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LA People 2009: Beryl and Lisa Davis — Sibling Revelry

Years ago, when films were still silver and music was analog, Beryl and Lisa Davis came to Los Angeles. Hailing from London, their parents — a bandleader and a chorus girl — met onstage and proceeded to fall in love, wed and have two gifted daughters.

Both girls started working very young and attended a school for performing children. “You’d have to work until 11 at night and get up and go to school in the morning,” Lisa recalls. “Many, many lessons — tap dancing, drama, singing. You had to work very, very hard because England has quite a lot of great talent.”

By age 8, Beryl was singing professionally in Europe. At 12, she recorded some of the most prized jazz tracks in history, including pieces with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. These performances caught the ear of Glenn Miller, who plucked her from their midst during World War II. While continuing to play at the Hot Club of France, entertaining Nazi soldiers by night, the Gypsy musicians did their part for the Allies by day, sending valuable information to the British Army. Meanwhile, Beryl did hers by singing to the British GIs. Though no longer performing in the same room, they were playing the same tune.

Born 12 years after Beryl, Lisa was also a natural performer, working by age 5 with many of England’s finest, including David Lean. Soon, Walt Disney noticed Lisa and brought her to Los Angeles to play the lead in Alice in Wonderland — before he changed his mind and decided to animate Alice. Shortly after Lisa’s return to London, Frank Sinatra discovered the seasoned talents of Beryl and brought her to New York. Notorious for being picky and demanding, Sinatra had only “the greatest respect” for Beryl.

Although she enjoyed working with Sinatra and still treasures her time with him, it wasn’t long before Beryl headed West to Los Angeles, where she came to adore the varied terrain, sweet perfume of orange blossoms and mild weather. A short time after her move, she married the famous DJ Peter Potter and started a family. She continued to sing, formed a band and even opened for Louis Armstrong.

Three years after her first trip to L.A., Lisa joined her sister — this time under contract with MGM. She worked with the biggest stars, landed on the covers of the most-read magazines, went to the hippest parties and the coolest clubs, ate dinners with the most handsome men in town. After she appeared in Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Walt Disney noticed her a second time. She had a reputation for doing a dead-on impression of the famously eccentric Hungarian, and Disney wanted her to voice the character of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Lisa, however, felt she was Anita, not De Vil. Disney let her read for the part and agreed.

Dalmatians was perfection because Mr. Disney demanded perfection,” Lisa says. “I didn’t realize when I was working that it was going to be a classic.” It was during the four-year process of making 101 Dalmatians that she had her first child with her Queen of Outer Space co-star Patrick Waltz. Over the years she did many other films and a great deal of television. “I had a very prolific career, and thanks to 101 Dalmatians it lives on.”

After many busy years in the spotlight, both Beryl and Lisa Davis now enjoy a slower pace. Beryl is the last living member of the Glenn Miller Band and happily retired. Lisa still lectures around the world about show business. She recently visited Paris to work on a documentary about Stéphane Grappelli. “Our lives were surrounded by amazing musicians,” Lisa exclaims. “These people were magic!”

As Lisa points out, “Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor — they were stars! You see these Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan types, you would have lost everything back then!”

Still, a few marvelous things have not changed. “Oranges on the trees!” Lisa says. “Being from England, we never saw oranges on trees. Oh, and snowcapped mountains in the background — magical, just magical.”

 

Click here for a complete list of L.A. People 2009.

 


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