Who's Who in Musicals: Additional Bios X
by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2004)

 

Davis, Sammy, Jr.
Actor, singer, dancer
b. Dec. 8, 1925 (New York City) - d. May 16, 1990 (Los Angeles)

Small in stature but a gigantic talent, Davis began as a child in his family variety act, The Will Mastin Trio. Sammy came to solo prominence in night clubs, where he was befriended (for life) by Frank Sinatra, who made Davis a charter member of his celebrated Las Vegas "Rat Pack" -- sharing in cocktails, cigarettes and celebrated jet-set hijinks with Sinatra, Dean Martin and other celebrities. Ho co-starred with them in the hit action film Ocean's Eleven (1960) and as dancing gangster "Will" in Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Davis's resulting fame helped him smash many color lines in show business and society. A charismatic singer and superlative tap dancer, Davis made his Broadway debut as "Charlie Welch" in the semi-autobiographical Mr. Wonderful (1956), introducing the swinging hit "Too Close For Comfort." He also played boxer "Joe Wellington" in the musical adaptation of Golden Boy (1964), a role he repeated in the UK.

On screen, Davis played "Sportin' Life" in Porgy and Bess (1959), the street singer in a German production of Die Dreigroschenoper (1963), a dancing gangster in, and the hip minister "Big Daddy" in Sweet Charity (1969). In the late 1970's, he starred as "Littlechap" in an extended US tour of Stop the World . . .I Want to Get Off, which became the basis for the weak semi-documentary film Sammy Stops the World (1979). Years of heavy smoking and recreational drug use contributed to his death due to throat cancer at age 65.

 

Dawn, Hazel
(b. Hazel Dawn La Tout)
Actress, singer
b. March 23, 1891 (Ogden, Utah) - d. Aug. 28, 1988 (NYC)

This attractive Mormon soprano appeared in the first edition of Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies (1907) and studied violin and voice in Europe before appearing in a series of lighthearted West End musicals, including Dear Little Denmark (1909) and The Dollar Princess (1910). Returning to the US, she found her most memorable role as" Claudine," a supporting character in Ivan Caryll's hit The Pink Lady (1911). Five foot five with dark blonde hair, hazel eyes and a "peaches and cream" complexion, Dawn caused a sensation when she sang "My Beautiful Lady" while accompanying herself on the violin. The London production brought her back to the West End in triumph.

Dawn spent the remainder of her career in America, starring in such Broadway musicals The Little Cafe (1913) and Florenz Ziegfeld's The Century Girl (1916). She appeared in several silent films, toured in the 1923 Ziegfeld Follies, sang "Valencia" in The Great Temptations (1926) and appeared in several dramas. After the death of her husband, mining engineer Charles Gruwell, in 1941, she worked as a casting director for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency until 1963. Dawn returned to Broadway as "Susan Van Tuyl" in Sigmund Romberg's short-lived operetta My Romance (1948), and played occasional roles on televised dramas in the 1950s. Dawn enjoyed a long retirement, and died in her daughter's Manhattan home at age 97.

 

Deslys, Gaby
(b. Hadiwga Nawrati or Marie-Elise Gabrielle Caire?)
Performer
b. Nov. 4, 1881 (Horni Mostenice, Czech or Marseilles, France?) - d. Feb. 11, 1920 (Paris)

Despite limited talents, this beguiling and attractive comedienne (who always denied a Czech birth and insisted she was born in Marseilles) parlayed a scandalous romance with King Manuel II of Portugal into international stage stardom in the early 1900s. She became the toast of Paris music halls before starring in the London production Vera Violetta (1911), a loosely constructed variety show that masqueraded as a book musical. Deslys's showstopper was "The Gaby Glide," which she repeated in a heavily revised Broadway production that co-starred newcomer Al Jolson. Deslys and Jolson again co-starred in The Honeymoon Express (1913). Deslys appeared in Irving Berlin's hit revue Stop! Look! Listen (1915), where she introduced "Everything in America is Ragtime" and uttered the immortal claim, "I can't sing, I can't dance, but I can do IT!"

Deslys starred in the London production Suzette (1917) and was completing a series of silent films when she contracted flu-related throat infection which caused her death at age 37. Her spectacular gilded swan bed (reputedly a gift from King Manuel) had a celebrated "career" of it's own. Purchased by the Universal Studios prop department, it appeared in the silent Phantom of the Opera (1925), the zany comedy Twentieth Century (1934) and later as Norma Desmond's bed in Sunset Boulevard (1950).

 

Donnelly, Dorothy Agnes
Lyricist, librettist
b. Jan. 28, 1880 (New York City) - d. Jan. 3. 1928 (NYC)

A noted dramatic actress in such plays as Madame X (1910), Donnelly was one of the very few women to become a successful Broadway lyricist-librettist. After co-adapting the operetta Flora Bella (1916) and writing the musical comedy Fancy Free (1918), she teamed with composer Sigmund Romberg to turn the German operetta Das Dreimsderlhaus into the Broadway hit Blossom Time (1921). With Franz Shubert's melodies and the lilting ballad "Song of Love," this wildly fictionalized version of the great composer's life story ran for almost two seasons and toured for years. Donnelly provided the libretto for the W.C. Fields vehicle Poppy (1923), then re-teamed with Romberg to create The Student Prince in Heidelberg (1924). This sentimental tale was the most successful American operetta of the 1920s, with "Deep In My Heart," "The Drinking Song" and "Serenade" becoming standards. Donnelly and Romberg scored a modest success with My Maryland (1927). Donnelly died at age 47.

 

Donahue, Jack
Actor, singer, dancer
b. 1892 (Charlestown, MA) - d. Oct. 1, 1930 (NYC)

After perfecting his limber dancing style as a vaudeville song and dance man, Donahue appeared in Broadway choruses before his first featured role in Angel Faces (1919). He played increasingly better roles in the Ziegfeld Follies (1920), Molly Darling (1922) and Be Yourself (1924), achieving full-blown stardom as "Jim Deming" in the Marilyn Miller vehicle Sunny (1925). Donahue re-teamed with Miller in the equally successful "modern operetta" Rosalie (1928) playing "Bill Delroy." After Donahue appeared as "Jimmy Canfield" in Sons o' Guns (1929), a combination of heart and kidney disease forced the hard-drinking actor to give up performing. He managed to complete the libretto for Princess Charming (1930) before his death at age 38. Miller handpicked Jack's look-alike younger brother Joe Donahue to take over the role of "Jim Demming" in her screen version of Sunny (1930) -- Joe's performance was an imitative homage to Jack.

 

Dressler, Marie
(b. Leila Marie Van Koerber)
Actress, singer
b. Nov. 9, 1869 (Coburg, Canada) - d. July 28, 1934 (Santa Barbara, CA)

Dressler's hefty physique (five foot eight, she towered over most women of her time), expressive face and instinct for comic timing led to long and varied career in musical theater. She made her Broadway debut in Maurice Barrymore's operetta Robber of the Rhine (1892), appeared with Eddie Foy in Little Robinson Crusoe, and played Lillian Russell's mother in a revival of the operetta Girofle-Girofla. After Dressler achieved star status in The Lady Slavey (1896), she became part of the Joe Weber & Lew Fields stock company, co-starring in such hit burlesque musicals as Higgledy Piggledy (1904) and Twiddle Twaddle (1906).

As the star of Tillie's Nightmare (1910), Dressler introduced the hit song "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl." Soon afterwards, she played Tillie in a popular series of silent comedy films. Dressler continued to appear on Broadway through the 1920s, and was one of the most popular headliners in vaudeville, but her lasting claim to stardom came with the advent of talking film. In her sixties, she became one of Hollywood's most beloved performers and received an Academy Award for her performance as Min Divot in Min and Bill (1930). Dressler is still celebrated for her performances as Tugboat Annie (1933) and as the formidable society matron Carlotta Vance in Dinner at Eight (1933). After her death due to cancer at age 65, she was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA.

 

Dunne, Irene Marie
Actress, singer
b. Dec. 20, 1901 (Lousiville, KY) - d. Sept. 4, 1990 (Los Angeles)

Best remembered for her work in screen comedies and dramas, this attractive actress began her career on the musical stage. After starring in the American tour of Irene (1920), she appeared in such forgettable Broadway musicals as The Clinging Vine (1922) and The City Chap (1925). Dunne's major break came playing "Magnolia" in the road company of Show Boat (1929). Composer Jerome Kern selected her to play the title role in the screen version of Sweet Adeline (1935).

Dunne cemented her screen stardom in three more Kern films -- as "Stephanie" in Roberta (1935), "Magnolia" in the first all-sound version of Show Boat (1936) as "Sally Watterson" in High, Wide and Handsome (1937). She also sang in the hilarious Joy of Living (1938) and Love Affair (1939) before starring in a wide range of non-musical roles -- including "Anna Leonowens" in Anna and the King of Siam (1946) and "Queen Victoria" in The Mudlark (1950). In a career spanning more than 40 films, Dunne reveived five Academy Award nominations, but never won. She made only one return to musicals, playing songwriter "Kay Heyward" in the otherwise unremarkable Never A Dull Moment (1950). She left the screen in 1952, making occasional appearances on television and staying active in politics (she served as a delegate to the United Nations in 1957) and corporate life. She was married to New York dentist Francis Dennis Griffin from 1928 until his death in 1965 -- both were devout Catholics and active members of the Knights of Malta. Beloved by colleagues and fans, Dunne received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1985. Five years later, she died at age 88.

 

Emmet, Joseph Klein
Actor, singer
b. Mar. 13, 1841 (St. Louis, MO) - d. Jan 15, 1891 (Cornwall, NY)

Emmet polished his talents as a German-accented (or "Dutch") comedian in variety and minstrel shows before being cast in the title role of Fritz, Our American Cousin (1870). Audiences adored his performance as a German immigrant who searches for his long-lost sister while simultaneously pursuing the girl the loves. He also introduced a memorable "Lullaby" that became a popular favorite. Emmet toured in the role for the rest of his life, starring in a series of revivals and sequels, and even brought one of the Fritz musicals to London for a successful run in 1872. Heavy drinking and resulting acts of public violence occasionally garnered unwanted press coverage before Emmet's death at age 49.

 

Fall, Leo
Composer
b. Feb. 2, 1873 (Olmutz, Austria-Hungary) - d. Sept. 16, 1925 (Vienna)

After unsuccessful attempts to write grand opera, this prolific composer turned his talents to operetta, becoming one of the most successful Viennese composers of the 20th Century. Fall achieved international success with Die Dollarprinzessin (1907), which had long runs in both London and New York as The Dollar Princess. With rapturous, swirling melodies, Fall was able to capitalize on Franz Lehar's worldwide success with several international hits of his own. He composed more than 35 operettas, most notably Die Geschiedene Frau (1908), Der Liebe Augustin (1912), Die Rose von Stambul (1916) and Mamdame Pompadour (1922). He remained active until cancer silenced him at age 52.

 

Field, Ron
Choreographer, director, dancer
b. 1934 (New York City) - d. Feb. 6. 1989 (NYC)

Field made his Broadway debut as a child in Lady In the Dark (1941), and danced in the ensembles of such hit musicals as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Kismet (1954) and The Boy Friend. (1955). After he choreographed the disappointing Nowhere But Up (1962) and Cafe Crown (1964), he won a Tony for his dazzling work in Cabaret (1966) -- which he recreated for the first London production. Field supplied the folk-like dances for Zorba (1968), then received two more Tony Awards for the direction and choreography of Applause (1970).

After Field served as director-choreographer for a short-lived revival of On the Town (1971) and the ill-fated King of Hearts (1978), he had an uncredited hand in staging the long-running revival of Peter Pan (1979) starring Sandy Duncan, and the poorly received Broadway revue Perfectly Frank (1980). He choreographed the musical sequences in the film New York, New York (1977), including the remarkable "Happy Endings" sequence that was cut from the film but can be seen in the "Director's Cut" DVD release. He was replaced as choreographer of Merrily We Roll Along (1981) -- as if the dances were Merrily's flaw? Field supplemented his Broadway career by staging various Las Vegas acts, the opening ceremonies for the 1986 Los Angeles Olympics, and a boisterous British revival of Kiss Me Kate (1987). He received two Emmy Awards for his work in television, returned to Broadway to choreograph the poorly received Rags (1987) and a revival of Cabaret (1987) that starred Joel Grey. Less than two years later, brain lesions led to Field's death at age 55.

 

Finn, William Alan
Composer, lyricist, librettist
b. Feb. 28, 1952 (Boston, MA)

This gifted, idiosyncratic artist won notice with a trilogy of musicals about the fictional Marvin, a married father who realizes he is gay and must redefine his life to include wife, son and lover. All three premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. The first, In Trousers (1979) got little notice, but March of the Falsettoes (1981) received rave reviews and an extended commercial run. The final installment, Falsettoland (1990) repeated that success. Then a combination of the second and third installments re-titled Falsettos (1992) came to Broadway, winning Tonys for Best Score and Best Book -- Finn shared the latter with frequent collaborator James Lapine. Finn's other Off-Broadway projects have included Romance In Hard Times (1989), and his own near-fatal illness led to the powerful A New Brain (1998) which had a brief run at Lincoln Center. With The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2005), Finn earned fresh raves and his longest Broadway run to date. His songs were featured on the Off-Broadway revue Make Me a Song (2007). 

 

Ford, Helen
(b. Helen Isabel Barnett)
Actress, singer
b. June 6, 1897 (Troy, NY) - d. Jan. 19, 1982 (Glendale, CA)

Petite and attractive, Ford enjoyed a nineteen year reign as one of Broadway's favorite musical ingénues. She made her debut as a replacement in Sometime (1919), and was featured in such forgettable musical comedies as Always You (1920) and The Gingham Girl (1922) before starring (appropriately) in the title role of Helen of Troy (1923). Ford then caught the attention of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who cast her as Revolutionary-era heroine "Betsy Burke" in their early hit Dearest Enemy (1925), where she introduced "Here In My Arms." She starred in two more R&H musicals -- playing the title roles in Peggy Ann (1926) and the short-lived Chee-Chee (1928). After playing "Adele" in a adaptation of Die Fledermaus called Champagne, Sec (1933), and "Freelove Clark" in the short-lived Great Lady (1938) Ford stuck to non-musical roles until she retired from the stage in 1942.

 

Fox, Della
Actress, singer
b. Oct. 13, 1871 (St. Louis, MO) - d. June 16, 1913 (NYC)

One of the most celebrated musical soubrettes of her day, the diminutive Fox made her Broadway debut in The King's Fool (1890). Stardom came when she joined actor DeWolf Hopper in a trio of hit musical comedies -- Castles in the Air (1890), "Mataya" in Wang (1891) and Panjandrum (1893). Fox became an audience favorite, her bobbed hair establishing a new fashion craze. She starred in The Little Trooper (1894) and Fleur de Lis (1895), co-starred with Lillian Russell in The Wedding Day (1897), and both produced and starred as "Margery Dazzle" in The Little Host (1898). Fox left the stage for several years due to a combination of marriage and poor health. She returned in the short-lived Toto and played a double role in The West Point Cadet (1904), then toured in vaudeville. Alcohol and drug abuse contributed to her untimely death at age 41.

Back to: Who's Who In Musicals