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Winnie Lightner

in Dancing Lady (1933)
Personal information
Birth nameWinifred J. Reeves
Birth dateSeptember 17, 1899
Place of birthGreenport, New York, United States
Date of deathMarch 5, 1971(age 71)
Death placeSherman Oaks, California, United States

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Winnie Lightner (September 17, 1899 March 5, 1971) was an American motion picture actress. Perhaps her most famous role was as a gold-digger named Mabel, in Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929). Lightner was often typecast as a wise-cracking gold-digger and was known for her talents as a comedienne and singer.

Winnie Lightner was born Winifred Reeves in Greenport, New York, but was raised in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen by her aunt and uncle Margaret and Andrew Hansen. She had a successful career in vaudeville and finally made it to Broadway. Winnie Lightner was the first movie performer in history ever to be censored for what she said or sang on screen rather than for anything she did visually. In 1928, she made a Vitaphone short in which she sang "We Love It", "God Help a Sailor on a Night Like This", "That Brand New Model of Mine", and "We've Got a Lot to Learn." A censorship board in Pennsylvania held the release of the film because of the content of Lightner's songs. According to film historian Alexander Walker, "Warners asked the censors to merely pass judgment on the visuals - the censors refused."

The musical Gold Diggers of Broadway was a triumph for Lightner in 1929, and made her an international star. The Warner Bros. quickly signed her up for a number of musical comedies. The first of these was Hold Everything, a lavish all-Technicolor feature based on a Broadway hit. This was followed by She Couldn't Say No (1930), in which Lighter was cast in a dramatic maudlin role which did not suit her talent. The picture, consequently, was not very successful. This was followed by another successful picture,The Life of the Party which was also shot entirely in Technicolor and was an even bigger hit than Hold Everything. Unfortunately, by the end of 1930 audiences had grown tired of musicals. This occurred while Winnie Lightner was in the process of shooting three musicals: Sit Tight (1931), Gold Dust Gertie (1931) and Manhattan Parade (1932). They were all released with most of the music cut. This was especially noticeable on Sit Tight and Manhattan Parade, on which even the background music was completely removed.

In response to the change in public taste, Warner Bros. decided to try another dramatic role for Lightner; the result was a picture called Side Show (1931), which proved to be unsuccessful. She starred in two more comedies in which she co-starred with Loretta Young (without songs), before she left Warner Bros. In the first of these, Play-Girl (1932), she was billed as the star with her name above the title, but in the second, She Had To Say Yes (1933), Loretta Young received this privilege. Winnie Lightner left Warner Bros. after this to go freelance. She would play as a supporting actor in two more features, for MGM and Columbia Pictures respectively, before retiring in 1934.

She was buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery.

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