Sophie Tucker

Sophie Tucker (13 January 1886 – 9 February 1966) was a Russian/Ukrainian-born American singer and actress. Known for her stentorian delivery of comical and risqué songs, she was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first half of the 20th century. She was widely known by the nickname “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”

“Some Of These Days”

Tucker was born Sonya Kalish (Russian Соня Калиш) to a Jewish family in Tulchyn, Ukraine. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was an infant, and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. The family changed its name to Abuza, and her parents opened arestaurant.

She started singing for tips in her family’s restaurant. In 1903, at the age of 17, she was briefly married to Louis Tuck, from which she decided to change her name to Tucker. She bore a son with Tuck, named Bert. (She would marry twice more in her life, but neither marriage lasted more than five years.)

Tucker played piano and sang burlesque and vaudeville tunes, at first in blackface. She later said that this was at the insistence of theatre managers, who said she was “too fat and ugly” to be accepted by an audience in any other context. She even sang songs that acknowledged her weight, such as “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love”.

She made a name for herself in a style that was known at the time as a “Coon Shouter“, performing African American influenced songs. Not content with performing in the simpleminstrel traditions, Tucker hired some of the best African American singers of the time to give her lessons, and hired African American composers to write songs for her act.

Tucker made her first appearance in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1909, but did not last long there because Florenz Ziegfeld‘s other female stars soon refused to share the spotlight with the popular Tucker.

“The Man I Love”

William Morris, the founder of the William Morris Agency booked Tucker fresh off her Follies debut at his new American Music Hall. At a 1909 appearance, the luggage containing Tucker’s makeup kit was stolen shortly before the show, and she hastily went on stage without her customary blackface. Tucker was a bigger hit without her makeup than with it, and, at the advice of Morris, she never wore blackface again. She did, however, continue to draw much of her material from African American writers as well as African Americanculture, singing in a ragtime– and blues-influenced style, becoming known for a time as “The Mary Garden of Ragtime”, a reference to a famous operatic soprano of the era.

“The Lady Is A Tramp”

Tucker made several popular recordings. They included “Some of These Days“, which came out in 1911 on Edison Records. The tune, written by Shelton Brooks, was a hit, and became Tucker’s theme song. Later, it was the title of her 1945 autobiography.

In 1921, Tucker hired pianist and songwriter Ted Shapiro as her accompanist and musical director, a position he would keep throughout her career. Besides writing a number of songs for Tucker, Shapiro became part of her stage act, playing piano on stage while she sang, and exchanging banter and wisecracks with her in between numbers. Tucker remained a popular singer through the 1920s, and hired stars such as Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters to give her lessons.

In 1925, Jack Yellen wrote one of her most famous songs, “My Yiddishe Momme“. The song was performed in large American cities where there were sizable Jewish audiences. Tucker explained, “Even though I loved the song and it was a sensational hit every time I sang it, I was always careful to use it only when I knew the majority of the house would understand Yiddish. However, you didn’t have to be a Jew to be moved by ‘My Yiddish Momme.’ ‘Mother’ in any language means the same thing.” She also made the first of her many movie appearances in the 1929 sound picture Honky Tonk. During the 1930s, Tucker brought elements ofnostalgia for the early years of 20th century into her show. She was billed as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” as her heartysexual appetite was a frequent subject of her songs, unusual for female performers of the era.

“He Hadn’t Up Till Yesterday”

“My Yiddishe Mama”

Such was Tucker’s notoriety and cultural influence that, as late as 1963, three years before her death, Paul McCartney jokingly introduced the song “Til There Was You” (from The Music Man) at The Beatles‘ Royal Command Performance at The Prince of Wales Theatre in London on 4 November by saying the song “had also been recorded by our favourite American group, Sophie Tucker”.[2] in reference to Tucker’s notorious girth (Tucker never recorded the song). McCartney also used the same quip, this time for an American audience, to introduce The Beatles’ performance of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ as the finale of their set for The Ed Sullivan Show at The Deauville Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida on 16 February 1964. As there was a lot less audience reaction to the line in Miami Beach, John Lennon provided the laughs.

Dorothy Lamour

Dorothy Lamour (December 10, 1914 – September 22, 1996) was an American film actress. She is best-remembered for appearing in the Road to… movies, a series of successful comedies co-starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (see Timeline of major beauty pageants) .[1]

Lamour was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Carmen Louise (née LaPorte) and John Watson Slaton, both of whom were waiters.[2] Lamour had French Louisianan, Spanish and Irish descent.[3] She was raised to be a Catholic.[4] Her parents’ marriage lasted only a few years, with her mother re-marrying to Clarence Lambour, and Dorothy took his last name. That marriage also ended in divorce when Dorothy was a teenager. The family finances were so desperate that when she was 15, she forged her mother’s name to a document that authorized her to drop out of school. Later, however, she did go to a secretarial school that did not require her to have a high school diploma. She regarded herself as an excellent typist and usually typed her own letters, even after she became quite wealthy.

After she won the 1931 Miss New Orleans beauty contest, she and her mother moved to Chicago, where she earned $17 a week as an elevator operator for the Marshall Field department store on State Street. She had no training as a singer but was persuaded by a friend to try out for a female vocalist’s spot with Herbie Kay, a band leader who had a national radio show called “The Yeast Foamers”, apparently because it was sponsored by Fleischmann’s Yeast. She married Kay in 1935. They were divorced in 1939.[5]

She left Kay’s group and moved to Manhattan, where Rudy Vallee, then a popular singer, helped her get a singing job at a popular night club, El Morocco. She later worked at 1 Fifth Avenue, a cabaret where she met Louis B. Mayer, the Hollywood studio chief. It was Mayer who eventually arranged for her to have a screen test, which led to her Paramount contract in 1935.

In 1935, she had her own fifteen-minute weekly musical program on NBC Radio. She also sang on the popular Rudy Vallee radio show and the Chase and Sanborn Hour. When she was at her zenith as a star, her fans suggested that an agent had adopted her last name from the French word for “love” as a box-office ploy. In fact, the name was close to one in the family; Lamour adapted it herself from Lambour, which was the last name of her stepfather, Clarence.

Early in her career, Lamour met J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Hoover’s biographer Richard Hack,[6] Hoover pursued Lamour romantically, but she was initially interested only in friendship with him. Hoover and Lamour remained close friends to the end of Hoover’s life, and after his 1972 death, Lamour did not deny rumors that she’d had an affair with him in the years after she divorced Kay. However, this appears nowhere in her memoirs “My Side of the Road” (Prentice-Hall ISBN0-13-218594-6).

“I’m In The Mood For Love”

In 1936, she moved to Hollywood and began appearing regularly in films for Paramount Pictures. The role that made her a star was Ulah (a sort of female Tarzan) in The Jungle Princess (1936). She wore a sarong, which would become associated with her. While she first achieved stardom as a sex symbol, Lamour also showed talent as both a comic and dramatic actress. She was among the most popular actresses in motion pictures from 1936 to 1952.

“Thanks For The Memory”

She starred in the “Road to…” movie series with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the 1940s and 1950s. The movies were enormously popular during the 1940s, and they regularly placed among the top moneymaking films each year. While the films centered more on Hope and Crosby, Lamour held her own as their “straight man“, looked beautiful, and sang some of her most popular songs. Her contribution to the films was considered by the public and theater owners of equal importance to that of Crosby and Hope during the series’ golden era, 1940-1952. The series essentially ended with the release of Road to Bali in 1952, with her career declining while co-stars Hope and Crosby remained major show business figures.

During the World War II years, Lamour was among the most popular pinup girls among American servicemen, along with Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Veronica Lake. Lamour was also largely responsible for starting up the war bond tours in which movie stars would travel the country selling U.S. government bonds to the public. Lamour alone promoted the sale of over $21 million dollars worth of war bonds, and other stars promoted the sale of a billion more.

“I Remember You”

Some of Dorothy Lamour’s other notable films include John Ford‘s The Hurricane (1937), Spawn of the North (1938), Disputed Passage (1939), Johnny Apollo (1940), Aloma of the South Seas (1941), Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942), Dixie (1943), A Medal for Benny (1945), My Favorite Brunette (1947), On Our Merry Way (1948) and the best picture Oscar-winner The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Her leading men included William Holden, Tyrone Power, Ray Milland, Henry Fonda, Jack Benny, George Raft, and Fred MacMurray.

“Personality”

Dorothy Lamour starred in a number of movie musicals and sang in many of her comedies and dramatic films as well. She introduced a number of standards, including “The Moon of Manakoora”, “I Remember You (1941 song)“, “It Could Happen to You (song)“, “Personality (1946 song)“, and “But Beautiful (song)“.

“Too Romantic”

Lamour’s film career petered out in the early 1950s, and she began a new career as a nightclub entertainer and occasional stage actress. In the 1960s, she returned to the screen for secondary roles in three films and became more active in the legitimate theater, headlining a road company of Hello Dolly!for over a year near the end of the decade.

Lamour’s good humor and lack of pretension allowed her to have a remarkably long career in show business for someone best known as a glamour girl. She was a popular draw on the dinner theatre circuit of the 1970s. In the 1960s and 1970s, she lived with her longtime husband William Ross Howard III (whom she married in 1943), in the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Maryland.[7] He died in 1978. Lamour published her autobiography My Side of the Road in 1980, revived her nightclub act, and performed in plays and television shows such as Hart to Hart, Crazy Like a Fox, and Murder, She Wrote.

During the 1990s, she made only a handful of professional appearances but she remained a popular interview subject for publications and TV talk and news programs. In 1995, the musical Swinging on a Star, a revue of songs written by Johnny Burke opened on Broadway and ran for three months; Lamour was credited as a “special advisor”. Burke wrote many of the most famous “Road to…” movie songs as well as the score to Lamour’s And the Angels Sing. The musical was nominated for the Best Musical Tony Award and the actress playing “Dorothy Lamour” in the Road movie segment, Kathy Fitzgerald, was also nominated.

Lamour died at her home in North Hollywood, California at the age of 81 from a heart attack. She was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, after a Catholic funeral service.

Sources: Wikipedia, imdb.com, nndb.com, youtube

Filmography

Features

Short subjects

  • The Stars Can’t Be Wrong (1936)
  • Hollywood Handicap (1938)
  • Meet the Stars #1: Chinese Garden Festival (1940)
  • Show Business at War (1943)
  • Unusual Occupations: Film Tot Holiday (1947)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Shower of Stars (1955)

Books

Lamour was the heroine of a novel, Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse (1947, by Matilda Bailey), where “the heroine has the same name and appearance as the famous actress but has no connection … it is as though the famous actress has stepped into an alternate reality in which she is an ordinary person.” The story was written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as “Whitman Authorized Editions”, 16 books published between 1941-1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.[8]

The real Lamour’s autobiography, My Side of the Road, was published by Prentice-Hall in 1980.[9]

She also had a brief print run of 2-3 issues during the 1950s in “Dorothy Lamour Jungle Princess Comics” – A series of comic books dedicated to her movie Jungle Princess persona. (featuring screen shots from past movies as the covers.)

Dick Powell

Richard Ewing “Dick” Powell (November 14, 1904 – January 2, 1963) was an American singer, actor, producer, director and studio boss.

Despite the same last name he was not related to William Powell, Eleanor Powell or Jane Powell.

Born in Mountain View, the seat of Stone County in northern Arkansas, Powell attended the former Little Rock College in the state capital, before he started his entertainment career as a singer with the Charlie Davis Orchestra, based in the midwest. He recorded a number of records with Davis and on his own, for the Vocalion label in the late 1920s.

Powell moved to Pittsburgh, where he found great local success as the Master of Ceremonies at the Enright Theater and the Stanley Theater. In April 1930, Warner Bros. bought up Brunswick Records which at that time owned Vocalion. Warner Bros. was sufficiently impressed by Powell’s singing and stage presence to offer him a film contract in 1932. He made his film debut as a singing bandleader in Blessed Event. He went on to star as a boyish crooner in movie musicals such as 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames, Flirtation Walk, and On the Avenue, often appearing opposite Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell.

Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers, “I’ll String Along With You.”

Powell desperately wanted to expand his range but Warner Bros. wouldn’t allow him to do so, although they did (mis)cast him in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) as Lysander. This was to be Powell’s only Shakespearean role and one he did not want to play, feeling that he was completely wrong for the part. Finally, reaching his forties and knowing that his young romantic leading man days were behind him he lobbied to play the lead in Double Indemnity. He lost out to Fred MacMurray, another Hollywood nice guy. MacMurray’s success, however, fueled Powell’s resolve to pursue projects with greater range.

In 1944, Powell was cast in the first of a series of films noir, as private detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet, directed by Edward Dmytryk. The film was a big hit and Powell had successfully reinvented himself as a dramatic actor. He was the first actor to play Marlowe—by name—in motion pictures. (Hollywood had previously adapted some Marlowe novels, but with the lead character changed.) Later, Powell was the first actor to play Marlowe on radio, in 1944 and 1945, and on television, in a 1954 episode of “Climax!”

With Alice Faye, “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”

In 1945, Dmytryk and Powell re-teamed to make the film Cornered, a gripping, post-WWII thriller that helped define the film noir style. He became a popular “tough guy” lead appearing in movies such as Johnny O’Clock and Cry Danger. But 1948 saw him step out of the brutish type when he starred in Pitfall, a film noir that sees a bored insurance company worker fall for an innocent but dangerous femme fatale, played by Lizabeth Scott. Even when he appeared in lighter fare such as The Reformer and the Redhead and Susan Slept Here (1954) he never sang in his later roles. The latter, his final onscreen appearance in a feature film, did include a dance number with costar Debbie Reynolds.

From 1949–1953, Powell played the lead role in the National Broadcasting Company radio theater production Richard Diamond, Private Detective. His character in the 30-minute weekly was a likable private detective with a quick wit. Many of the episodes were written by Blake Edwards. When Richard Diamond came to television in 1957, the lead role was portrayed by David Janssen.

“I Only Have Eyes For You”

In the 1950s Powell produced and directed several B-movies and was one of the founders of Four Star Television, along with Charles Boyer, David Niven and Ida Lupino. He appeared in and supervised several shows for that company. Powell played the role of Willie Dante in Four Star Playhouse in episodes entitled “Dante’s Inferno” (1952), “The Squeeze” (1953), “The Hard Way” (1953), and “The House Always Wins” (1955). In 1961 Howard Duff, husband of Ida Lupino, assumed the Dante role in a short-lived NBC adventure series Dante, set at a San Francisco nightclub called “Dante’s Inferno”.

Powell guest starred in numerous Four Star programs including a 1958 appearance on the Duff-Lupino sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve. He appeared in 1961 on James Whitmore‘s legal drama The Law and Mr. Jones on ABC. In the episode “Everybody Versus Timmy Drayton” Powell played a colonel having problems with his son. He hosted and occasionally starred in his Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater on CBS from 1956–1961, and his final anthology series, The Dick Powell Show on NBC from 1961 through 1963: after his death, the series continued through the end of its second season (as The Dick Powell Theater), with guest hosts.

Powell’s film The Enemy Below (1957) based on the novel by Denys Rayner won an Academy Award for special effects.

“Say It Isn’t So”

Powell also directed The Conqueror (1956) starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan. The exterior scenes were filmed in St. George, Utah, downwind of US above-ground atomic tests. The cast and crew totaled 220 and of that number, 91 had developed some form of cancer by 1981 and 46 had died of cancer by then, including Wayne. This cancer rate is about three times higher than one would expect in a group of this size and many have argued that radioactive fallout was the cause.[1]

Powell himself died seven years after The Conqueror was made on January 2, 1963 from lymphoma at the age of fifty-eight. His body was cremated and his remains were interred in the Columbarium of Honor at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Dick Powell was married three times:

  • Mildred Maund (1925–1927)-although most biographies say they were divorced in 1927 there are strong indications this is not true. They appear on the 1930 census in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he is working in a theater and they appear on a 1931 passenger list where they are returning from Havana, Cuba aboard the SS Orient.
  • actress Joan Blondell (married September 19, 1936, divorced 1944), with whom he had two children, Ellen and adopted son Norman
  • actress/singer June Allyson (August 19, 1945, until his death), with whom he had two children, Pamela (adopted) and Richard Powell, Jr.

Powell’s ranch-style house in Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles, was used as the setting for the television show Hart to Hart. Robert Wagner, the actor who portrayed Jonathan Hart in the series, was a close friend of Powell’s. Dick Powell also was a major television player with his own production company, Four Star, owning several network shows.

Sourced: wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Features

Short subjects

As director

Vivian Blaine

Vivian Blaine (November 21, 1921 – December 9, 1995) was an American actress and singer best known for originating the role of Miss Adelaide in the musical theater production Guys and Dolls.

“That’s For Me”


Born Vivian Stapleton, the cherry-blonde-haired Blaine appeared on local stages as early as 1934 and was a touring singer with dance bands starting in 1937. In 1942, her agent and soon-to-be husband Manny Franks signed her to a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox, and she relocated to Hollywood, sharing top billing with Laurel and Hardy in Jitterbugs (1943) and starring in Greenwich Village (1944), Nob Hill (1945), and State Fair (1945), among other films.

“Isn’t Kind Of Fun?”

Following her Fox years, Blaine returned to the stage, making her Broadway debut in the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls in 1950. Her character Adelaide has been engaged to inveterate gambler Nathan Detroit for 14 years, a condition which, according to her song “Adelaide’s Lament“, can foster physical illness as well as chronic heartbreak. After the show’s 1200-performance run on Broadway, in which she starred opposite Sam Levene as Nathan Detroit and Robert Alda as fellow gambler Sky Masterson, she reprised the role in London‘s West End in 1953, and then on film in 1955, with Frank Sinatra playing Nathan and Marlon Brando in Sky’s role.

On “What’s My Line?”

Blaine also appeared on the Broadway stage in A Hatful of Rain, Say, Darling, Enter Laughing, Company, and Zorba, as well as participating in the touring companies of such musicals as Gypsy. As she reached age 50, her television career took off, with guest roles on shows like Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. On the 25th annual Tony Awards in 1971, she appeared as a guest performer and sang “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls, providing a visual recording of the performance for posterity.[1]

Blaine in her later years was managed by Rob Cipriano and L’Etoile Talent Agencies in New York City. Cipriano spent the early 1980s developing projects for Blaine including Puppy Love a TV sitcom with Jake LaMotta and Pat Cooper. She always shared in meeting that working with Cipriano reminded her working with her first husband Manny Franks.

Blaine’s first marriage, to Franks, lasted from 1945 to 1956. She then married Milton Rackmil, president of Universal Studios and Decca Records, in 1959, and recorded several albums prior to their 1961 divorce. In 1973, Blaine married Stuart Clark. In 1983 she became the first celebrity to make public service announcements for AIDS-related causes. She made numerous appearances in support of the then fledgling AIDS-Project Los Angeles (APLA) and in 1983 recorded her cabaret act for AEI Records which donated its royalties to the new group; this included the last recordings of her songs from Guys and Dolls.

“Mink and Pearls”

“Adelaide’s Lament”

She died of congestive heart failure in 1995 at age 74.

Alternate Bio:

Vivian Blaine

AKA Vivian Stapleton

Born: 21-Nov1921
Birthplace: Newark, NJ
Died: 9-Dec1995
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, NY

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Guys and Dolls

Father: Lionel Stapleton
Husband: Manny Franks (her agent, m. 10-Jan-1945, div. 10-Dec-1956)
Husband: Milton Rackmil (film/recording executive, m. 9-May-1959, div. 25-Jul-1961)
Husband: Stuart Clark (m. 1973, until her death)

Endorsement of R. J. Reynolds Camel cigarettes
Risk Factors: Smoking

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Parasite (12-Mar-1982)
The Dark (27-Apr-1979)
Sooner or Later (25-Mar-1979)
The Cracker Factory (16-Mar-1979)
Public Pigeon No. One (18-Feb-1957)
Guys and Dolls (3-Nov-1955)
Skirts Ahoy! (28-May-1952)
Three Little Girls in Blue (3-Sep-1946)
If I’m Lucky (2-Sep-1946)
Doll Face (Jan-1946)
State Fair (29-Aug-1945)
Nob Hill (13-Jun-1945)
Something for the Boys (1-Nov-1944)
Greenwich Village (27-Sep-1944)
Jitterbugs (25-Jun-1943)
Girl Trouble (9-Oct-1942)

Sources: Wikipedia, nndb.com, imdb.com, youtube

Jane Russell Tribute

Sadly we say goodbye today to actress, singer, dancer, Jane Russell who passed away at age 89.

LOS ANGELES — Jane Russell, the brunette who was discovered by Howard Hughes and went on to become one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and ’50s, has died at age 89.

Russell’s daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield says the actress died Monday at her home in Santa Maria of a respiratory-related illness.

Hughes, the eccentric billionaire, cast Russell in his sexy, and controversial, 1941 Western “The Outlaw,” turning her into an overnight star.

She would go on to appear opposite such leading men as Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, as well as fellow actress Marilyn Monroe.

Although her film career slowed in the 1960s, Russell remained active throughout her life.

Until her health began to decline a few weeks ago, Waterfield said she remained active singing and working for various causes.

Source: foxnews.com
Bio
Jane Russell was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell in Bemidji, Minnesota, she was eldest child and only daughter of the five children of Roy William Russell (January 5, 1890 – July 18, 1937) and Geraldine Jacobi (January 2, 1891 – December 26, 1986).Her parents were both born in North Dakota. Three of her grandparents were born in Canada, while her paternal grandmother was born in Germany. Her parents married in 1917. Her father was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and her mother was a former actress with a road troupe. Her parents spent the early years of their marriage in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For her birth her mother temporarily moved back to the U.S. to ensure she was born a U.S. citizen. Later the family moved to the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. They lived in Burbank in 1930 and her father worked as an office manager at a soap manufacturing plant. 

“Bye Bye Baby”


Russell’s mother arranged for her to take piano lessons. In addition to music, she was interested in drama and participated in stage productions at Van Nuys High School. Her early ambition was to be a designer of some kind, until the death of her father at forty-six, when she decided to work as a receptionist after graduation. She also modeled for photographers and, at the urging of her mother, studied drama and acting with Max Reinhardt’s Theatrical Workshop and with famed Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya.
Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

In 1940, Russell was signed to a seven-year contract by film mogul Howard Hughes[1] and made her motion picture debut in The Outlaw (1943), a story about Billy the Kid that went to great lengths to showcase her voluptuous figure. Although the movie was completed in 1941, it was released for a limited showing two years later. There were problems with the censorship of the production code over the way her ample cleavage was displayed. When the movie was finally passed, it had a general release in 1946. During that time, she was kept busy doing publicity and became known nationally. Contrary to countless incorrect reports in the media since the release of The Outlaw, Russell did not wear the specially designed underwire bra (the first of its kind[2]) that Howard Hughes constructed for the film. According to Jane’s 1988 autobiography, she was given the bra, decided it had a mediocre fit, and wore her own bra on the film set with the straps pulled down.

With measurements of 38D-24-36 and standing 5’7″ she was more statuesque than most of her contemporaries. Aside from thousands of quips from radio comedians, including Bob Hope, who once introduced her as “the two and only Jane Russell” and “Culture is the ability to describe Jane Russell without moving your hands”, the photo of her on a haystack was a popular pin-up with servicemen during World War II. She was not in another movie until 1946, when she played Joan Kenwood in Young Widow for RKO.

“When Love Goes Wrong”

In 1947, Russell attempted to launch a musical career. She sang with the Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio and recorded two singles with his band, “As Long As I Live” and “Boin-n-n-ng!” She also cut a 78 rpm album that year for Columbia Records, Let’s Put Out the Lights, which included eight torch ballads and cover art that included a diaphanous gown that for once put the focus more on her legs than on her breasts. In a 2009 interview for the liner notes to another CD, Fine and Dandy, Russell denounced the Columbia album as “horrible and boring to listen to”. It was reissued on CD in 2002, in a package that also included the Kyser singles and two songs she recorded for Columbia in 1949 that went unreleased at the time. In 1950, she recorded a single, “Kisses and Tears,” with Frank Sinatra and The Modernaires for Columbia.

“Am I In Love?”

She performed in an assortment of movie roles, which included Calamity Jane, opposite Bob Hope in The Paleface (1948) on loan out to Paramount, and Mike “the Torch” Delroy opposite Hope in another western comedy, Son of Paleface (1952), again at Paramount. Russell was Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe for 20th Century Fox, which was well-received.

She appeared in two movies opposite Robert Mitchum, His Kind of Woman (1951) and Macao (1952). Other co-stars include Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx in the comedy Double Dynamite (1951); Victor Mature, Vincent Price and Hoagy Carmichael in The Las Vegas Story (1952); Jeff Chandler in Foxfire (1955); and Clark Gable and Robert Ryan in The Tall Men (1955).

In Howard Hughes’ RKO production The French Line (1954), the movie’s penultimate moment showed Russell in a form-fitting one-piece bathing suit with strategic cut outs, performing a then-provocative musical number titled “Lookin’ for Trouble”. In her autobiography, Russell said that the revealing outfit was an alternative to Hughes’ original suggestion of a bikini, a very racy choice for a movie costume in 1954. Russell said that she initially wore the bikini in front of her “horrified” movie crew while “feeling very naked”. She and her first husband, former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield, formed Russ-Field Productions in 1955. They produced Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), The King and Four Queens (1956) starring Clark Gable and Eleanor Parker, Run for the Sun (1956) and The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957).

On “What’s My Line?”

She starred in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, opposite Jeanne Crain, and in The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956). After making The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957), which failed at the box-office, she did not appear on the silver screen again for seven years.On the musical front, Russell formed a gospel group with Connie Haines, former vocalist in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras, and Beryl Davis, a British emigrant who had moved to the U.S. after success entertaining American troops stationed in England during World War II. With Della Russell as a fourth voice and backed by an orchestra conducted by Lyn Murray, their Coral single “Do Lord” reached number 27 on the Billboard singles chart in May 1954. Russell, Haines and Davis followed up with an LP for Capitol Records, The Magic of Believing. According to the liner notes on this album, the group started when the women met at a church social. Later, another Hollywood bombshell, Rhonda Fleming, joined them for more gospel recordings. A collection of some of Russell’s gospel and secular recordings was issued on CD in England in 2005, and the Capitol LP was issued on CD in 2008, in a package that also included more secular recordings, including Russell’s spoken word performances of Hollywood Riding Hood and Hollywood Cinderella backed by a jazz group that featured Terry Gibbs and Tony Scott.

In October 1957, she debuted in a successful solo nightclub act at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. She also fulfilled later engagements in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America and Europe. A self-titled solo LP was issued on MGM Records in 1959. It was reissued on CD in 2009 under the title Fine and Dandy, and the CD included some demo and soundtrack recordings as well. “I finally got to make a record the way I wanted to make it”, she said of the MGM album in the liner notes to the CD reissue. In 1961, she debuted with a tour of Janus in New England. In the fall of 1961, she performed in Skylark at the Drury Lane Theatre, Chicago. In November 1962, she performed in Bells Are Ringing at the Westchester Town House in Yonkers, New York.

At her 89th Birthday Gala


Her next movie appearance came in Fate Is the Hunter (1964), in which she was seen as herself performing for the USO in a flashback sequence. She made only four more movies after that, playing character parts in the final two.

In 1971, she starred in the musical drama Company, making her debut on Broadway in the role of Joanne, succeeding Elaine Stritch. Russell performed the role of Joanne for almost six months. Also in the 1970s, she started appearing in television commercials as a spokeswoman for Playtex “cross your heart bras for us full-figured gals”, featuring the “18-hour bra”. She wrote an autobiography in 1985, Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours. In 1989, she received the Women’s International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award.

Russell’s hand and foot prints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard.

Russell has had three husbands: Bob Waterfield, a UCLA All American, Cleveland Rams and Los Angeles Rams quarterback, Los Angeles Rams head coach, and Pro Football Hall of Fame member (married on April 24, 1943, then divorced in July 1968); the actor Roger Barrett, (married on August 25, 1968 through his death on November 18, 1968); and the real-estate broker John Calvin Peoples (married January 31, 1974 through his death on April 9, 1999). Russell and Peoples lived in Sedona, Arizona for a few years, but spent the majority of their married life residing in Montecito, California. In February 1952, she and Waterfield adopted a baby girl, Tracy. In December 1952, they adopted a fifteen-month-old boy, Thomas, and in 1956 she and Waterfield adopted a nine-month-old boy, Robert John. Russell herself was unable to have children and, in 1955, she founded World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), an organization to place children with adoptive families that pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans.

At the height of her career, Russell started the “Hollywood Christian Group”, a weekly Bible study at her home which was arranged for Christians in the film industry.[4] Russell appeared occasionally on the Praise The Lord program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian television channel based in Costa Mesa, California.[5] Russell was at times a prominent Republican Party member who attended Dwight Eisenhower‘s inauguration along with other notables from Hollywood such as Lou Costello, Dick Powell, June Allyson, Anita Louise and Louella Parsons.

Russell resides in Santa Maria Valley along the Central Coast of California.

Sources: wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Filmography

Features
Short Subjects

Russell was voted one of the 40 Most Iconic Movie Goddesses of all time in 2009 by Glamour (UK edition).[3]

Carol Channing

Carol Elaine Channing (born January 31, 1921)[1] is an Americansinger, actress, and comedienne. She is the recipient of three Tony Awards (including one for lifetime achievement), a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Channing is best remembered for originating, on Broadway, the musical-comedy roles of bombshell Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and matchmaking widow Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!

Channing was born in Seattle, Washington, the only child of George and Adelaide (née Glaser) Channing. Her father was a city editor at the Seattle Star; his newspaper career took the family to San Francisco when Carol was only two weeks old. Her father later became a successful Christian Science practitioner, editor, and teacher. Carol attended Aptos Middle School and Lowell High School in San Francisco. At Lowell, Channing was a member of its famed Lowell Forensic Society, the nation’s oldest high-school debate team.

“Jazz Baby”

According to Channing’s memoirs, when she left home to attend Bennington College in Vermont, her mother informed her that her father, a journalist who Carol had believed was born in Rhode Island, had in fact been born in Augusta, Georgia, to a German-American father and an African-American mother. According to Channing’s account, her mother reportedly didn’t want [Channing] to be surprised “if she had a black baby”.[2][3] Channing kept this a secret to avoid any problems on Broadway and in Hollywood, ultimately revealing it only in her autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess, published in 2002 when she was 81 years old. Channing’s autobiography, containing a photograph of her mother, does not have any photos of her father or son.[4] Her book also states that her father’s birth certificate was destroyed in a fire. (The November 4, 2002 issue of Jet magazine reported, based on her autobiography, that Carol Channing’s father was African-American.)

Channing was introduced to the stage while working for her mother. In a 2005 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Channing recounted this experience:

“My mother said, ‘Carol, would you like to help me distribute Christian Science Monitors backstage at the live theatres in San Francisco?’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll help you.’ I don’t know how old I was. I must have been little. We went through the stage door alley (for the Curran Theatre), and I couldn’t get the stage door open. My mother came and opened it very well. Anyway, my mother went to put the Monitors where they were supposed to go for the actors and the crew and the musicians, and she left me alone. And I stood there and realized – I’ll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple. This is a cathedral. It’s a mosque. It’s a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.”[5]

Channing’s first job on stage in New York was in Marc Blitzstein‘s No For an Answer, which was given two special Sunday performances starting January 5, 1941 at the Mecca Temple (later New York’s City Center). She was 19 years old. Channing then moved to Broadway for Let’s Face It!, in which she was an understudy for Eve Arden. Decades later, Arden would play “Dolly” in a road company after Channing finally relinquished the role. Five years later, Channing had a featured role in a revue, Lend an Ear. She was spotted by author Anita Loos and cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as Lorelei Lee, the role that brought her to prominence. (Her signature song from the production was Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.) In 1961, Channing became one of a very few Tony Award nominees to gain a nomination for work in a revue (rather than a traditional book musical), when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical, for the short-lived revue Show Girl.

Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing Together

Channing came to national prominence as the star of Jerry Herman‘s Hello, Dolly! She never missed a performance during her run, attributing her good health to her Christian Science faith. Her performance won her the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, in a year when her chief competition was Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. She was deeply disappointed when Streisand, who many believed to be far too young for the role, was signed to play Dolly Levi in the film, which also starred Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford.

Channing reprised the role of Lorelei Lee in the musical Lorelei. She also appeared in two New York revivals of Hello, Dolly!, and toured with it extensively throughout the United States. She also appeared in a number of movies, The First Traveling Sales Lady (1956) with Ginger Rogers, the cult film Skidoo and Thoroughly Modern Millie, opposite Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. For Millie she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and was awarded a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.

In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. During her film career she also made some guest appearances on television sitcoms and talk shows, including CBS‘s “What’s My Line?,” on which she appeared in eleven episodes from 1962 to 1966. Channing also did a fair amount of voice over work in cartoons, most notably as Grandmama Addams in an animated version of The Addams Family which ran from 1992 to 1995.

“Razzle Dazzle” at the Hollywood Bowl

Channing was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.[6] She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1995,[7] and an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts by California State University, Stanislaus in 2004.[8] That same year, she received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre.[9] She and husband Harry Kullijian are active in promoting arts education in California schools with the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation. The couple resides in Modesto, California.

She has been married four times. Her first husband, Theodore Naidish, was a writer. Her second husband, Alexander Carson, played center for the Ottawa Rough Riders Canadian football team. They had one son, Channing, who took his stepfather’s surname and is now a Pulitzer-prize-nominated cartoonist publishing under the name Chan Lowe.[10] In 1956, she married her manager and publicist, Charles Lowe. They remained married for 42 years, but she abruptly filed for divorce in 1998. He died before the divorce was finalized. After Lowe’s death and until shortly before her fourth marriage, the actress’s companion was Roger Denny, an interior decorator.[11]

On May 10, 2003, she married Harry Kullijian, her fourth husband and junior high school sweetheart, who reunited with her after she mentioned him fondly in her memoir. The two performed at their old junior high school, which had become Aptos Middle School, in a benefit for the school.

“Hello Dolly”

On “Whats My Line?”

At Lowell High School, they renamed the school’s auditorium “The Carol Channing Theatre” in her honor. The city of San Francisco, California, proclaimed February 25, 2002, to be Carol Channing Day, for her advocacy of gay rights and her appearance as the celebrity host of the Gay Pride Day festivities in Hollywood.

Sources: wikipedia.com, youtube.com, imdb.com, nndb.com, carolchanning.com

Theater credits

  • No For an Answer (January 5 and January 11, 1941)
  • Let’s Face It! (October 29, 1941 – March 20, 1943) (understudy for Eve Arden)
  • Proof Through the Night (December 25, 1942 – January 2, 1943)
  • Lend an Ear (December 16, 1948 – January 21, 1950)
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (December 8, 1949 – September 15, 1951)
  • Wonderful Town (February 25, 1953 – July 3, 1954) (replacement for Rosalind Russell)
  • The Vamp (November 10 – December 31, 1955) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
  • Show Girl (January 12 – April 8, 1961) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
  • Hello, Dolly! (January 16, 1964 – December 27, 1970) (left show in 1967)
  • Four on a Garden (January 30 – March 20, 1971)
  • Lorelei (January 27 – November 3, 1974) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
  • Julie’s Friends at the Palace (May 19, 1974) (benefit performance)
  • Hello, Dolly! (March 15 – July 19, 1978) (revival)
  • Legends (January 7, 1986 – January 18, 1987) (national tour)
  • Hello, Dolly! (October 19, 1995 – January 28, 1996) (revival; farewell tour)

Filmography

Ethel Merman

Ethel Merman (January 16, 1908 – February 15, 1984) was an American actress and singer.[1] Known primarily for her powerful voice and roles in musical theatre, she has been called “the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage.”[2] Among the many standards introduced by Merman in Broadwaymusicals are “I Got Rhythm“, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses“, “I Get a Kick Out of You“, “It’s De-Lovely“, “Friendship”, “You’re the Top“, “Anything Goes“, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business“, which later became her theme song.

Merman was born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann in her maternal grandmother’s house located at 26-5 4th Street in Astoria, Queens, in New York City in 1908, though she would later emphatically declare that it was actually 1912.[3] Her father, Edward Zimmermann (1879–1977), was an accountant with James H. Dunham & Company, a Manhattan wholesale dry-goods company, and her mother, Agnes (née Gardner) (1883–1974), was a school teacher. Zimmermann had been raised in the Dutch Reformed Church and his wife was Presbyterian, but shortly after they were wed they joined the Episcopalian congregation at Church of the Redeemer, where Merman was baptized. Her parents were strict about church attendance, and every Sunday she spent the day there, first at morning services, followed by Sunday school, an afternoon prayer meeting, and an evening study group for children.[4]

“There’s No Business Like Show Business”

Merman attended P.S. 4 and William Cullen Bryant High School (which later named its auditorium in her honor), where she pursued a commercial course that offered secretarial training.[5] She was active in numerous extracurricular activities, including the school magazine, the speakers’ club, and student council, and she frequented the local music store to peruse the weekly arrivals of new sheet music.[6] On Friday nights the Zimmermann family would take the subway into Manhattan to see the vaudeville show at the Palace Theatre, where Merman discovered Blossom Seeley, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, and Nora Bayes. At home she would try to emulate their singing styles, but her own distinct voice was difficult to disguise.[7]

After graduating from Bryant in 1924, Merman was hired as a stenographer by the Boyce-Ite Company. One day during her lunch break, she met Vic Kliesrath, who offered her a job at the Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation for a $5 increase above the weekly $23 salary she was earning, and Merman accepted the offer. She eventually was made personal secretary to company president Caleb Bragg, whose frequent lengthy absences from the office allowed her to catch up on the sleep she had lost the previous night when she was out late performing at private parties. During this period Merman also began appearing in nightclubs, and it was at this time she decided the name Ethel Zimmermann was too long for a theater marquee. She considered combining Ethel with Gardner or Hunter, her grandmother’s maiden name, but finally abbreviated Zimmermann to Merman to appease her father.[8]

Ethel, Barbara and Judy together

During a two-week engagement at Little Russia, a club in midtown-Manhattan, Merman met agent Lou Irwin, who arranged for her to audition for Archie Mayo, a contract director at Warner Bros. He offered her an exclusive six-month contract, starting at $125 per week, and Merman quit her day job, only to find herself idle for weeks while waiting to be cast in a film. She finally urged Irwin to try to cancel her agreement with Mayo; instead, he negotiated her a better deal allowing her to perform in clubs while remaining on the Warners payroll. Merman was hired as a torch singer at Les Ambassadeurs, where the headliner was Jimmy Durante, and the two became lifelong friends. She caught the attention of columnists such as Walter Winchell and Mark Hellinger, who began giving her publicity. Soon after Merman underwent a tonsillectomy she feared might damage her voice, but after recovering she discovered it was more powerful than ever.[9]

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”

While performing on the prestigious Keith Circuit, Merman was signed to replace Ruth Etting in the Paramount film Follow the Leader, starring Ed Wynn and Ginger Rogers. Following a successful seven-week run at the Brooklyn Paramount, she was signed to perform at the Palace for $500 per week. During the run, theatre producer Vinton Freedley saw her perform and invited her to audition for the role of San Francisco café singer Kate Fothergill in the new George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy. Upon hearing her sing “I Got Rhythm”, the Gershwins immediately cast her, and Merman began juggling daytime rehearsals with her matinee and evening performance schedule at the Palace.[10]

Girl Crazy opened on October 14, 1930 at the Alvin Theatre, where it ran for 272 performances.[11]The New York Times noted Merman sang “with dash, authority, good voice and just the right knowing style,” while The New Yorker called her “imitative of no one.”[12] Merman was fairly blasé about her notices, prompting George Gershwin to ask her mother, “Have you ever seen a person so unconcerned as Ethel?”, and he made her promise never to work with a singing teacher.[13]

During the run of Girl Crazy, Paramount signed Merman to appear in a series of ten short musical films, most of which allowed her to sing a rousing number as well as a ballad. She also performed at the Central Park Casino, the Paramount Theatre, and a return engagement at the Palace. As soon as Girl Crazy closed, she and her parents departed for a much-needed vacation in Lake George in Upstate New York, but after their first day there Merman was summoned to Atlantic City to help salvage the troubled latest edition of George White’s Scandals. Because she was still under contract to Freedley, White was forced to pay the producer $10,000 for her services, in addition to her weekly $1,500 salary. Following the Atlantic City run, the show played in Newark and then Brooklyn before opening on Broadway, where it ran for 202 performances.[14]

Merman’s next show, Humpty Dumpty, began rehearsals in August 1932 and opened—and immediately closed—in Pittsburgh the following month. Producer Buddy DeSylva, who also had written the book and lyrics, was certain it could be reworked into a success and, with a revamped script and additional songs by Vincent Youmans,[15] it opened with the new title Take a Chance on November 26 at the Apollo, where it ran for 243 performances.[16] Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called it “fast, loud, and funny” and added Merman “has never loosed herself with quite so much abandon.” Following the Broadway run, she agreed to join the show on the road, but shortly after the Chicago opening she claimed the chlorine in the city’s water supply was irritating her throat, and Merman returned to Manhattan.[12]

On “Loveboat”

Merman returned to Hollywood to appear in We’re Not Dressing, a 1934 screwball comedy based on the J. M. Barrie play The Admirable Crichton. Despite working with a cast that included Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, and Burns and Allen, under the direction of Academy Award–winning director Norman Taurog, Merman was unhappy with the experience, and she was dismayed to discover one of her musical numbers had been cut when she attended the New York opening with her family and friends. That same year she also appeared on screen with Eddie Cantor in Kid Millions, but it was her return to Broadway that would establish her as a major star and cement her image as a tough girl with a soft heart.[17]

Anything Goes proved to be the first of five Cole Porter musicals in which Merman starred. In addition to the title song, the score included “I Get a Kick Out of You“, “You’re the Top“, and “Blow Gabriel Blow”. It opened on November 21, 1934 at the Alvin Theatre,[18] and the New York Post called Merman “vivacious and ingratiating in her comedy moments, and the embodiment of poise and technical adroitness” when singing “as only she knows how to do.” Although Merman always had remained with a show until the end of its run, she left Anything Goes after eight months to appear with Eddie Cantor in the film Strike Me Pink. She was replaced by Benay Venuta, with whom she enjoyed a long but frequently tempestuous friendship.[19]

Merman initially was overlooked for the 1936 screen adaptation of Anything Goes when Bing Crosby insisted his wife Dixie Lee be cast as Reno Sweeney opposite his Billy Crocker, but when she unexpectedly dropped out of the project Merman was given the opportunity to reprise the role she had originated on stage. From the beginning, it was clear to Merman the film would not be the enjoyable experience she had hoped it would be. The focus was shifted to Crosby, leaving her very much in a supporting role. Many of Porter’s ribald lyrics were altered to conform to the guidelines of the Motion Picture Production Code, and “Blow Gabriel Blow” was eliminated completely, replaced by a song Merman was forced to perform in a headdress made of peacock feathers while surrounded by dancers dressed as Chinese slave girls. The film was completed $201,000 over budget and seventeen days behind schedule, and Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Herald Tribune described it as “dull and commonplace,” with Merman doing “as well as possible” but unable to register “on the screen as magnificently as she does on the stage.”[20]

Ethel and Mary Martain

Merman returned to Broadway for another Porter musical, but despite the presence of Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope in the cast, Red, Hot and Blue closed after less than six months.[21] Back in Hollywood, Merman was featured in Happy Landing, a minor comedy with Cesar Romero, Don Ameche, and Sonja Henie; the box office hit Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a pastiche of Irving Berlin songs interpolated into a plot that vaguely paralleled the composer’s life; and Straight, Place or Show, a critical and commercial flop starring the Ritz Brothers.[22] She returned to the stage in Stars in Your Eyes, which struggled to survive while the public flocked to the 1939 New York World’s Fair instead and finally closed short of four months.[23] Merman followed this with two more Porter musicals. DuBarry Was a Lady, with Bert Lahr and Betty Grable, ran for a year,[24] and Panama Hattie, with Betty Hutton, June Allyson, and Arthur Treacher, fared even better, lasting slightly more than fourteen months.[25] Shortly after the opening of the latter, Merman—still despondent about the end of her affair with Sherman Billingsley—married her first husband, Treacher’s agent William Smith. She later said she knew on their wedding night she had made “a dreadful mistake,” and two months later she filed for divorce on grounds of desertion.[26] Shortly after she met and married Robert D. Levitt, promotion director for the New York Journal-American. The two eventually had two children and divorced in 1952 due to his excessive drinking and erratic behavior.[27]

Ethel Merman sings Cole Porter

In 1943, Merman was a featured performer in the film Stage Door Canteen and opened in another Porter musical, Something for the Boys, produced by Michael Todd. Her next project was Sadie Thompson, a Vernon Duke/Howard Dietz musical adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham short story, but Merman found she was unable to retain the lyrics and resigned twelve days after rehearsals began.[28]

In August 1945, while in the hospital recovering from the Caesarean birth of her second child, Merman was visited by Dorothy Fields, who proposed she star as Annie Oakley in a musical she and her husband Herbert were writing with Jerome Kern. Merman accepted, but in November Kern suffered a heart attack while in New York City visiting Rogers and Hammerstein (the producers of the show) and died a few days later. Producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II invited Irving Berlin to replace him,[29] and the result was Annie Get Your Gun, which opened on May 16, 1946 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for nearly three years and 1,147 performances.[30] During that time, Merman took only two vacations and missed only two performances due to illness.[31] Merman lost the film version to Judy Garland, who eventually was replaced by Betty Hutton, but she did star in a Broadway revival two decades later.

An Evening With Ethel Merman

Merman and Berlin reunited for Call Me Madam in 1950, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and she went on to star in the 1953 screen adaptation as well, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance. The following year she appeared as the matriarch of the singing and dancing Donahue family in There’s No Business Like Show Business, a film with a Berlin score.

Merman returned to Broadway at the behest of her third husband, Continental Airlines executive Robert Six, who was upset she had chosen to become a Colorado housewife following their wedding in 1953. He expected her public appearances to engender publicity for the airline, and her decision to forgo the limelight did not sit well with him. He urged her to accept the lead in Happy Hunting, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (who had written Call Me Madam) and a score by the unknown team of Harold Karr and Matt Dubey. Merman thought the songs were weak but grudgingly acquiesced to her husband’s demands. She clashed with the composers from the start and soon was at odds with co-star Fernando Lamas and his wife Arlene Dahl, who frequently attended rehearsals. Based on the Merman name, the show opened in New York with an advance sale of $1.5 million and, despite the star’s dissatisfaction with it, garnered respectable reviews. Although Brooks Atkinson thought the score was “hardly more than adequate”, he called Merman “as brassy as ever, glowing like a neon light whenever she steps on the stage.” Several months into the run, she insisted two of her least favorite numbers be replaced by songs written by her friend Roger Edens who, because of his exclusive contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, credited them to Kay Thompson. She lost the Tony Award to Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing, and the show closed after 412 performances, with Merman happy to see what she considered “a dreary obligation” finally come to an end.[32]

1931 Early Film Clip (you can already hear the unmistakable voice)

What many consider Merman’s greatest triumph as a stage performer opened on May 21, 1959 at The Broadway Theatre. Gypsy was based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee and starred Merman as her domineering stage mother Rose Hovick. Although Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, was deeply unhappy with her interpretation of the role, she was lauded by the critics. In the New York Post, Richard Watts called her “a brilliant actress,” and Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times said “she gives an indomitable performance, both as actress and singer.” Despite the acclaim, Merman lost the Tony Award to her close friend Mary Martin in The Sound of Music and jokingly quipped, “How are you going to buck a nun?” Shortly after she divorced Six when his affair with television actress Audrey Meadows became public, and she found solace in her work.[33]

Throughout the 702-performance run of Gypsy, Mervyn LeRoy saw it numerous times, and he repeatedly assured Merman he planned to cast her in the film adaptation he was preparing. Shortly prior to the show’s closing, however, it was announced Rosalind Russell had been signed to star instead. Russell’s husband, theatre producer Frederick Brisson, had sold the screen rights to the Leonard Spigelgass play A Majority of One to Warner Bros. with the stipulation his wife star in both films. Because Russell was still a major box office draw, with the success of Auntie Mame a few years earlier, and Merman having never had established herself as a popular screen presence, the studio agreed to Brisson’s terms. Merman was devastated at this turn of events and called the loss of the role “the greatest professional disappointment of her life.” [34]

1930 Betty Boop (Ethel Merman)

Following the Broadway closing of Gypsy on March 25, 1961, Merman half-heartedly embarked on the national tour. In San Francisco, she severely injured her back but continued to play to packed houses. During the Los Angeles run, LeRoy visited her backstage and claimed Russell was so ill “I think you’re going to end up getting this part.” Believing the film version of Gypsy was within her grasp, she generously gave him the many house seats he requested for friends and industry colleagues, only to discover she had been duped.[35]

Over the next several years, Merman was featured in two films, the wildly successful It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the flop The Art of Love, and made dozens of television appearances, guesting on variety series hosted by Perry Como, Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, and Carol Burnett, on talk shows with Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, and Merv Griffin, and in episodes of That Girl, The Lucy Show, Batman, and Tarzan, among others. Producer David Merrick encouraged Jerry Herman to compose Hello, Dolly! specifically for Merman’s vocal range, but when he offered her the role she declined it. She finally joined the cast on March 28, 1970, six years after the production opened. On her opening night, her performance continually was brought to a halt by prolonged standing ovations, and the critics unanimously heralded her return to the New York stage. Walter Kerr described her voice “exactly as trumpet-clean, exactly as pennywhistle-piercing, exactly as Wurlitzer-wonderful as it always was.” The seventh actress to portray the scheming matchmaker, she remained with the musical for 210 performances until it closed on December 27. She received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance for what proved to be her last appearance on Broadway.

Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby

For the remainder of her career, Merman worked as frequently as offers were made. In 1979, she recorded The Ethel Merman Disco Album, with many of her signature show-stoppers set to a disco beat. Her last screen role was a self-parody in the 1980 comedy film Airplane!, in which she portrayed Lieutenant Hurwitz, a shell shocked soldier who thinks he is Ethel Merman. She appeared in multiple episodes of The Love Boat, guested on a CBS tribute to George Gershwin, did a summer comedy/concert tour with Carroll O’Connor, played a two-week engagement at the London Palladium, performed with Mary Martin in a concert benefitting the theatre and museum collection of the Museum of the City of New York, and frequently appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras. She also volunteered at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, working in the gift shop or visiting patients. She began to become forgetful, on occasion had difficulty with her speech, and at times her behavior was erratic, causing concern among her friends. On April 7, 1983, she was preparing to leave for Los Angeles to appear on the 55th Academy Awards telecast when she collapsed in her apartment. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma and underwent brain surgery to have the malignant tumor removed. Early on the morning of February 15, 1984, she died in her sleep. Her private funeral service was held in a chapel at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, where she frequently had worshiped. On October 10, 1984, an auction of her personal effects, including furniture, artwork, and theatre memorabilia, earned in excess of $120,000 at Christie’s East.[36] Merman was known for her powerful, beltingmezzo-soprano voice, precise enunciation and pitch.[37] Because stage singers performed without microphones when Merman began singing professionally, she had a great advantage, despite the fact that she never took any singing lessons. In fact, Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin advised her never to take a singing lesson after she opened in his Girl Crazy.[38]Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for Merman’s Gypsy, remembered that she could become “mechanical” after a while. “She performed the dickens out of the show when the critics were there,” he said. He added, “or if she thought there was a celebrity in the audience. So we used to spread a rumor that Frank Sinatra was out front. That whoever, Judy Garland was out front. I’ll tell you one thing [Merman] did do, she steadily upstaged everybody. Every night, she would be about one more foot upstage, so finally they were all playing with their backs to the audience. I don’t think it was conscious. But she sure knew her way around a stage, and it was all instinctive.”[39]

Tallulah and Ethel

Merman was married and divorced four times:

  1. William Smith, theatrical agent (1940–1941)
  2. Robert Levitt, a newspaper executive (1941–1952)
  3. Robert Six, President, Continental Airlines (1953–1960)
  4. Ernest Borgnine, the actor, in 1964. They announced the impending nuptials at P.J. Clarke’s, in New York, but Merman filed for divorce after just 32 days.

With Levitt, Merman had two children: Ethel (born July 20, 1942). and Robert Jr. (born August 11, 1945), they divorced in 1952. Ethel Levitt died in 1967 of a drug overdose that was ruled accidental.

“I Got Rhythm”

Merman co-wrote two memoirs, Who Could Ask for Anything More in 1955 and Merman in 1978. In a radio interview, Merman commented on her many marriages, saying that “We all make mistakes, that’s why they put rubbers on pencils, and that’s what I did. I made a few loo-loos!”[40] In the latter book, the chapter entitled “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine” consists of one blank page.

Merman was notorious for her love of vulgar jokes. She delighted in telling dirty jokes and vulgar stories at public parties, and once shouted a dirty joke across the room at José Ferrer during a formal reception. She also enjoyed sending out greeting cards with obscene jokes in them. She was known for swearing during rehearsals and meetings. Reportedly, the first time she heard the title of the song “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, she quipped “Everything’s coming up Rose’s what?”

Ethel Merman and Frank Sinatra “You’re The Top”

The character “Helen Lawson” in Jacqueline Susann’s novel Valley of the Dolls is based on Ethel Merman

The British Psychobilly band The Meteors recorded an instrumental called “Return Of The Ethel Merman” for their 1986 album Sewertime Blues.

In the play “Red Herring” by Michael Hollinger, one of the lead characters comments on his marriage to a ‘different’ Ethel Merman than the one who sang “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Merman is mentioned a lot in the musical series Forbidden Broadway making fun of the wireless microphones and soft singing used in The Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical).

In the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam, USAF radio disc jockey Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams) alluded to Merman’s distinctive, brassy style and powerful voice during one of his improvised comic news bulletins. “Ethel Merman has been used to jam Russian radar systems. {belting in imitation of Merman} ‘I’ve got a feeling that love is here to stay!’ When asked for a reply, the Russians said ‘Vat de hell vas dat?'”

“Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”

Robin Williams imitates Merman again in the song “Prince Ali” from the Disney animated feature Aladdin.[citation needed]

In a 1990 Seinfeld episode “The Robbery”, Elaine complains about her actress roommate by telling Jerry she is “living with Ethel Merman without the talent.”

In the early 1990s the television programme Sesame Street created a parody character called “Miss Ethel Mermaid” (voiced and puppeteered by Louise Gold) she sang “I Get A Kick Out Of U” (a parody of Merman singing “I Get A Kick Out Of You“).[citation needed]

In the 2005 film The Producers, the actor playing the part of Adolf Hitler, Roger de Bris, sings the lyric “I’m the German Ethel Merman, don’tcha know.”[citation needed]

In the song “Change the World” by Nellie McKay, off her debut album “Get Away from Me“, she sings “Please Ethel Merman help me out this jam”.[citation needed]

Merman’s final on-screen appearance is in the 1980 film Airplane!, in which she has a cameo as shell-shocked soldier “Lt. Hurwitz”, who believes he is Ethel Merman. She briefly sings her classic “Everything’s Coming Up Roses“.

Ethel Merman is mentioned in the 1983 film Terms of Endearment, and even appears on the soundtrack.

In a year 2000 Episode of Saturday Night Live, a segment called “The Ladies Man” featuring Dwayne Johnson and Tim Meadows where Meadows was Leon Phelps described Johnson’s cross-dressing undercover police lady character that when he first saw him she was dressed up like a young Ethel Merman. “It was wall to wall: big sexy ladies” Meadows character Leon described. “Tell them who you were” said Leon and Johnson responded back “I was Ethel Merman”. “A Young Ethel Merman, she was sexy!”[citation needed]

“Call Me Madam”

Popular blogger, Ree Drummond of award-winning blog, The Pioneer Woman, frequently mentions Merman in her posts, and says she “channels Lucille Ball, Vivien Leigh, and Ethel Merman”.

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Theater Performances:

Films:

Television:

  • The Ford 50th Anniversary Show (1953)
  • Panama Hattie (1954)
  • Merman On Broadway (1961)
  • The Lucy Show, two-parter, as herself (1963)
  • The Judy Garland Show, two episodes (1963)
  • Maggie Brown (1963) (unsold pilot)
  • An Evening with Ethel Merman (1965)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (1967)
  • Tarzan and the Mountains of the Moon (1967)
  • Batman, “The Sport of Penguins”, two-parter as Lola Lasagne (1967)
  • That Girl, two episodes, as herself (1967–1968)
  • S Wonderful, ‘S Marvelous, ‘S Gershwin (1972)
  • Ed Sullivan’s Broadway (1973)
  • The Muppet Show (1976)
  • Match Game PM (1976), (1978)
  • You’re Gonna Love It Here (1977) (unsold pilot)
  • A Salute to American Imagination (1978)
  • A Special Sesame Street Christmas (1978)
  • Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979) (voice)
  • The Love Boat, five episodes, (1979–1982)
  • Night of 100 Stars (1982)