November 4, 1927
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|Died||September 19, 2016
Pompano Beach, Florida, U.S.
Isadore Borsuk (November 4, 1927 – September 19, 2016), better known as Bobby Breen, was a Canadian-born American actor and singer. He was a popular male child singer during the 1930s and reached major popularity with film and radio appearances.
Breen was born Isadore Borsuk on November 4, 1927 (according to some sources he was born in 1928) in Montréal, Canada, the son of Hyman and Rebecca Borsuk. His parents were poor Jewish immigrants from present-day Ukraine. They, along with Breen's three older siblings, migrated from Kiev to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1927. Soon after, they relocated to Toronto. His singing talent as a boy soprano was discovered at age three by his sister Susan, herself an aspiring musical student who was several years his senior. While their parents did not show any particular interest, Susan decided to help him achieve stardom. With the assistance from her music teacher, Breen got a chance to perform in front of an audience in a nightclub. Soon, he began winning prizes in theatre competitions, providing significant amount of income to the poor family. Due to his gained popularity, the two siblings decided to look for work and recognition in the United States. Financed by Susan, they traveled to Chicago by bus in 1934, where he began working with people such as Gloria Swanson and Milton Berle in local theater productions. Breen later relocated to New York City. The foreign-sounding last name of Borsuk had been anglicised to Breen prior to their arrival in the United States.
Child star at RKO
Breen went to Hollywood in 1935, where he received singing lessons from a vocal coach. Film producer Sol Lesser, who had discovered Jackie Coogan, signed Breen to RKO Radio Pictures. Around this time, he became a regular performer on Eddie Cantor's weekly radio show in 1936 , where his talents as a boy soprano were appreciated by the listeners. Prior to the release of his first motion picture, Let's Sing Again, he was compared to other child stars of the era such as Freddie Bartholomew and Shirley Temple. In terms of his vocalist abilities, he was described as a combination of Allan Jones, Nelson Eddy and Al Jolson. His debut saw him being top-billed with Henry Armetta as his co-star. He sang La donna è mobile, among other songs, in the movie.
Satisfied with his debut for the studio, RKO signed a deal with him for three additional movies. He was cast in another musical later the same year called Rainbow on the River, co-starring May Robson and Alan Mowbray. He sang Ave Maria and the film's title song Rainbow on the River. Kurt Neumann, who had directed Breen in his first two pictures, worked with him for the last time in Make a Wish in 1937. His co-star was Basil Rathbone. In a 1938 article, he was referred to as one of the rare cases of child actors succeeding in an adult-dominated industry.
By the time he had completed filming Escape to Paradise in 1939, his voice was gradually changing due to puberty. As a result, he retired from the film industry, despite being originally contracted for two additional movies, and instead focused on his education at Beverly Hills High School. He described the sudden voice change in a 1977 article:
When you've been a child star and suddenly find yourself with a husky voice, it's hard to convince agents that you're not over the hill. I stopped singing at 16 because of the huskiness and took up the piano. I had the knack for it, but never wanted to be a concert pianist. I just wanted to be back in the world I'd known all my life.
His popularity did not immediately wane during his hiatus, receiving mail from numerous fans across the United States and United Kingdom. He briefly returned to the screen in 1942 to appear as himself in Johnny Doughboy, starring Jane Withers. As an adult, he expressed skepticism about children working in the entertainment industry. He also signed a contract with Decca Records when he began his Hollywood career, and had moderate success with a series of 78 rpm records in the late 1930s.
In the military
Breen enlisted in the infantry in the U.S. Army during World War II. He and fellow Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney were soon assigned to entertain the troops, despite him having retired from show business. Breen was hospitalized in France in 1945 towards the end of the war. For his war efforts, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
After his discharge from the U.S. Army, in 1946, he initially struggled to find work as he returned to show business. He did some theatre work  as well as some radio appearances in New York during this period. Because of his voice having changed since becoming an adult, he took singing lessons to reinvent himself by adapting to a new tenor singing style.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he worked as a singer in nightclubs and as a musical performer in stock theatre, later serving as a guest pianist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio, and hosting a local TV show in New York. He also recorded briefly for the Motown label, singing on two singles and produced an unreleased album in 1964 called Better Late Than Never. Berry Gordy had hoped for Breen to become his first white contracted artist, but ultimately changed his mind because the singer did not suit the type of music Motown produced. In 1953, Breen appeared on ABC's reality show, The Comeback Story, to explain how his career nose-dived as he entered his teen years and how he fought to recover.
Since the 1970s, he and his late wife Audrey had been working in Florida as entrepreneurs, booking agents and producers arranging musical shows performed by various entertainers at smaller, affordable venues. The business idea is called a "condominium circuit". In later years, it has focused on hiring aged stars of the past, including Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney and Ann Blyth.
In November 1948, he went missing while on a private flight from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to Hayward, Missouri. Several planes went searching for him for one-and-a-half days before it was discovered that he had been staying at a hotel anonymously without telling anyone. He was fined 300 U.S. dollars.
Breen married fashion model Jocelyn Lesh on November 9, 1952. The couple had a son, Hunter Keith Breen, in 1954. Four years later, the marriage became unsustainable, with Jocelyn claiming that he had physically injured her. They went their separate ways, but the divorce was not finalized until February 1961. He married the president of the City of Hope National Medical Center Audrey Howard around 1962.
His sister Susan died in 2002. That same year, he underwent bypass surgery due to blocked arteries in his heart. He died of natural causes in Pompano Beach, Florida, on September 19, 2016, three days following the death of his wife.
On February 12, 2012, he was the recipient of the "Forest Trace Honorary Octogenarian: Turn Back Time" award.
|1936||Let's Sing Again||Billy Gordon|
|Rainbow on the River||Philip Ainsworth|
|1937||Make a Wish||Chip Winters|
|1938||Hawaii Calls||Billy Coulter|
|Breaking the Ice||Tommy Martin|
|1939||Fisherman's Wharf||Tony Roma|
|Way Down South||Timothy Reid Jr|
|Escape to Paradise||Roberto Ramos|
In popular culture
- Breen was one of the people represented on the cover of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He found his inclusion on the album cover surprising.
- Lenny Bruce mentioned Breen in his comedy routine "The Palladium".
- "Former Boy Soprano Bobby Breen Lost In Plane". Medicine Hat News. November 23, 1948. p. 4. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen, a Child Star Who Hit a High Note in the 1930s, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
- "Bobby Breen, Boy Soprano of 1930s Hollywood Musicals, Dies at 88". The Hollywood Reporter. September 22, 2016. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
- Bergan, Ronald (September 27, 2016). "Bobby Breen obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
- Foster (2003) p. 37.
- Shaffer, George (October 24, 1937). "Bobby Breen's Success Story". Unidentified. pp. 6–7. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Coming soon: Hawaii Calls". The Montana Standard. January 9, 1938. p. 59. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Shaffer, George (October 24, 1937). "Bobby Breen's Success Story". Unidentified. pp. 8–9. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen Is Vet Trouper At Age of 9". Brownsville Herald. February 21, 1937. p. 28. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Breen, Bobby (February 11, 1974). "Bobby Breen Now Florida Producer". Monroe News Star. p. 9. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Young singing sensation is in Ritz treat". Anniston Star. October 4, 1936. p. 11. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen, boy radio star, in 'Let's Sing Again'". Ames Daily Tribune. July 18, 1936. p. 5. Retrieved June 5, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen wins audiences in Iowa". Cedar Rapids Gazette. December 26, 1936. p. 4. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen to sing at Olympic". Altoona Mirror. September 2, 1937. p. 21. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Tildesley, Alice (October 23, 1938). "What Are Your Child's Chances in Hollywood?". Ogden Standard Examiner. p. 30. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Thomas, Elsia (January 5, 1944). "Eddie Cantor brings back two proteges". Bluefield Daily Telegraph. p. 12. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen quits as voice changes". Ogden Standard Examiner. December 2, 1939. p. 2. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Frame, Lanie (April 22, 1977). "New Concept Brings Stars To Audiences". Port Charlotte Daily Herald. p. 5. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Othman, Frederick (August 27, 1942). "Veterans of Movies, Still in High School, Reminisce About the "Good Old Days"". Mason City Globe-Gazette. p. 18. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Vale, Virginia (September 10, 1942). "Star Dust". Albert City Appeal. p. 3. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen big boy now". Medicine Hat News. November 11, 1942. p. 6. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Quirk, Florence (October 2, 1942). "Romantic twosomes". The Paris News. p. 3. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Around New Mexico". Albuquerque Journal. December 27, 1967. p. 20. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Bobby Breen at 78 discography
- Lawrence, Larry (April 30, 1948). "Bobby Breen Bounces Back Into Stardom: Women Still Claim Him". The Journal. pp. 18–19. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Mickey Rooney And Bobby Breen Patients Of Local Soldiers". Charleroi Mail. March 28, 1945. p. 9. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen Will Make Appearance". Ames Tribune. February 25, 1946. p. 8. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Luther, Paul (November 28, 1947). "Inside radio". Cumberland Evening Times. p. 29. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Johnson, Erskine (October 28, 1952). "Hollywood...". The Courier-Express. p. 7. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Foster (2003) p. 50-51.
- Callahan, Mike and Edwards, David, "Motown Album Discography, Part 1 (1961-1981)". Retrieved April 28, 2008
- Lyons, Leonard (October 2, 1953). "The Lyons Den". Amarillo Daily News. p. 20. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
- Gubernick, Lisa (November 22, 1999). "Bobby and Audre Breen Give Aging Stars A Place to Shine on the Condo Circuit". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen Apologizes". The Athens Messenger. November 24, 1948. p. 1. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Wilson, Earl (November 11, 1952). "It Happened Last Night". Defiance Crescent News. p. 12. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- "Bobby Breen Divorced". Lake Charles American-Press. February 17, 1961. p. 19. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Foster (2003) p. 51.
- Once Upon a Time in Paradise: Canadians in the Golden Age of Hollywood, p. 53, at Google Books
- Foster (2003) p. 55.
- Baron, Sharon (February 16, 2012). "Tamarac Resident is Presented with Honorary Octogenarian Award". Tamarac Talk. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Julien (2009) p. 93.
- Foster (2003) p. 50.
- "Chopped garlic An obit of note Georgia Gibbs". Puregarlic.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
- Foster, Charles (2003). Once Upon a Time in Paradise: Canadians in the Golden Age of Hollywood (1st ed.). Ontario: Dundurn Press. pp. 35–55. ISBN 978-1550024647.
- Julien, Olivier (2009). Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles: It Was Forty Years Ago Today (1st ed.). Routhledge. ISBN 978-0754667087.
- Holmstrom, John (1996). The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995. Norwich, Michael Russell, pp. 153–154.
- Dye, David (1988). Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., pp. 25–26.
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