Who's Who in
Musicals: Additional Bios VI
by John Kenrick
(b. Jane Sperry Bennett)
b. Oct. 27, 1925 (Berkeley, CA)
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.
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
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
(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
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.
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").
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 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
(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
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.
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