“I was afraid of getting stuck with only young parts. I’ve always had that trouble because I have a young-looking face.” –Tom Drake
While Tom Drake is arguably best remembered as the “Boy Next Door” to Judy Garland’s Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Drake also made his mark as an actor in a variety of films as well as television appearances before his acting career unfortunately declined.
Drake was born Alfred “Buddy” Sinclair Alderice on August 5, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, to parents Alfred and Gertrude Alderice. He also had a sister named Claire Kennedy. His father worked as a wholesale merchant and the family also typically had at least one maid under their employ.
Drake completed his education at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, New York, and Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He developed an interest in acting and made his Broadway debut in Run Sheep Run, followed by a role in Clean Beds, billed as Alfred Alderice. Beyond the stage, he worked in British training films during the war years, taking on the stage name of Richard Alden.
Drake’s initial appearances in feature films were uncredited, beginning with an extra role in Our Town (1940). However, his big break would come in 1942 with his work in Broadway’s Janie, leading to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he would take on the stage name Tom Drake.
While at MGM, Drake took on supporting roles in films like Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) and small roles in Private Affair (1944) and Mrs. Parkington (1944). His most notable role would come in the same year in Meet Me in St. Louis, as love interest to Garland’s character.
In 1945, Drake married Isabelle Dunn. The couple would divorce one year later.
Following the success of Meet Me in St. Louis, Drake was placed in leading roles in This Man’s Navy (1944), The Green Years (1946), and Courage of Lassie (1946). In addition, he also portrayed composer Richard Rodgers in Words and Music (1948). Drake would also be loaned to Universal for I’ll Be Yours (1947) and to Fox for Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949). After the war, Drake appeared in roughly 30 films altogether.
In the 1950s, Drake fulfilled guest appearances on various television shows, including The Ford Theatre Hour, Lassie, Perry Mason, and many more.
By the 1970s, his career was declining, as was his health. He found work as a used car salesman after his acting career ended in 1974. Drake passed away on August 11, 1982, from lung cancer at Torrance Memorial Hospital in Torrance, California. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Today, some locations in connection with Drake’s life remain. Initially, his family resided at 133 Elk Ave in New Rochelle, New York. This is the home today:
By 1930, Drake’s mother was widowed. The family relocated to 18 Rosehill Ave in New Rochelle. This is the home at present:
Drake’s alma mater of Iona Preparatory as well as Mercersburg Academy both continue to operate as educational institutions. Iona Preparatory is located at 255 Wilmot Rd. in New Rochelle.
Mercersburg Academy is located at 100 Academy Dr. in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.
According to his 1940 draft card, Drake listed a personal address as 25 Pryer Manor Rd in Larchmount, New York, though he noted that mail should be directed to his sister at 115 W 11th St. in New York. This is the Larchmount location today:
Below is the 11th St. address:
Drake continues to be remembered by his fine work in films, taking on musical, comedic, and dramatic roles.