Oscar Actors: Moore, Grace–Background, Career, Awards

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Grace Moore (December 5, 1898–January 26, 1947) was an American operatic soprano and actress in musical theatre and film, nicknamed the “Tennessee Nightingale.”

Her films helped to popularize opera by bringing it to a larger audience. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in One Night of Love.

In 1947, Moore died in a plane crash at the age of 48. She published an autobiography in 1944 titled You’re Only Human Once. In 1953, a film about her life was released titled So This Is Love starring Kathryn Grayson.

Moore was born Mary Willie Grace Moore, the daughter of Tessa Jane (née Stokely) and Richard Lawson Moore. She was born in Slabtown (now considered part of Del Rio) in Cocke County, Tennessee.

By the time she was 2, her family had relocated to Knoxville, a move Moore later described as traumatic, as she found urban life distasteful at the time.

After several years in Knoxville, the family again relocated to Jellico, Tennessee, where Moore spent her adolescence.

After high school in Jellico, she studied briefly at Ward-Belmont College in Nashville before moving to Washington, D.C. and NYC to continue her musical training and begin her career.

Her first paying job as a singer was at the Black Cat Cafe in Greenwich Village.

Grace Moore’s first Broadway appearance was in 1920 in the musical Hitchy-Koo, by Jerome Kern. In 1922 and 1923 she appeared in the second and third of Irving Berlin’s series of four Music Box Revues. In the 1923 edition she and John Steel introduced Berlin’s song “What’ll I Do”. When Moore sang “An Orange Grove in California”, orange blossom perfume was wafted through the theater.

In 1932 she appeared on Broadway in the short-lived operetta The DuBarry by Karl Millöcker.

After training in France, Moore made her operatic debut at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC on February 7, 1928, singing the role of Mimì in Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. She debuted at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on September 29, 1928 in the same role, which she also performed in a Royal Command Performance at Covent Garden in London on June 6, 1935.

During her 16 seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, she sang in Italian and French operas as well as the title roles in Tosca, Manon, and Louise. Louise was her favorite opera and is widely considered to have been her greatest role.

In the 1930s and 1940s she gave concert performances in the US and Europe, performing a repertoire of operatic selections and other songs in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English. During World War II, she was active in the USO, entertaining American troops abroad.

In 1945 she sang Mimi to Nino Martini’s Rodolfo in La bohème for the inaugural performance of the San Antonio Grand Opera Festival.

She also performed during and after WWII in support of Allied Forces. From the personal memoire of Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee, on 24 July 1945: “After an early dinner drove in convoy to the Paris Opera House for the gala performance entitled “Pacifique 45” given by the French for the benefit of the families of French war veterans. The program laid particular emphasis on the war in Japan and included the showing of two films – “Fighting Lady” and “Iwo Jima” and the rendition of several songs and the French and American national anthems by Grace Moore. Seated in the box of honor were General Alphonse Juin, the French Minister of Information Jacques Soustelle, and a number of important American and French officers. It seemed to be a great success and was particularly appreciated by the crowd of some 20,000 gathered in the square outside the Opera House.”

Attracted to Hollywood in the early years of talking pictures, Moore had her first screen role as Jenny Lind in the 1930 film A Lady’s Morals, produced for MGM by Irving Thalberg and directed by Sidney Franklin.[8] Later that same year she starred with the Metropolitan Opera singer Lawrence Tibbett in New Moon, also produced by MGM, the first screen version of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The New Moon.

After a hiatus of several years, Moore returned to Hollywood under contract to Columbia Pictures, for whom she made six films. In the 1934 film One Night of Love, her first film for Columbia, she portrayed a small-town girl who aspires to sing opera. For that role she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1935. She starred in 1936 as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Josef von Sternberg’s production The King Steps Out.

By this time, she was so popular that MGM was able to insist on equal billing for Moore in a projected film with Maurice Chevalier, who had always enjoyed solo star billing up until then. Chevalier felt so deeply about this blow to his status that he quit Hollywood and the film was never made.

A memorable highlight of When You’re in Love (1937) was a comic scene in which Moore donned flannel shirt and trousers and joined a 5-man band for a flamboyant rendition of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”, complete with gestures and “hi-de-ho’s”, but with the lyrics slightly altered to conform with Hollywood sensibilities. Also, she performed the popular Madama Butterfly duet “Vogliatemi bene” with American tenor Frank Forest in the 1937 film I’ll Take Romance.

The last film that Moore made was Louise (1939), an abridged version of Gustave Charpentier’s opera of the same name, with spoken dialog in place of some of the original opera’s music. The composer participated in the production, authorizing the cuts and changes to the libretto, coaching Moore, and advising director Abel Gance. This production also featured two renowned French singers: dramatic tenor Georges Thill and basse cantante André Pernet.

She was widely criticized in December 1938 when she curtsied to the Duchess of Windsor, in Cannes. Upon her return to the United States after six months and ten days in Europe (“to save money in income tax”), Moore defended her curtsy, saying: She would have been a royal duchess long ago if she had not been an American. After all, she gave happiness and the courage of his convictions to one man, which is more than most women can do. She deserves a curtsy for that alone.

According to Joe Laurie Jr., vaudeville performer and historian, Grace Moore would not perform on vaudeville bills that had black performers.

In 1935 Moore received the gold medal award of the Society of Arts and Sciences for “conspicuous achievement in raising the standard of cinema entertainment.” In 1936 King Christian X of Denmark awarded her his country’s medal of ‘Ingenito et Arti.’ In 1937, she was commissioned as a colonel (an honorary position) on the staff of the governor of Tennessee, and was also made a life member of the Tennessee State Society of Washington, D.C. She was decorated as a chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur in 1939.[6] Moore was also a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1940 to 1942.[14]

Moore married Valentín Parera, a Spanish movie actor, in Cannes, on July 15, 1931. They had no children. During the 1930s they maintained homes in Hollywood, Cannes, and Connecticut.

Grace Moore died in a plane crash near Copenhagen’s airport on January 26, 1947, at the age of 48. Among the other plane crash victims was Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, at the time second in line to the Swedish throne and who was the father of the present King of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf.

A collection of Moore’s papers is housed at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.


A Lady’s Morals (1930; later released as Jenny Lind in the UK and in French-language version
New Moon (1930)
One Night of Love (1934)
Love Me Forever (1935)
The King Steps Out (1936)
When You’re in Love (1937)
I’ll Take Romance (1937)
Louise (1939)