Forest Lawn Memorial Park Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Ross Alexander (born Alexander Ross Smith; July 27, 1907 – January 2, 1937) was an American stage and film actor. Ross, a closeted homosexual, became an acutely self-destructive young man whose career instability and domestic tragedy would take its toll. The tormented Ross ended his own life at age 29.
Alexander was born Alexander Ross Smith in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Maud Adelle Cohen and Alexander Ross Smith. His maternal great-grandfather Morris Cohen was a Polish Jewish immigrant. His father was a leather merchant. Alexander grew up in Rochester, New York, where his family moved soon after he was born. When he was 17, he went to New York City and studied acting at the Packard Theatrical Agency.
Alexander began his acting career with the Henry Jewett Players in Boston, debuting in Enter Madame. By 1926, he was regarded as a promising leading man with good looks and an easy and charming style and began appearing in more substantial roles. His Broadway credits include The Party's Over (1932), Honeymoon (1932), The Stork Is Dead (1932), After Tomorrow (1931), That's Gratitude (1930), Let Us Be Gay (1928), The Ladder (1926), and Enter Madame (1920).
Alexander was signed to a film contract by Paramount Pictures, and his film debut in The Wiser Sex (1932) was not a success, and so he returned to Broadway. In 1934, he was signed to another film contract, this time by Warner Bros. His bigger successes of the period were A Midsummer Night's Dream and Captain Blood (both 1935). In 1936, he starred in Hot Money. It was a defining role in his persona as a glamorous, well-dressed and dapper leading man, not in the usual Warner gangster mold of rough-hewn stars such as Edward G. Robinson or Paul Muni. Ready, Willing and Able, his final film, was released posthumously.
Warners signed him to appear in its popular backstage Depression-era musicals and collegiate capers. Alexander's fresh look and carefree, slightly cynical demeanor made him an instant favorite and he soon began humming with popular second leads in such musicals as Flirtation Walk (1934). On the dramatic side he was chosen to play Demetrius in the all-star A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), and in Errol Flynn's Capitan Blood (1935) he played Jeremy Pitt, Blood's friend and navigator. According to Flynn's biographer,. David Bret, and some other biographers, Flynn had an affair with supporting actor Ross Alexander during the filming of Captain Blood. Speculation about their possible relationship seems to be supported by the tenderness and intensity of their onscreen performances. Adding to the script, Flynn constantly refers to Alexander as "dear" and "darling." Intentionally or not, some of the scenes by Flynn and Alexander have a homoerotic aura: for example, Flynn's massage of Alexander's leg, interrupted by the question "What's going on between you two?," as Lionel Atwill enters the set. Trouble started brewing, however, behind the scenes. Ross was being perceived by Warners as a second-ranked Dick Powell. As the studio began featuring him in Powell's castoffs and other uninspiring B-grade movies, they decided it was too taxing to both groom him for matinée idol status and conceal his homosexuality at the same time.
Alexander married actress Aleta Freel on February 28, 1934, in East Orange, New Jersey. Freel committed suicide on December 7, 1935, shooting herself in the head with a .22 rifle. On September 17, 1936, Alexander married actress Anne Nagel, with whom he had appeared in the films China Clipper and Here Comes Carter (both 1936).
On January 2, 1937, three months after marrying Nagel, with his professional and personal life in disarray and deeply in debt, Alexander shot himself in the head in the barn behind his home. Although it has been reported that Alexander used the same gun with which his first wife Aleta Freel shot herself he shot himself with a .22 pistol (not a rifle) but the death was otherwise parallel. He is buried in lot 292 of the Sunrise Slope section of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.
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