The Daily Telegraph
Actress and singer who was one of Bing Crosby’s Music Maids
ALICE LUDES, who has died aged 104, was an actress and singer and the last surviving member of the Music Maids, Bing Crosby’s female singing group, which rose to fame during the early 1930s.
She was born Alice Sizer on December 20 1912 in Tacoma, Washington, one of the eight children of ER and Minnie Sizer. Her older sister Fern played the piano and took singing lessons to which Alice would sometimes tag along, later recalling that “I listened to the piano tutor and when I got home I copied what she’d played”.
After graduating from high school, Alice Sizer worked as a hatcheck girl, a lift operator and shop assistant before, in 1932, forming a singing trio, the Williams sisters, with two girls she had met through Fern, and the group subsequently moved to San Francisco, where they got a contract with NBC.
In 1939 Alice Sizer met and married the NBC radio announcer and technician Ed Ludes and moved to Los Angeles when NBC moved her husband to California.
Keen to continue her performing career, Alice and four friends (June Clifford, Virginia Erwin, Dottie Messenger and Denny Wilson), who worked at various studios as singers and film extras, formed the Music Maids.
The group hit the big time when Bing Crosby, who had been looking to make changes to his act on his popular variety programme Kraft Music Hall, which aired on NBC radio and television, contacted his business manager (and eldest brother) Larry Crosby, who knew Ed and Alice Ludes and arranged an audition.
“Bing liked us very much,” she recalled. “He asked us to sing the number Hang your Heart on a Hickory Limb on the Universal Studios movie East Side of Heaven. Bing always seemed relaxed, but he knew his part, and although he joked a lot, Bing paid attention to business.”
But Crosby “didn’t like to rehearse, and preferred singing his own version of a song. That could be difficult at times, but me and the girls loved, loved, loved it.” Alice Ludes and the Music Maids performed on Kraft Music Hall for nearly six years.
During the Second World War, the Music Maids were in demand for personal appearances and entertained troops at the Hollywood Canteen. Away from Crosby, Alice Ludes performed alongside Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. She also lent her singing voice to the The Wizard of Oz (1939).
“The actors who played the Munchkins couldn’t sing a lick,” she later explained, “and so true singers were called upon. Producers then sped up our voices giving the scenes in the film that familiar Munchkin twang.”
Along with the Music Maids, she also performed in several films including a part in Broadway Melody of 1940, Hit Parade of 1943, Girl Crazy (1944), Meet Me in St Louis (1944) and The Harvey Girls (1946).
Shortly before the end of the war, the Music Maids became a group of four instead of five. Hal Hopper, who had formally been with the Pied Pipers, then joined the girls, and the group became the Music Maids and Hal.
It was Bing Crosby who finally pulled the plug on the act when he and Larry Crosby decided upon another change for Kraft Music Hall.
The group continued to perform on stage across the United States for a while but, as music tastes changed and some members of the group left to pursue other interests, they disbanded.
Alice Ludes retired in 1947 to focus on her children and family. Ed Ludes, who later became an actor and artist, died in 1987.
Alice Ludes was rediscovered aged 100 living in Ventura, California, where she still played the piano and entertained fellow residents some 30 years her junior at a local care home. She also took up oil painting.
She is survived by her three children. Alice Ludes, born December 20 1912, died February 12 2017