Who's Who in Musicals: Additional Bios XI
by John Kenrick
(b. Delia O'Callaghan)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Nov. 29, 1870 (Grenola, KS) - d. Feb. 27, 1955 (Flintridge, CA)
This vaudeville legend was raised in Cincinnati. She worked as a store clerk before beginning her 50+ year stage career (using her mother's maiden name) by making her Broadway debut in the chorus of The Pearl of Pekin (1889). She appeared in A Trip to Chinatown (1891), La Poupee (1897), The Rounders (1900) and the Broadway and London productions of The Belle of Bohemia (1900-01). Using her increasing girth to her advantage, Friganza became one of the most popular "road" stars in a series of musical comedies, confirming her success in New York when she triumphed as the Widow Crocker in Broadway's he Prince of Pilsen (1904). She later co-starred with Weber & Fields in Twiddle Twaddle (1906), played "Caroline Vokins" in The Orchid (1908), "Mrs. Waxtapper" in The American Idea (1908), appeared in The Passing Show of 1912, and starred as "Blanche Moss" in Canary Cottage (1917).
Friganza made her vaudeville debut in 1906, but did not tour the circuits regularly until 1912. She then became one of vaude's top headliners, and a particular favorite at New York's Palace Theatre. In an act that blended comedy and music, she made constant fun of her weight, but it was her talent that kept audiences cheering. She appeared in silent and sound films, and made her final Broadway appearance in Murray Anderson's Almanac (1929). Crippling arthritis forced her into retirement in 1940. Although married three times, Friganza was a devout Catholic, and spent her final years teaching drama in the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, a convent school.
b. July 1, 1856 (Sandusky, Ohio) - d. May 7, 1915 (The Lusitania)
One of the greatest stage producers of all time, this groundbreaking Jewish-American entrepreneur worked his way through a series of theatre jobs before presenting his first drama in 1886. His many successes included the New York premiere of Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Closely allied with the Klaw and Erlanger theatrical syndicate, he began producing musicals in both London and New York in the 1890s, including The Shop Girl (1895), Madame Sherry (1903), A Waltz Dream (1908) and The Dollar Princess (1909).
From 1910 on, Frohman concentrated his efforts on Broadway, importing such London hits as The Arcadians (1910), The Sunshine Girl (1913) and The Girl From Utah (1914) -- a production which interpolated Jerome Kern's "They Didn't Believe Me," opening a new era in the musical theatre. Frohman eventually had more than 700 stage productions to his credit, but took particular pride in having produced both the New York (1899) and London (1901) premieres of James Barrie's play Peter Pan. Trapped on the torpedoed Lusitania, Frohman went down with the ship. His recovered body is buried in the Union Field Cemetery, Queens, NY. Frohman never married, but his longtime live-in companion Charles Dillingham went on to a notable producing career of his own.
b. Nov. 18, 1920 (Washington, DC) - d. May 28, 2000
This onetime casting director made his producing debut on Broadway with the well-received musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), and had even greater success with Wonderful Town (1953). He formed a long lasting producing partnership with Lawrence Carr. After the so-so By the Beautiful Sea (1954) and the outright failure of Shangri-la (1956), the duo presented the Tony winning Redhead (1959) in the same year as the costly disappointment Saratoga (1959). Even the beloved Judy Holliday could not save the troubled Hot Spot (1963), but Carr and Fryer scored a double triumph three years later producing both Sweet Charity (1966) and the long-running Mame (1966) -- the latter based on Auntie Mame, one of many non-musical hits Carr produced over the years.
Fryer produced a number of films, including The Boston Strangler, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the poorly received screen version of Mame. Back on Broadway, he produced the underrated Chicago (1975), was on the producing teams for On the 20th Century (1978), the Tony-winning Sweeney Todd (1979) -- and the distinguished failures Merrily We Roll Along (1981) and A Doll's Life (1982). While serving as artistic director for the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, Fryer co-produced the Broadway productions of Noises Off (1983), Benefactors (1985) and Wild Honey (1986). He died of complications from Parkinson's disease at age 79.
b. Sept. 1685 (Banstable, UK) - d. Dec. 4, 1732 (London)
Gay pursued a dual career for several years, writing for the stage while simuntaneously jockeying for a position at the British royal court. When his opposition to Britain's long-lasting first Prime Minister Robert Walpole blocked Gay's political ambitions, he channeled his frustrations into a satirical "ballad opera" libretto peppered with biting lyrics set to pre-existing opera arias and barroom ballads. The Beggar's Opera (1728), with its unblinking look at corruption in so-called respectable circles caused such a sensation that the British government banned its planned sequel, Polly. In his final year, Gay provided the libretto for Handel's opera Acis and Galatea (1732). He died at the home of his longtime patroness, the Duchess of Queensberry, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His Beggar's Opera is still performed, and has inspired several later works, including Brecht & Weill's 1928 masterwork Die Dreigroschenopera (The Threepenny Opera).
(b. Reginald Moxon Armitage)
b. July 15, 1898 (Wakefield, UK) - d. Mar. 4, 1954 (London)
Trained to be a church musician, Gay changed course when his novelty songs landed in a series of London revues, including The Charlot Show of 1926 and Folly to Be Wise (1931). His greatest success came with the score for Me and My Girl (1937), including the title tune and "The Lambeth Walk." The latter, performed with relish by comedian Lupino Lane, helped make this show the West End's longest-running World War II hit. Gay turned out songs for films and the pop market, as well scores and specialties for a succession of book musicals and revues -- including the Lane vehicles La-De-Da-De-Da (1943), Meet Me Victoria (1944) and Sweetheart Mine (1946). Noel Gay's last musical was Bob's Your Uncle (1948), a lighthearted throwback to prewar times that postwar audiences embraced for 363 performances. In the 1980s, his son Richard Armitage produced revivals of Me and My Girl that enjoyed extraordinary success in the UK, US and Australia.
b. Nov. 23, 1919 (Metairie, LA) - d. Set. 28, 2000 (New York City)
After making his Broadway debut in the ensemble of Make Mine Manhattan (1948), Gennaro danced in such hits as Kiss Me Kate (1948) and Guys and Dolls (1950). He was part of the "Steam Heat" trio in The Pajama Game (1954), and shared "Mu-cha-cha" with Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing (1956). He staged the dances for the short-lived Seventh Heaven (1955), then served as Jerome Robbins's co-choreographer for the acclaimed West Side Story (1957). According to Chita Rivera, "Peter Gennaro choreographed every step of 'Mambo' and 'America' and does not get credit for it."
Gennaro spirited and athletic choreography triumphed in Fiorello (1959) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960) -- and can still be relished in the 1964 film version starring Debbie Reynolds. After trying to enliven the ill-fated Mr. President (1962), Bajour (1964) and Jimmy (1973), he won fresh acclaim with his work for Reynolds in Irene (1973). Perhaps his greatest success came with the international hit Annie (1977) -- Gennaro's stagings of "Easy Street" and "Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" have been copied, but never topped.
Gennaro worked on a short-lived revival of Little Me (1977), the poorly received Carmelina (1979), and the London productions of Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978) and Singin' In the Rain (1983). Gennaro served for many years as choreographer for Radio City Music Hall, staging many classic routines for the Rockettes. His final Broadway assignment was a revival of The Threepenny Opera (1989) starring Sting. His daughter Liza became a dancer and choreographer, and his son Michael has served as executive director of The Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Paper Mill Playhouse.
b. Feb. 17, 1862 (Whitchurch, UK) - d. Nov. 11, 1936 (London)
When Arthur Sullivan died, Helen D'Oyly Carte called in this noted composer and conductor to finish the score to The Emerald Isle (1901). German remained connected with the D'Oyly Carte company, providing scores for Merrie England (1902), A Princess of Kensington (1903) and Tom Jones (1907). He collaborated with William Gilbert on Fallen Fairies (1909), which got such a negative reception that both men stopped writing musicals altogether.
b. (Carmarthen, UK) - Feb. 19, 1981 (Hove, UK)
This operatic contralto made her West End debut in Glamorous Night (1935), the beginning of an extended association with the musicals of Ivor Novello, who became both friend and mentor. Gilbert went on to featured and starring roles in Careless Rapture (1936), Crest of the Wave (1937), The Dancing Years (1939), Arc de Triomphe (1943), Perchance to Dream (1945) and King's Rhapsody (1949). She introduced Novello's "Fly Home, Little Heart," among others. Gilbert played "Mother Abbess" for most of the long original London run of The Sound of Music (1961) and was "The Housekeeper" in the West End Man of La Mancha (1968).
b. Dec. 5, 1850 (Graz, Austria-Hungary) - d. Apr. 20, 1918
Acclaimed as the greatest star of Viennese operetta's golden age, Girardi starred in the premieres of classic works by Johann Strauss II, Carl Millocker and Franz Lehar. He originated such now-classic roles as "Falke" in Die Fledermaus (1874), the title character in Die Bettlestudent (1882) and "Zsupan" in Die Zugerbaron.
(b. William Martyn-Green)
b. April 22, 1899 (London) - d. Feb. 8, 1975 (Hollywood, CA)
After several years appearing in British touring companies, Green joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company as a member of the ensemble in 1922. He played a variety of small roles and understudied Henry Lytton before succeeding him as principal comedian in 1932. A nimble and endearing performer, Green toured the world in (and recorded) all the major works in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, and starred as "Koko" in the first film version of The Mikado (1939). He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, then resumed working with the Doyly Carte company until 1951. He then emigrated to the US, where he directed, toured in and lectured on the G&S classics. He appeared in several TV musicals, playing "Bob Cratchit" in The Stingiest Man in Town (1956). Part of Green's left leg was amputated after an accident in 1959, but he soon resumed performing. His last stage appearance was as "The Innkeeper" in the Broadway production of The Canterbury Tales (1969). Later film appearances include A Lovely Way to Die (1968) and The Iceman Cometh (1973). He died of a blood infection at age 75.
b. May 29, 1923 (New York City) - d. Dec. 12, 1990 (NYC)
Green was the first historian to dedicate his career -- including a long series of books -- to an academic consideration of musical theatre and film. His unprejudiced analysis and clear writing style laid a solid foundation for all those who followed him. The World of Musical Comedy, Ring Bells! Sing Songs!, and his single volume encyclopedias of musical theatre and film are still key reference works in the field.
(b. Charlotte Frances Greenwood)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. June 25, 1893 (Philadelphia) - d. Jan. 18, 1978 (Beverly Hills)
This long-legged comedienne is remembered for her solid comic timing and high-kicking dance routines. She made her Broadway debut as a dancing teenager in The White Cat (1905). At five foot eight she was taller than most chorines, but her unique "heels over head" kick steps made her a standout. She played a succession of featured musical roles, winning major notice in The Passing Show of 1912. Greenwood became a Broadway star as "Letty" in Pretty Mrs. Smith (1914) -- a role she repeated (with varying surnames) in So Long, Letty (1916), Linger Longer, Letty (1916) and Letty Pepper (1922).
Greenwood moved on to specialties in several 1920s revues, and made an easy transition to character roles in such Hollywood musicals as Flying High (1931), Down Argentine Way (1940) and Springtime in the Rockies (1942). She returned to Broadway to star as the goddess "Juno" in Cole Porter's Out of This World (1950), and was "Aunt Eller" in the big screen version of Oklahoma (1956) -- high kicks intact at age 62. After a brief marriage to actor Cyril Ring, Greenwood enjoyed a long marriage to songwriter Martin Broones. After filming Oklahoma, she opted for a long and quiet retirement.