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Ethelreda Leopold; Exemplar of the Busby Berkeley Girl

February 12, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ethelreda Leopold, elected by her peers as the perfect Busby Berkeley girl and once described by a major New York newspaper as "the epitome of vacuous beauty," has died. She was 80.

Leopold, who often worked in commercials in her later years, died of pneumonia Jan. 26 in North Hollywood.

A native of Chicago, the 17-year-old Leopold was modeling teenage fashions when she was spotted by a Warner Bros. scout. She was immediately hired for Berkeley's chorus line in the 1934 "Dames" starring Joan Blondell, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.

Among the 110 chorines, Leopold scored highest in a vote on five separate categories: prettiest face, prettiest legs, best figure, most talented (she played piano and drew sketches) and most popular. Her highest score was for popularity.

The vote earned her a cross-country trip to promote the film as the exemplary Busby Berkeley girl. Chaperoned by her mother, Gertrude Leopold, she made appearances in New York and throughout the Midwest, collecting keys to 15 cities, 19 proposals of marriage and an assortment of jewelry.

A plan to extend the trip to Paris was canceled when studio executives decided she was more valuable to them in Hollywood--working in more films.

She was cast in several decorative roles in the 1930s and 1940s, usually playing a showgirl, a cigarette girl or a stereotypical secretary. She had a role as a nightclub singer in the 1947 film "Lured" starring Lucille Ball and George Sanders, and worked with the Three Stooges in such shorts as "Wee Wee Monsieur."

Leopold's other films included "Gold Diggers of 1935," "Hollywood Hotel," "Ready, Willing and Able," "Gold Diggers in Paris," "The Great Dictator," "No, No, Nanette," "Angels Over Broadway," "City for Conquest" and "Spring Parade."

She was the widow of hotel executive Joseph Pine.

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