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Leading Lady, Hidden Gent – Hollywood Switcheroo (1944)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #22, released on November 30, 2023.)

A syndicated Associated Press article from January 26, 1944, revealed that a struggling actress had pulled the wool over the eyes of those making Hollywood motion pictures.

She was 20-year-old Tanis Chandler, who was born Tannis Anne Goldthwaite in France.  Her family moved to New York in 1936, and after her father became ill, Tanis turned to modeling, ultimately heading for Hollywood to seek fortune and fame. She was signed by a studio there but was dropped one year later.

Tanis Chandler
Tanis Chandler

To support herself, Tanis obtained employment as a teletypist at a stock brokerage, but her desire to appear in films never waned.

But actresses come a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood, and Tanis was rejected for parts over and over again. If only she could figure out a way to secure a part in a movie.

Then it hit her: By 1943, World War II was well underway and there was a shortage of male actors in Hollywood. So, Tanis figured that if she couldn’t get a part as a woman, maybe she could sneak into the movies as a man.

And that was exactly what happened.  She secured a small role under the pseudonym of Robert Archer in the 1943 Warner Brothers film, The Desert Song. The main reason she was able to get away with it was that she and many of the other players were clad in long flowing robes and burnooses, which hid her feminine form.

The casting office thought so well of her (or him) that it sent her out for a role in My Reputation, which starred Barbara Stanwyck. In the film, the phony Robert Archer was to play a young man who mowed the lawn. But what man mows a lawn under the hot California sun with a jacket and shirt on? So, director Curtis Bernhardt asked Archer to take them off.

That was clearly something that Tanis couldn’t do, and she was forced to reveal her true identity.

“Okay, okay. I’m a girl,” Miss Chandler said, summarily abandoning the lawnmower and her quest for masculine film honors.

She later commented, “The studios are always yelling about the lack of men. I thought I’d have better luck in male roles. O well.”

While Tanis Chandler never became an A-list movie star, she was able to secure small, mostly uncredited parts over the next few years. To support herself between roles, she dubbed an estimated thirty American films destined for French audiences.

In addition, with her mother Leone, they established a successful daycare facility for young children.

Her final film role was an uncredited one in 1952’s At Sword’s Point starring Maureen O’Hara and Cornel Wilde.

On October 9, 1949, she married music publisher Paul Mills in Beverly Hills. Together, the couple had two children. She died on May 7, 2006, in Sedona, Arizona.  She was 81 years of age.

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