Who's Who in Musicals:
Additional Bios VI
by John Kenrick
(b. Jane Sperry Bennett)
b. Oct. 27, 1925 (Berkeley, CA) - d. Sept. 22, 2013 (Englewood, NJ)
With husband Gordon Connell, this gifted comedienne got her start performing songs and skits in San Francisco and New York nightclubs, and made her Broadway debut in the revue New Faces of 1956. On TV, she starred as Jane in the sitcom Stanley (1956), and made numerous guest appearances on the long-running 1960s sitcom Bewitched, playing such characters as Mother Goose, Queen Victoria and Martha Washington. On Broadway, Connell played socialite Matilda Van Guilder in the short-lived musical Drat! The Cat! (1965), then originated the role of Agnes Gooch in Jerry Herman's Mame (1966), co-starring with Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. Connell repeated her definitive rendition of "What Do I Do Now?" in the 1974 film version and the 1983 Broadway revival.
Connell played the charmingly insane Gabrielle in Herman's Dear World (1969), sharing the show-stopping "Mad Tea Party" trio with Lansbury and Carmen Mathews. Her longest Broadway runs came as the Duchess of Hereford in Me and My Girl (1986), and as the overbearing Mrs. Childs in Crazy For You (1992). She was also featured in the Ken Ludwig comedies Lend Me a Tenor (1989) and Moon Over Buffalo (1995). Connell played the Widow Douglas in the short-lived musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2001), and took over the role of cynical Jeanette Burmeister in The Full Monty, remaining with that show for over a year. She retired to the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, where she died in 2013 at age 87.
Da Silva, Howard
b. Howard Silverblatt
Writer, Director, Performer
b. May 4, 1909 (Cleveland, OH) - d. Feb. 16, 1986 (Ossining, NY)
This onetime steelworker made his Broadway debut in 1930, where his powerful bass baritone voice and strong stage presence led to a wide variety of roles in classics and contemporary dramas. Da Silva's first musical performance came as part of the ensemble in Marc Blitzstein's controversial The Cradle Will Rock (1938). He played numerous dramatic stage and screen roles before creating the role of the murderous farmhand Judd Fry in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma (1943), introducing "Lonely Room" and sharing "Poor Judd is Dead" with Alfred Drake. Da Silva concentrated on film roles through the early 1950s, but was blacklisted by Hollywood after refusing to answer questions from the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.
DaSilva did limited stage work until he was cast as fictional machine politician Ben Marino in Bock and Harnick's Broadway musical Fiorello! (1959), where he helped introduce the showstoppers "Politics and Poker" and "A Little Tin Box." He went on to star in various stage productions, wrote the libretto for Broadway's The Zulu and the Zayda (1963), and was a frequent guest star on television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is probably best remembered for originating the role of Ben Franklin in 1776 (1969), an acclaimed performance that he repeated in the 1971 film version. In his later years, Da Silva was featured in such films as Mommie Dearest (1981), and was the driving force behind Broadway's The World of Sholem Aleichem (1982). He died of lymphoma four years later at age 74.
(b. Leslie Townsend Hope)
Actor, singer, comedian
b. May 26 or 29, 1903 (Eltham, UK) - d. July 27, 2003 (California)
(Note: At the time of Hope's centennial, he announced his birth
date as May 29th - most previous reference sources indicated May 26th.)
This wisecracking, ski-nosed performer triumphed in almost every form of 20th Century show business, becoming one of the best known entertainers of all time. Hope's family emigrated to the United States when he was four. He toured in vaudeville, making his Broadway debut in the chorus of The Ramblers (1926). With a smart-aleck persona and pleasant baritone voice, he moved on to a series of minor musical roles, appearing in Sidewalks of New York (1927) and Smiles (1930) before originating the role of Huck Haines in Jerome Kern's Roberta (1933). After playing Jimmy Blake in the short-lived Say When (1934), he co-starred with Fanny Brice in the Shubert-produced Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, where he introduced the humorous Vernon Duke- Ira Gershwin hit "I Can't Get Started." He co-starred with Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman in Red, Hot and Blue (1936), in which Hope and Merman sang Cole Porter's show-stopper "It's De-Lovely."
Hope made his film debut in The Big Broadcast of 1938, where he introduced the tune that became his personal theme, "Thanks For the Memory." He got his first NBC network radio series that same year, and proved an immediate home audience favorite. In 1940, he teamed with Bing Crosby for The Road to Singapore, the first of seven "Road" pictures that delighted audiences for two decades. Hope and Crosby formed a lasting friendship during the series, singing the hit songs "Put It There, Pal" and "We're Off on the Road to Morocco." During World War II, Hope toured to sell war bonds to the public and bring entertainment to the troops the latter, a habit that he would repeat whenever American troops went to war for the remainder of the 20th Century.
Hope starred in numerous musical films, including Louisiana Purchase (1941) and Let's Face It (1943). As Eddie Foy Sr. in The Seven Little Foys (1955), he shared a memorable tabletop dance duet with Jimmy Cagney. He helmed dozens of variety specials on NBC television and was a frequent host of the Academy Awards telecast. Lauded for his humanitarianism, he hobnobbed with presidents and kings, and received countless awards, including an honorary knighthood, a special Congressional commendation and the Kennedy Center Honors. Plagued by illness in his final years, he died of pneumonia just two months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
(sometimes spelled "Matthews")
b. May 8, 1914 (Philadelphia, PA) - d. Aug. 31, 1995 (Redding, CT)
With a melodious speaking voice and colorful stage persona, this distinctive character actress made her Broadway debut in a production of Richard II (1940), and appeared in such modern dramas as Man and Superman (1947) and The Show Off (1950) before starring as Theresa Tapper in Courtin' Time (1951) the first of her six ill-fated Broadway musicals. She next played Mrs. Hutto in a poorly conceived musical adaptation of The Yearling (1965) before creating the role of Edna in the original production of Edward Albee's play A Delicate Balance (1966). Resuming her bad-luck musical streak, Mathews was in the short-lived I'm Solomon (1968) and next appeared as the madwoman Constance (who hears voices in her home) in Jerry Herman's Dear World (1969), sharing the dazzling "Mad Tea Party" trio with Angela Lansbury and Jane Connell.
Mathews played Gloriani in the flop musical Ambassador (1972), and stepped into the cast of the long-running revival of Mornings at Seven (1981) before making her final Broadway appearance as Aunt Nancy Trotwood in the short-lived musical Copperfield (1981). Her film credits include colorful roles in Rage to Live (1965), Sounder (1972) and Daniel (1983). She made guest appearances in dozens of TV series, including memorable roles on episodes of The Streets of San Francisco (1972) and M*A*S*H (1978). Her final role was Aunt Lizzie in the TV movie The Last Best Year (1990) co-starring Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters.
Choreographer, director, dancer
b. Jan. 24, 1918 (Van Nuys, CA)
After dancing in the short-lived Dance Me a Song (1950) and Bless You All (1950), Saddler created the musical staging for Wonderful Town (1953), winning the Tony Award for Best Choreography with such numbers as "Conga!" That same year, he choreographed his only musical film, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953). Over the next decade, his stage work included John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953), Shangri-La (1956), Jerry Herman's Milk and Honey (1961) and Sophie (1963). Saddler won a second Tony with his choreography for the hit revival of No, No, Nanette (1971). He received another Tony nomination with his dances for an acclaimed non-musical production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (1973).
Saddler contributed to ten more Broadway productions over the next decade, including a revival of Good News (1974), the revue Rodgers and Hart (1975), The Robber Bridegroom (1976) and Herman's The Grand Tour (1979). When George Abbott revived On Your Toes (1983), George Balanchine restaged his original ballets while Saddler created new dances for "It's Got to Be Love," "On Your Toes" and other numbers earning his fourth Tony nomination. Saddler handled the musical staging for revivals of The Loves of Anatol (1985) and Broadway (1987), the short-lived musical Teddy and Alice (1987) and a bizarre revival of My Fair Lady (1993) starring Richard Chamberlain. He returned to performing by partnering dancer Marge Champion in a Broadway revival of Follies (2001), and appeared in regional productions of the same show. He staged George S. Irving's one man show, which toured and played Off-Broadway in 2004.
Actor, singer, comedian
b. May 11, 1911 (New York, NY) - d. Nov. 1, 1985
With his fast-talking con-man persona and trademark greeting "Gladaseeya," Silvers was one of the most popular comic performers of his time. A child performer in vaudeville, he became a "top banana" among burlesque comics in the 1930s's, making his Broadway debut in the musical Yokel Boy (1939). Silvers played numerous comic sidekicks in films, including the musicals Cover Girl (1944) and Four Jills in a Jeep (1944). His big stage break came playing the ingratiating swindler Harrison Floy in the original Broadway cast of High Button Shoes (1947). This led to better roles in films like Summer Stock (1950), as well as a personal triumph playing fictional burlesque comic Jerry Biffle in the Broadway hit Top Banana (1951) a performance that brought Silvers a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. He starred in a big screen version which was filmed on stage at the Winter Garden.Silvers found the character of a lifetime as TV's scheming Sergeant Ernie Bilko, a role he played with relish from 1954 to 1959, winning two Emmys. From then on, almost all of his roles were similar comic con artists. In Do Re Mi (1960), Silvers played Hubie Cram, a small-time hood trying to make a quick fortune in the music business both he and co-star Nancy Walker received Tony nominations. Silvers played greedy Otto Myer in the hit screen comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and was the unscrupulous procurer Marcus Lycus in the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He co-produced the classic comedy series Gilligan's Island (1964), on which he appeared as smarmy producer Harold Hecuba. He also made several appearances on The Beverley Hillbillies as Shifty Shafer (a.k.a. "Honest John").
Silvers starred on Broadway in the comedy How the Other Half Loves (1971), and won a second Tony for Best Actor in a Musical playing Pseudolus in an acclaimed revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1972) -- but was forced to leave that production after suffering a stroke. Despite slurred speech, he continued to take on small film and television roles, including appearances on Happy Days (with his daughter, actress Cathy Silvers), Fantasy Island, and Chips. He died of a heart attack at age 74.
(b. Benvenuta Rose Crooke)
b. Jan. 27, 1911 (San Francisco, CA) - d. Sept. 1, 1995 (New York, NY)
This San Francisco native made her Broadway debut as a replacement in the original production of Anything Goes (1934), where her solid singing and comic timing opened the way to a long career in musical comedy. She created the role of Amazon warrior Hippolyta in Rodgers and Hart's By Jupiter (1942), introducing "Jupiter Forbid" and sharing "Everything I've Got" with co-star Ray Bolger. She went to Hollywood, playing small roles in Easter Parade (1948), Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Call Me Mister (1951), among other films. She returned to Broadway as Laura Carew in Hazel Flagg (1953), and appeared in the short-lived Copper and Brass (1957). A longtime friend and confidant of Ethel Merman, Venuta played Dolly Tate in the 1966 revival of Annie Get Your Gun. She made her final Broadway appearance in the replacement cast of Romantic Comedy (1980), appeared on several episodes of the sitcom Designing Women (CBS) in 1986, and played a small role in Woody Allen's film Bullets Over Broadway (1994). A heavy smoker, Venuta died of lung cancer at age 86.
(b. Anna Myrtle Swoyer)
b. May 10, 1922 (Philadelphia, PA) - d. March 25, 1992 (Studio City, CA)
At four foot eleven, this diminutive powerhouse became one of Broadway and Hollywood's favorite comic performers. When she auditioned for the Broadway musical Best Foot Forward (1941), director George Abbott mistook her for actress Helen Walker she took "Walker" as her new last name and won raves making her debut playing a "Blind Date." She repeated that role in the 1943 film version. Despite a socko singing voice, her future musical performances were almost exclusively on stage.
Walker really came into her own when Abbott and choreographer Jerome Robbins cast her as New York cabbie Hildy Esterhazy in On the Town (1944). Her rendition of "I Can Cook Too" was such a showstopper that songwriters Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green added an encore verse. Walker came across as a no-nonsense woman with a sentimental heart, a stage persona that echoed through most of her future roles. Over the next few years, Walker made acclaimed appearances in musicals that failed to match her tremendous talents. She played Yetta Samovar in Barefoot Boy With Cheek (1947), and aspiring ballerina Lily Malloy in Look Ma, I'm Dancin' (1948). She performed in the revue Along Fifth Avenue (1949), and took over the role of showgirl Gladys Bumps in a revival of Pal Joey (1952).
Walker's hilarious antics in the revue Phoenix '55 (1955) brought her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. She was unable to enliven Copper and Brass (1957) with her performance as Policewoman Katy O'Shea. After the short-lived The Girls Against the Boys (1959), she played Kay Cram, the long-suffering wife of minor hood Phil Silvers in Do, Re, Mi (1960). Both Walker and Silvers received Tony nominations. Walker's final Broadway role was as Julia/Mrs. Shuttlethwaite in a revival of The Cocktail Party (1968). In her later years, she concentrated on TV roles, including the wisecracking housekeeper Mildred on MacMillan & Wife (NBC 1971-76) and Ida Morgenstern on the sitcom Rhoda (CBS 1974-78). One of the most recognized faces on American television, Walker sold paper towels as "Rosie the Waitress" in a long-running series of commercials, and made guest appearances on Fame, The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, and many other series. She was co-starring on the Fox sitcom True Colors at the time of her death due to lung cancer at age 69.