Monday, January 13, 2014

At Home with Phil Harris & Alice Faye

In 1947 Radio Mirror featured an article on Phil Harris and Alice Faye apart of their regular "Come and Visit with..." series. The subtitle to the article was "How a bachelor's life was changed by three lovely blondes - changed for the happier". While most of the article seems to be true, one little fact was altered...Phil Harris, the popular novelty singer and radio host, was not a bachelor when his life was changed by those lovely blondes. He was married to Marcia Ralston from 1932 up until he met and married Alice Faye in 1941. But oh well, so the fan magazines like to stretch the truth a little.....

Harris built a magnificent ranch out in the Encino foothills ( 4544 Encino Avenue ) and it was here that he met Alice Faye, who lived a short distance down the street in a ranch of her own. Their Dobermans got in a scuffle one day and after they argued about who started the dogfight Phil invited Alice out for dinner. They married in 1941. Alice was a big fan of antiques and old china and when she moved into the house she loved Phil Harris's place just the way it was. As she states in the article : 'I liked the feeling that you could put your feet on anything you liked. The house invited you to let your hair down and relax'.

They kept the house for many years but in 1951, Phil Harris, an avid golfer heard that a new housing development was being created directly on the Thunderbird golf course. He couldn't resist that. The Harris' were the second couple to purchase a home in the new development and, although they intended to use it only as a weekend retreat, ended up remaining in the house until Alice Faye's death in 1998. Their Encino home was later sold to George Gobel in 1957. Only recently did their children have to sell the Thunderbird property, due to its expensive upkeep. You can see a postcard view of this home at the bottom of this article. 

We'd like to give a special thanks to the folks at OTRRpedia for digitizing the following text. Enjoy! 

From the April 1947 issue of Radio Mirror : 

It's very easy to get lost driving out from Hollywood to the home of Alice and Phil Harris. The wandering, crooked road changes its name a dozen times as it climbs up into the Encino foothills from Ventura Boulevard. You have plenty of time to wonder what sort of setting Phil has conceived for the three beautiful, blue-eyed blondes who are the women in his life, his wife, Alice Faye, and their two daughters, Alice, who is five years old now, and Phyllis, who is three. Whatever your preconceptions are, you are certain to be surprised.

The women-folk may rule in numbers, as it turns out, but there is nothing delicate or Dresden-tinted about the sprawling ranch house where the Harrises live. Phil built the place fourteen years ago when he was a confirmed bachelor, and the feminine invasion has only slightly modified its mannish character. The siege of this particular one man's castle began seven years ago when Alice came there as a bride.

"I loved the place just the way it was," she recalls. "I liked the feeling that you could put your feet on anything you liked. The house invited you to let your hair down and relax." She liked the big, rather bare rooms, the massive fireplaces.

She was a little startled - as one is, visiting there today - to find silver-mounted riding saddles - rather than old Georgian coffee pots - in the dining room, and a professional size pool table and enormous gun cases (but no books) in what in most houses would be the library, but she got used to it. So would you. It takes about five minutes for the relaxation to set in.

"I wouldn't have changed a brick or a board of it," Alice confides, "but things happened."

"We didn't expect," she adds, with a broad grin, "to have all these children."

In its original design, Phil's house provided for one "family" bedroom - a good big one, with bathroom and dressing room built to scale. The only other sleeping rooms were the servants' quarters and they were far away on the other side of the house.

The low sprawling house Phil built fourteen years ago.
The first baby's impending arrival five years ago posed a problem. With eight acres to spread out on, there was plenty of room for the house to grow but Alice didn't want to change the compact feeling of it. Consequently, architects and builders were called in, a hole was knocked in the roof, and a second story -a bedroom, two baths and two dressing rooms for Phil and Alice - added. The former "master bedroom" became the baby's nursery.

Now, with Phyllis getting big enough to want a room of her own, the house has growing pains again.

"As soon as we can get materials," Phil says, "we're going to build a suite for the children on top of the garage. They' ll be far enough away from our room to make as much noise as they like." 

The present arrangement makes for one stringent "house rule." No yelling until 10:30 - for mama and daddy, who like to stay up late and chat or play cards with their friends, Mary and Peter Lind Hayes, the Tufty Gaffs, the Andy Devines - don't like to be awakened at six. The white cockatoo Phil brought home with him years ago from Australia had to be housed for this reason a good quarter of a mile away from the house. He wouldn't abide by the house rules.

"The kids are getting more like the cockatoo every day," Alice says. "They refuse to be shushed."

"Oh," she groans, "those good old days, those lovely old days, of sleeping until noon, the breakfast in bed. All gone now."

Breakfast by the big fireplace in the dining room is almost as good as breakfast in bed. The dining room, in fact, is the pleasantest room in the house - and the one most apt to get the play when guests arrive.

It is scarcely a dining room in the conventional sense - rather more a dining-sitting room of the hunting lodge, western ranch variety. It is simply enormous to begin with, and as inviting as a country inn on a rainy day with its bright red curtains, the circle of massive red and white sofas and easy chairs drawn up to the outsize fireplace, the generous sparkle of polished copper and brass.

Phil designed the room, and there was method in his madness. Phil is a hunting enthusiast - and professional enough about it to know that McAllen, Texas, on the Gulf Coast, is the best place in the country to go for white wing dove, Saskatchewan the haunt of Hungarian partridge and prairie chicken, and the wooded flatlands out of Dallas the best place to look for deer. His favorite form of entertaining is to invite his best friends to come and eat the shoot - and to cook the dinner himself.

Such dinner parties are much more fun for the cook if the convivialities go on not too far from the kitchen.

The living room, which in an ordinary house would be called informal, is almost company stuff at the Harrises'. The walls are turquoise (the blondes in the family have had a say in this!) . The same greenish blue is combined with beige in the upholstering fabrics, and the floor is carpeted from wall to wall with a luxurious deep·pile beige rug. This was a big concession on Phil's part. In the sitting.dining room, the floor is cement-painted dark green. The only rugs are hand·braided throw rugs in front of the fire and under the big sawbuck dining table. "I like floors sweepable," says Phil.

"People in California are crazy to spend so much time fussing with details indoors," Alice agrees. "We live outside - around the pool in the summer, down at the stables when it is cool."

The stables are occupied for the present only by Phil's horse, Sonny. But Alice has been riding with Phil in Palm Springs during their frequent desert vacations, and as soon as she is ready Phil wants to buy her a horse of her own. And in a year or two, the children will be old enough for ponies.

Riding, hunting, cooking game dinners for your friends - life is full of wonderful things to do, in Phil's opinion. And he is a little rueful that at present so much good playtime must be spent at work. With two radio shows a week, his own and Alice's on Sundays, and the Jack Benny show on which he is a regular performer, to prepare for, and rehearse, and broadcast, Phil is a busy man.

"I see much too little of my daughters," he says. "Much too little of my friends. Thank heaven my beautiful wife works with me, or I would never see her." It's a hard life, you gather from Phil, this getting rich and famous.

Despite their father's conviction that he is neglecting them shamefully, Alice and Phyllis tell everybody who will listen that their daddy is the greatest man in the world. He can ride. He can shoot straight. He can fix their broken tricycles. And he is the best tickler in the world.

"The girls will do anything," their mother says, "if Phil will promise to tickle them before they go to bed. Eat their spinach, wash their hands before supper, put the toys away - anything."
Tickling is a nightly routine.

"Cissy - Cissy is Miss Griffith, the children's nurse - gets the nursery all neat and tidy, the beds clean and white and crisp, the children scrubbed and beautiful. And then we wreck the place. I am the First Assistant Tickler. If Phil and I can't tickle them to sleep - then Cissy has to finish the job."

Alice shakes her head a little after she tells this story.

"How did two such sane parents get such crazy children?" she wants to know.

"Maybe," she adds on second thought, "it's just Alice. Phyllis thinks her big sister is so wonderful that she is content to parrot everything she says. 

"All day long it's 'Mama, may I have a graham cracker?' from Alice, followed by 'Mama, may I have a gwam cwacker?' from Phyllis. Or 'Daddy, please tickle me,' from Alice, then 'Daddy, pwease tittle me,' from Phyllis."

So far as her parents know, little Phyllis has never had a thought of her very own.
They are a wonderful pair to watch. They look alike - a little like their mother, a little like their father. Cissy dresses them in identical pinafores. They have dolls alike, push-peddle autos alike, cowboy suits alike for visits to Sonny's barn.

"And," says Phil, "if you're going to tickle one of them you'd better have strength enough to tickle two."

"They are tireless," Alice adds. "They have the run of the whole eight acres all day. Signs over all the drives warn guests to be 'Careful, Children.' They run and romp and shout until I'm tired just from watching them. If they have to sit down five minutes for lunch they feel abused."

"And," this from their father, "they are indestructible. One of them will fall down and bruise a knee. Alice will patch it up with stuff from the First Aid box in the kitchen. Before the bandages are put away, the other knee is black and blue. But do they stop running? Not those two."

Energy seems to be a family trait.

Alice finds time for two careers - in films and on the radio - without cutting corners on either of the jobs she considers really important, those as Phil's wife and the children's mother.
Phil, for his part, does five men's work in his profession and still has leisure for more useful "puttering" around the place than many a less harried husband.

Phil wanted a barbecue, complete with turning spit, for outdoor dinners. So he hauled the bricks himself, and built it. Somebody gave him a camellia bush - he transplanted it, cultivated it - now it's blooming wildly in the flower border at the edge of the flagstone patio. One night recently he came home from a rehearsal hankering for an old-fashioned Southern dinner, the fried chicken and cornbread kind of dinner he remembered from his Tennessee boyhood. It was the cook's night out, so Phil cooked it. Before dinner was half done, the smells emanating from the kitchen were so promising that Alice called up Mary and Peter Hayes and the Golts, who came right over to help consume the feast.

"What a household," the guests sighed with satisfaction, as they stretched out after dinner in the roomy chairs around the dining room fireplace.

"What a husband," said Alice.

And the house, her husband's house, she might have added, is not for sale.


  1. Lovely article and pictures.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Of all the movie magazines, I always thought that Radio Mirror had the best articles.

  2. They seem like a couple that was meant to be, and they certainly got the most out of their family life.

  3. This is just the information I am finding everywhere. Thanks for your blog, I just subscribe your blog. This is a nice blog..
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  4. I just adore these 2! I listen to a lot of old time radio and Jack Benny with Phil Harris make me die laughing! And Alice's voice on her and Phil's show is amazingly beautiful. I wish we still had stars of this calibre.

  5. I was lucky enough to have Alice call me on my birthday thanks to a friend who called the AF - PH Enterprise in Rancho Mirage about 35 years ago. We chatted about 5 minutes but I was so nervous I could hardly talk. She told me to relax…..that she was only human. I told her ….” Not as far as I am concerned ! “. She laughed and after a bit we ended our call with her saying…” God Bless !” I was on cloud nine for days afterwards!