• 18 May 1908
  •  Berlin, Germany

Lya Lys


This blonde stunner and German-born foreign import started life on May 18, 1908, in Berlin as Nathalie Margoulis (or perhaps Natalia Lyech) the daughter of a Russian banker and French pediatrician. The family moved to Paris when she was young where she received her schooling both there and in Switzerland. While little is known about her father, her mother was Ina Löscht (née Blumenfeld), who served at a French field hospital at the onset of WWII. Lya broke into the business as a model and first appeared on film in the Francis Lederer starrer Maman Colibri (1929). MGM, checking out European actors, took notice of Lya and signed her, among others including Charles Boyer, to perform in French-language version of Hollywood movies. It was during this time she starred in the classic Luis Buñuel film L'Age d'Or (1930), which was co-written by none other than Salvador Dalí. Returning to Hollywood, she failed to hit stardom as her thick accent was a primary hindrance. During this turbulent time, she met and married actor Charles Morton in 1931. That very brief marriage produce one daughter. A second marriage in 1932 to business manager Percy Montague also ended quickly. She became a U.S. citizen in 1933. Touring successfully with the 1936 play "Night of January 16", only one decent film came her way, The Great Gambini (1937), but more money problems and an emotional breakdown stopped the momentum dead in its tracks. She made a brief return to Paris to perform in the play "The King's Dough" but was forced to escape with rise of Nazism. Left destitute now, she made a failed suicide attempt with pills. Following unbilled parts in such films as George White's 1935 Scandals (1935) and Vagabond Lady (1935), she made a comeback of sorts, courtesy of a Warner Bros. contract, with the film Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). This success led to roles in The Return of Doctor X (1939) and her last, Murder in the Air (1940), starring Ronald Reagan. A third short-lived marriage occurred with Chicago vending machine operator John Gunnerson, who was once married to silent star Anna Q. Nilsson. The war-era 1940s saw major financial and career setbacks once again, eventually filing for bankruptcy. Later work included torch song singing as a club chanteuse and writing as a fashion newspaper columnist. Her life vastly improved following her stable fourth marriage to George Feit, which lasted until her death. The couple settled in Newport Beach, California where she involved herself in charity work. Lya died of a heart ailment at age 78, on June 2, 1986.