Who's Who in Musicals: D
by John Kenrick
Actor, singer, dancer
b. Dec. 14, 1914 (New York City) - d. Oct. 16, 1978 (Los Angeles, CA)
This tall, personable song & dance man got his start in minstrel shows and vaudeville, reaching Broadway in Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's teen musical Babes in Arms (1937). After a small role in Stars in Your Eyes (1939), he was featured in the national tour of Rodgers and Hart's I Married an Angel (1939). Dailey's dazzling smile and smooth manner made him a natural for big screen stardom. He headed out to Hollywood for supporting screen roles in Hullabaloo (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Lady Be Good (1941) and Panama Hattie (1942). After interrupting his career to serve in World War II, he starred in a series of 20th Century Fox musicals, beginning with Mother Wore Tights (1947), the first of four films Dailey made with Fox's blonde bombshell Betty Grable.
Dailey's screen musicals include Give My Regards to Broadway (1948), My Blue Heaven (1950), Call Me Mister (1951), The Girl Next Door (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956) and Pepe (1960). His numerous non-musical roles include a well-received performance as baseball star "Dizzy Dean" in The Pride of St. Louis (1952). With the decline of big screen musicals, Dailey worked as a character actor on stage and in television well into the 1970s. His heavy drinking and occasional comic cross-dressing caused occasional murmurs in the press, but never threatened his long career.
Actor, singer, composer
b. Aug. 15, 1935 (Rothwell, UK)
This versatile Englishman first captivated Broadway in a revival of the classic comedy Scapino (1974), for which Dale also provided the incidental music and helped adapt the script. He scored the greatest success of his career in the title role of Barnum (1980), introducing Cy Coleman & Michael Stewart's "The Colors of My Life." Dale's charismatic performance brought him the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical. After starring in an acclaimed revival of the dark comedy Joe Egg (1985), Dale took over the leading role of "Bill Snibson" in the long-running New York production of Me and My Girl (1986). He also starred in Broadway revivals as "Dr. Pangloss" in Candide (1997), and as the unscrupulous "Peachum" in The Threepenny Opera (2006). In 2006, he starred as street performer "Charlie Baxter" in a concert version of the Sherman Brothers musical Busker Alley which led to a CD of the score. His only feature film musical to date has been Disney's Pete's Gragon (1977), singing the tongue-twisting "Passamaquody." Fans of the Harry Potter books have enjoyed Dale's popular audiobook versions, for which he has received two Grammy Awards.
(b. Doris Von Kappelhoff)
b. April 3, 1924 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
A warm singing voice, fresh-scrubbed good looks and unaffected personality made Day one of the most popular performers of the mid-20th Century. After winning fame singing with Les Brown's big band, she made her screen debut introducing "It's Magic" in Romance on the High Seas (1948). A natural screen actress with a gift for comedy, she appeared in more than three dozen films over the next two decades, including the musical hits Tea For Two (1950), West Point Story (1950) with James Cagney, Lullaby of Broadway (1951), On Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) with Gordon MacRae and the raucous Calamity Jane (1953) with Howard Keel.
Day proved her dramatic ability playing Ruth Etting in the musical bio Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and joined members of the Broadway cast to play "Babe Williams" in the film version of The Pajama Game (1957). Her popular screen comedies included a series costarring Rock Hudson that began with Pillow Talk (1959). She made her final big screen musical appearance in Jumbo (1962) with Jimmy Durante. Day filmed several more comedies and starred in a popular 1960's network TV sitcom. Long-retired from public life, her films and recordings provide constant reminders of her often underestimated talents.
b. April 3, 1861 (Middleton, CT) - d. Jan. 15, 1920 (Chicago, IL)
Although most of his shows are forgotten today, DeKoven composed two dozen popular musicals during the formative years of the American musical theatre, thirteen of them in collaboration with lyricist/librettist Harry B. Smith. DeKoven's most enduring success was the "comic opera" Robin Hood (1890), which featured the ballad "Oh, Promise Me" (lyric by Clement Scott), still one of the few showtunes you are likely to hear performed in a church. DeKoven's music was admired by some, but dismissed by others as "stuffy." His imposing Manhattan mansion still stands on Park Avenue just below 86th Street, where a plaque is the only existing public reminder of his fame.
De Mille, Agnes
b. Sept. 18, 1905 (NYC) - d. Oct. 6, 1993 (NYC)
This onetime classical dancer choreographed a regional revival of The Black Crook in 1929. She staged numbers for Cole Porter's London musical Nymph Errant (1933), and worked on several unremarkable Broadway projects before her innovative work on Aaron Copeland's cowboy ballet Rodeo caught the attention of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. They chose DeMille to choreograph their landmark hit Oklahoma (1943). Aside from blending modern and classical dance styles, she redefined the role of dance in musical theatre. Instead of being thrown in as a diversion, dance was suddenly part of the musical's story telling process. Her ingenious "dream ballets" brought audiences into the inner minds and souls of key characters. These were often imitated but never surpassed. Theatre wags still refer to dances reminiscent of her style as "run of DeMille."
DeMille went on to choreograph One Touch of Venus (1943), Bloomer Girl (1944), Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Allegro (1947 - also directed), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Paint Your Wagon (1951) and 110 in the Shade (1963). Her working manner was often harsh, and earned her as many enemies as admirers. DeMille's last new Broadway musical was the ill-fated Come Summer (1969). She authored a series of books that offer unique insights into the theatre and dance cultures of the 20th Century. A stroke left DeMille wheelchair bound in her final years, but she remained active in modern dance and staged revivals of her classic musicals until her death at age 88. It is fair to say that by making dance a key storytelling element in musical theatre, De Mille ushered in a new age, paving the way for what Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett and others would do in years to come.
Dancer, singer, actress
b. July 25, 1893 (Kansas City, MO) - d. Sept. 26, 1995 (London, UK)
This American-born beauty became the longtime toast of London. She began her stellar career in a ballroom dance act with husband Carl Hyson, appearing on Broadway in composer Jerome Kern's Oh Boy (1917), two editions of producer Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies (1917-18) and George M. Cohan's operetta spoof The Royal Vagabond (1919). Dickson and Hyson traveled to London to dance in producer Charles Cochran's revue London, Paris & New York (1921), but Ms. Dickson achieved solo stardom later that year in the London version of Kern's Sally (1921). This led to Dickson starring in Kern's The Cabaret Girl (1922) and The Beauty Prize (1923). She had the honor of playing the title role in London's annual non-musical production of Peter Pan in 1925 and 1926, and starred in the West End productions of Gershwin's Tip Toes (1926), Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Peggy Ann (1927), Hold Everything (1929), Wonder Bar (1930) and Casanova (1932).
When Irving Berlin's hit New York revue As Thousands Cheer arrived in London as Stop Press (1935), Dickson starred in it, singing "Easter Parade." She introduced "These Foolish Things" in the British revue Spread It Abroad (1936) before co-starring with composer Ivor Novello in his long-running hits Careless Rapture (1936) and Crest of the Wave (1937) in the latter, Dickson introduced the popular waltz "Music in May." During World War II, she appeared in such revues as Diversion (1940) and Fine and Dandy (1942), and organized the London Stage Door Canteen, a night club where British stars provided free entertainment for allied troops. She appeared in several non-musicals after the war, and made her final bow with Jack Buchanan in the comedy As Long As They're Happy (1953). A devout Christian Scientist, she resisted all efforts to publicly celebrate her 100th birthday.
Feb. 24, 1930 (Cleveland, OH) - May 13, 2006 (NYC)
After making her Broadway debut in the short-lived revue Small Wonder (1948), this shapely and attractive soprano with a three and a hal octave range met and married director Albert Marre. He cast her as the original "Lalume" in Kismet (1953), where an astonishing vocal range and hourglass figure made her a show-stopping favorite when she introduced "Not Since Ninevah" and shared the randy "Rahadlakume" with co-star Alfred Drake. Diener repeated the role in the 1955 London production. After the first musical version of Grand Hotel (in which she played an aging opera diva) closed on the road, she was not seen in a new musical for a decade.
Marre then cast Diener as the original "Aldonza" in Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's Man of La Mancha (1965), co-starring with Richard Kiley. Opening off-Broadway, the show became a surprise sensation. Diener repeated her searing portrayal in London and Paris. She appeared as "Kathleen Stanton" in the ill-fated Cry For Us All (1970) and as Odysseus' wife "Penelope" in the legendary flop Home Sweet Homer (1975). When pop singer Sheena Easton left the 1992 Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha, Diener returned to the role of Aldonza for the final weeks of the run, still delivering a powerful performance. She remained out of the public eye in the years that followed, and died due to complications of cancer at age 76.
Sept. 8, 1896 (New York City) - d. July 30, 1983 (NYC)
This imaginative lyricist got his start writing for several New York newspapers. He worked in advertising, designing the roaring lion logo for MGM ' and was soon hired as that studio's publicity director, a position he held for decades. While running the finest PR department in Hollywood, he contributed lyrics to several Broadway scores, including Jerome Kern's unsuccessful Dear Sir (1924). He collaborated with composer Arthur Schwartz on songs for several Broadway reviews. Their hit songs included "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," from The Little Show (1929), "Something to Remember You By," from Three's a Crowd (1930), "Dancing in the Dark," from The Band Wagon (1931), "Louisiana Hayride" from Flying Colors (1932) and "By Myself" from Between the Devil (1937).
Dietz worked with composer Vernon Duke on two unsuccessful 1944 stage musicals, Jackpot and Sadie Thompson. In the 1950s, Dietz created new English translations for Metropolitan Opera productions of Die Fledermaus and La Boheme. He re-teamed with Schwartz for the Broadway revue Inside USA (1948). They also collaborated on the song "That's Entertainment" for the film version of The Bandwagon (1953). After scoring a TV musical version of A Bell for Adano (1956), they composed two short-lived Broadway musicals The Gay Life (1961) starring Barbara Cook, and Jennie (1963) starring Mary Martin. Soon afterward, the progressive effects of Parkinson's disease forced Dietz into retirement. For more, see Dietz's entertaining (if occasionally harsh) autobiography Dancing in the Dark: Words by Howard Dietz (Quadrangle: New York, 1974).
Dixey, Henry E.
Actor, singer, writer
Jan. 6, 1859 (Boston MA) - d. Feb. 25, 1943 (Atlantic City, NJ)
This muscular, handsome actor found lasting stardom in fifteen Broadway musicals. His most memorable success was in the title role of Adonis (1884), for which he co-authored the book and lyrics with longtime associate Edward Rice. As a marble statue that comes to life, Dixey became the top matinee idol of his day. Adonis became the longest running Broadway production up to that time, and Dixey toured in the role for several years.
In 1896, he produced and starred in a full season of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas at Broadway's Herald Square Theatre. His other starring roles included "Ravenne" in a popular revival of Erminie (1898) and "Ali Baba" in the New York production of Chu Chin Chow (1917). After some time in vaudeville and non-musical roles, he made his final Broadway appearance as a replacement in George M. Cohan's comedy The Merry Malones (1928). After a long retirement, he was run down by an Atlantic City bus at age 84.
Dancer, choreographer, stage & film director
b. April 13, 1924 (Colombia, SC)
In his boyhood, Donen fell in love with musical films while watching Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio (1933). Donen came to Broadway as a teenage dancer, and while working in the chorus of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Pal Joey (1940), Donen met the show's star, Gene Kelly. Donen worked as Kelly's assistant choreographer for Best Foot Forward (1941), during which time he impressed Kelly with his enthusiasm and imagination. Donen worked as a dancer and assistant to choreographer Charles Walters in MGM's screen version of Best Foot Forward (1943). When MGM loaned out Gene Kelly to Columbia for Cover Girl (1944), Kelly asked Donen to be his assistant. The results (including Kelly's innovative dance with his own mirror image, conceived by Donen) were so exciting that MGM never loaned Kelly out for another musical. The studio also realized Donen was a major asset, and placed him under extended contract.
Donen served as choreographer or co-choreographer on eighteen musical films, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), A Date With Judy (1948), and Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949). He also acted as Gene Kelly's co-director and co-choreographer for On the Town (1949), the timeless classic Singin' in the Rain (1950), and the underrated It's Always Fair Weather (1955). Donen gave fresh spirit and visual sophistication to screen musical comedies, using knockout musical numbers that enriched characterization while providing unequaled entertainment. Many of these films featured Gene Kelly, who often went out of his way in later years to minimize the importance of Donen's contribution to these films. This much is beyond argument -- Kelly and Donen were gifted, and their joint efforts clearly profited from having both men on hand.
Donen directed his boyhood idol Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951), Jane Powell and Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957). He helmed the big screen versions of The Pajama Game (1957) and Damn Yankees (1958). As musical films became rare, Donen directed such non-musical gems as Indiscreet (1958), Charade (1963) and Two for the Road (1967). He directed and co-produced two 1970s screen musicals, the moribund Little Prince (1973) and the enjoyable Movie, Movie (1978). Donen directed the television broadcast of the 1988 Academy Awards, and staged Jule Styne's ill-fated Broadway version of The Red Shoes (1993). Never nominated for an Academy Award, he finally receive one for Lifetime Achievement in 1998. He is longtime life companion of writer-director Elaine May. Since directing the Off-Broadway comedy Adult Comedy (2002), he has announced occasional projects, but none has come to fruition. For more, see Stephen M. Silverman's delightful Dancing On The Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1996).
D'Oyly Carte, Richard
Producer, theater owner
b. May 3, 1844 (London, UK) - d. April 3, 1901 (London)
D'Oyly Carte was already a successful theatrical agent when he saw the short-lived comic opera Thespis (1871). Sensing that this trifle had the makings of a new kind of British musical theatre, he eventually hired its creators composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist William Gilbert to write the one act "curtain raiser" Trial By Jury (1875). The brief piece was so melodic and funny that it caused a sensation. D'Oyly Carte and his authors then formed a partnership that spawned some of the most popular musicals ever written, including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), Pirates of Penzance (1880), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), Yeoman of the Guard (1888) and The Gondoliers (1896).
D'Oyly Carte built The Savoy Theater (1881) -- the first in the world to be lit by electricity -- then constructed The Savoy Hotel next door to provide quality dinners to theatergoers. A deft businessman, he was sometimes referred to as "Oily Carte." Plagued by "dropsy" (edema) and heart disease, he died at his London home just short of his 57th birthday. Thanks to the efforts of his second wife Helen and their descendants, The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company kept the works of G&S popular for more than a century. For more, see our subsite, Gilbert & Sullivan 101.
(b. Alfredo Capurro)
b. Oct. 7, 1914 (New York City) - d. July 25, 1992 (NYC)
Good looks, a striking stage presence and a robust baritone voice made Drake Broadway's most sought-after musical leading man in the mid-20th Century. After earning an AB at Brooklyn College, he won early attention singing the stirring title tune in Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's Babes In Arms (1937). Drake appeared in several revues before achieving stardom as the original "Curly" in Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Oklahoma (1943). In that landmark hit, Drake introduced "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Surrey With a Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're In Love" and the stirring title tune. After co-starring with Burl Ives in the popular folk musical Sing Out Sweet Land (1944), Drake played "Macheath" in Duke Ellington's updated but short-lived version of The Beggars Opera (1946) and starred as union organizer "Larry Foreman" in a revival of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock (1947).
Drake originated the role of "Fred Graham" in Kiss Me Kate (1947), co-starring with Patricia Morison and introducing Cole Porter's "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" and "Were Thine That Special Face." He turned down the chance to star in The King and I (1951), but won acclaim when he replaced a vacationing Yul Brynner for several weeks. He gave a charismatic, Tony Award winning performance as the lucky beggar "Hajj" in Kismet (1955) and played the title role in the ill-fated but impressive Kean (1961). His many non-musical roles included "King Claudius" in Richard Burton's acclaimed modern dress staging of Hamlet (1964). Drake's final musical role was "Honore" in the Broadway version of Gigi (1974), a genial performance that earned a Tony nomination. In later years he made occasional TV and film appearances, including a small role in the film Trading Places (1983). When he died after a long battle with cancer at age 77, Drake was lauded as one of the greatest and most admired stars the musical theater has ever called its own.
b. June 10, 1891 (Zurich, Switzerland) - d. Feb. 11, 1945 (New York City)
Dubin's Swiss immigrant parents wanted him to pursue a career in medicine, but that ended when he was expelled from school for gambling with "disreputable" musicians. After limited success writing songs in New York, he headed out to Hollywood in the 1920s and teamed with composer Joe Burke to create scores for seven early musical films. The most successful, Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), included the hit songs "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips" and "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine." In 1933, Dubin began working with composer Harry Warren on the first of twenty three film scores. Their 42nd Street (1933) revived the fading fortunes of the big screen musical, and featured "Young and Healthy," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the popular title tune. These songs made no attempt to develop plot or character they were stand-alone numbers Berkeley could build into eye-popping production numbers.
Warren and Dubin's scores included Gold Diggers of 1933 ("We're In the Money," "Remember My Forgotten Man"), Footlight Parade (1933) ("Honeymoon Hotel"), Roman Scandals (1933) ("Keep Young and Beautiful") Dames (1934), and Gold Diggers of 1935 ("Lullaby of Broadway"). The prolific Dubin turned out lyrics for as many as five film scores a year, but an increasing reliance on drugs and alcohol soon dulled his abilities. His professional relationship with Warren ended by 1938. Dubin contributed some material to the film Stage Door Canteen in 1943, but was already a broken man. He died due to a drug overdose two years later at age 54. His lyrics made a dazzling comeback in the acclaimed stage version of 42nd Street (1980).
(b. Vladimir Dukelsky)
b. Oct. 10, 1903 (Parafianovo, Russia) - d. Jan. 16, 1969 (Santa Monica, CA)
The direct descendant of Russian (Georgian) nobility, Dukelsky was classically trained in Russia. While there, he became so fascinated with the music of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin and that he emigrated to the United States in 1921. He used his original name for classical compositions and the Americanized "Vernon Duke" for his pop songs. (The acerbic Oscar Levant once asked him, "For a man who's destined for obscurity, why do you need two names?") After getting melodies into several London shows, he landed songs in several big 1930s Broadway revues, including the Garrick Gaities and Ziegfeld's Follies. During these years, Duke worked with several top lyricists, including Ira Gershwin ("I Can't Get Started") and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg ("April in Paris"), writing his own eloquent lyric for the popular "Autumn in New York."
Duke's pop melodies had a deft blend of musical sophistication and popular appeal, but none of his shows ran for long. His first book musical was Cabin in the Sky (1940), an innovative fable with lyrics by John Latouche. It included the hit song "Taking a Chance on Love," sung by Ethel Waters. He and Latouche then wrote the score for Eddie Cantor's last Broadway show, Banjo Eyes (1941) a hit that closed early due to Cantor's health. After turning out two unsuccessful musicals with Howard Dietz, Duke worked with poet Ogden Nash on the scores for Two's Company (1952) starring a singing & dancing Bette Davis and The Littlest Revue (1956). When popular musical tastes changed, Duke devoted his later years to classical projects.
(b. James Francis Durante)
b. Feb. 10, 1893 (New York City) - d. Jan. 29, 1980 (Santa Monica, CA)
Famous for his jaunty strut and the prominent nose that earned him the nickname "Schnozzola," Durante made an art form of mangling the English language with the thick Bowery accent of his childhood ("I trun' a scare into 'im."). He got his start as a pianist in gangster hangouts, then teamed with Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson to present a wacky knockabout comedy act. They appeared at their own speakeasy in the 1920s as well as many top clubs and vaudeville houses. The trio made it to Broadway in Ziegfeld's Show Girl (1929), and Cole Porter's The New Yorkers (1930).
Durante went solo in 1931, winning simultaneous popularity on stage, screen and radio. He starred in the Broadway revue Strike Me Pink (1933) and as circus owner "Claudius B. Bowers" the lavish circus musical Jumbo (1935) before appearing as criminal "Policy Pinkle" with Ethel Merman and young Bob Hope in Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue (1936). Durante and Merman, who reunited for Stars In Your Eyes (1939), remained friends for life. After Durante made his final Broadway appearance in the short-lived revue Keep Off the Grass (1940), he appeared in dozens of films, including such musicals as Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) and It Happened In Brooklyn (1947). He later starred in his own popular TV variety series, as well as the screen version of Jumbo (1962). Durante both narrated and sang the title tune on the animated Christmas special Frosty the Snowman (1969), which has been shown annually ever since. With his signature cries of "Everybody wants to get into the act!" and "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaaaaa!" as his signature lines, this beloved clown remained popular on television and in night clubs until a stroke forced him into a wheelchair in 1972. He died of pneumonia eight years later at age 87.
(b. Edna Mae Durbin)
Film actress, singer
b. Dec. 4, 1921 (Winnipeg, Canada) - d. April 20, 2013 (Neauphle-le-Chateau,
Discovered and dropped by MGM by age 15, Durbin was immediately signed by Universal Pictures. Beginning with her performance as "Penny Craig" in Three Smart Girls (1936), she starred in a series of musicals that showcased her lilting soprano voice and spirited screen persona. The plots invariably cast her as (to use her own phrase) "a little Miss Fix-It," solving problems for anyone from a troubled family to a full symphony orchestra. She repeated this formula as "Patricia Cardwel" in One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), "Gloria Harkinson" in Mad About Music (1938) and other films. Durbin's musicals were lifesaving moneymakers for Depression-plagued Universal, earning the teenager a special Oscar for juvenile achievement in 1938.
Durbin remained popular through the 1940s, making frequent concert appearances and starring as "Ilonka Tolnay" in Spring Parade (1940), as "Caroline Fost" in composer Jerome Kern's Can't Help Singing (1944), as "Rosie Moore" in the screen version of Up In Central Park (1948) and eleven other films. After playing "Mary Peppertree" in For the Love of Mary (1948), Durbin became disenchanted with Hollywood and retired at the age of 27. She married film producer-director Charles Henri David in 1950, and moved to a farm on the outskirts of Paris, withdrawing permanently from show business. She resisted numerous projects over the years, reputedly turning down the chance to create the role of Liza in My Fair Lady. David died in 1999. Remaining intensely private in her final years, Durbin's death was quietly announced in a fan club news letter some weeks after it actually occurred in 2013.