Robson's picture. She made it what it is today."
Producer: Robert North
Director: David Burton
Screenplay: Jo Swerling, Dwight Taylor (story)
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Music: Louis Silvers
Cast: Carole Lombard ('Alabam' Georgia Lee), May Robson (Patsy Patterson), Roger Pryor (Johnny Mills), Walter Connolly (Judge Daly), Arthur Hohl (Kendall), Raymond Walburn (Front O'Malley).
by Lorraine LoBianco