Who's Who in Musicals: G
by John Kenrick
Actress, singer, dancer
b. July 19, 1926 (Brooklyn, NY)
This trim, gutsy, dark haired performer made her Broadway debut as a dancer in Seven Lively Arts (1944), followed by appearances in the dance ensembles of Billion Dollar Baby (1945) and Brigadoon (1948). She proved her acting ability as "Nancy" in High Button Shoes (1947), and won further attention in the New York and London productions of Touch and Go (1949-50). After playing the nightclub dancer "Poupette" in Make a Wish (1951), she was cast as the comic chorine "Gladys" in a revival of Pal Joey (1952), earning a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Gallagher created the title role in the short-lived Hazel Flagg (1953). After playing a racing driver in the painful failure of Portofino (1958), she took an extended leave from the stage, returning as the cynical "Nicky" in Sweet Charity (1966). She played "Bessie Legg" in the ill-fated Cry for Us All (1970) before her Tony-winning performance as "Lucille" in the hit revival of No, No, Nanette (1971) she stopped the show with her torchy rendition of the "Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues." Gallagher went on to star in network soap operas, returning to the stage as "Tallulah Bankhead" in several different productions, including an Off-Broadway musical.
(b. Frances Gumm)
b. June 10, 1922 (Grand Rapids, Minn.) - d. June 22, 1969 (London, UK)
Garland was Hollywood's greatest female musical star. Starting in a vaudeville singing act with her sisters, her vibrant voice and tangible vulnerability landed her an MGM contract at age 13. She caught the eye of producer Arthur Freed and musical supervisor Roger Edens, who both worked to shape Garland's talents. After her enchanting rendition of "Dear Mr. Gable" in Broadway Melody of 1938, she starred as "Dorothy" in The Wizard of Oz (1939), where she introduced the Harold Arlen- E.Y. "Yip" Harburg song that became her theme "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." MGM teamed Garland with Mickey Rooney for a popular series of "let's put on a show" musicals, including Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940) and Girl Crazy (1943).
Garland was MGM's top musical star in the 1940s, appearing in For Me And My Gal (1942) introducing the hit title tune with newcomer Gene Kelly, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) in which she introduced "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," The Harvey Girls (1946) in which she sang "On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe," and Easter Parade (1948), among many other hit films. Ruthlessly overworked, Garland's physical and emotional health became unreliable, and her sometimes temperamental behavior forced many projects to go over budget. When she suffered a total collapse during the filming of Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, MGM dropped her contract. After reviving her concert career, Garland filmed what is arguably her best musical, A Star Is Born (1954), for Warner Brothers. She made several more musical films, but none were in the same league. From the early 1950s onwards, Garland made numerous concert tours her 1961 Carnegie Hall appearance has remained a popular recording for four decades. That same year, she gave a knockout dramatic performance as a concentration camp survivor in the all-star Judgment at Nuremberg. She starred in a classy but short-lived 1963 variety series for CBS-TV that was so well made that it is still prized by fans on home video. Jerry Herman composed Mame with Garland in mind for the title role, but her mental and physical health was so fragile that no producer would risk casting her for a Broadway run.
Garland suffered a string of ill-fated marriages. Her husbands included the bisexual director Vincent Minnelli and the self-serving producer Sid Luft. Garland's emotional problems and crippling dependence on drugs and alcohol did nothing to dissuade her fanatical admirers, even when her concert performances bordered on self-parody. By the time of her death from a supposedly accidental overdose, she looked almost twice her actual age. Her eldest daughter Liza Minnelli followed in her mother's footsteps to fame, chemical dependency and marital misfortune. Garland's other daughter, Lorna Luft, unsuccessfully tried to compensate for her own mediocrity by writing a book and TV movie that subjected her mother's memory to rehashed abuse. Despite those efforts, Ms. Luft remains as subsidiary as her father, and Garland remains a show business legend.
(b. Arturo Antonio Gaxiola)
b. Dec. 2, 1893 (San Francisco, CA) - d. Feb. 12, 1963 (New York City)
Gaxton's sophisticated, cynical stage persona made him one of Broadway's most popular leading men in the musical comedies of the 1930s and 40s. He considered a career in law before amateur theatricals drew him into vaudeville. After serving in the Navy during World War I, Gaxton returned to vaudeville and later made his Broadway debut in Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue (1922). He starred in Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's A Connecticut Yankee (1927), introducing "Thou Swell" -- instantly becoming one of Broadway's favorite leading men. A stocky five foot ten, it was not his physique, but his breezy, suave stage persona that audiences took a shine to.
In Cole Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), Gaxton sang "You Do Something to Me." As "President John P. Wintergreen," he teamed with Victor Moore in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gershwin hit Of Thee I Sing (1931) and its short-lived sequel Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933). Gaxton cajoled and Moore bumbled, cementing an onstage partnership that continued in the classic Porter hit Anything Goes (1934), where Gaxton introduced "All Through the Night" and shared "You're the Top" with his other costar, Ethel Merman. Gaxton appeared in the operetta White Horse Inn (1936), then reunited with Moore for Leave It To Me (1938), Louisiana Purchase (1940) and Hollywood Pinafore (1945). He appeared in several Hollywood musicals, including Best Foot Forward (1943) and Diamond Horseshoe (1945), but he did not come across well on the big screen. After the disappointing stage musical Nelly Bly (1946), Gaxton retired. A line from that show may give some sense of their comic stage chemistry
GAXTON: You nincompoop!
MOORE: Don't speak to me that way. We nincompoops are organized now.
(b. Francesca Mitzi Gerber)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Sept. 4, 1931 (Chicago, IL)
Long-legged, energetic and appealing, Gaynor rose to stardom in ten 1950s musical films, beginning with a small role in My Blue Heaven (1950). She played vaudeville legend Eva Tanguay in The 'I Don't Care' Girl (1953) before co-starring with Dan Dailey, Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor and Marilyn Monroe in Irving Berlin's There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). She co-starred with O'Connor and Bing Crosby in a weak remake of Anything Goes (1956), and vied for Gene Kelly's fickle affections in Cole Porter's MGM charmer Les Girls (1957). Gaynor won the coveted role of "Nellie Forbush" in the screen version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's South Pacific (1958). Although this was Gaynor's finest film performance, the decline of screen musicals also made it her last. She appeared in several big screen comedies, but soon concentrated her efforts on nightclub tours and television variety specials. She toured in Anything Goes, and continued winning rave reviews for concert and TV appearances through the 1990s.
b. Sept. 26, 1898 (Brooklyn, NY) - d. July 11, 1937 (Beverly Hills, Cal.)
The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, George left school in 1913 to become a Tin Pan Alley "song plugger." He also worked as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway, and had several songs published early on. Gershwin's first hit tune was "Swanee," which Al Jolson popularized in 1919. Gershwin's jaunty rhythms and plaintive melodies reflected his solid training in both jazz and classical music a unique combination at that time. His orchestral works, including "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924) and "An American in Paris" (1928), brought together the best of classical form and the innovative spirit of jazz.
George wrote the scores for 25 Broadway shows and five musical films. While he collaborated with numerous lyricists, he is best remembered for the songs he wrote with his brother Ira. Their stage hits include Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1929), and Of Thee I Sing (1931) the first Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Their final Broadway project was the "folk opera" Porgy and Bess (1935), which did not receive its full critical due for half a century. The Gershwins were working on the film score for The Goldwyn Follies (1937) when George's life was cut short by a malignant cystic brain tumor at age 33. At the time of his death, he was working on the melody for "Our Love Was Here to Stay."
Since George Gershwin's passing, the treasure trove of songs he wrote with Ira have been the basis for several films (American In Paris, Rhapsody In Blue) and stage musicals (My One And Only, Crazy For You, Fascinating Rhythm). "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Love Walked In," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," "By Strauss," "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and so many others remain jewels in the great American songbook.
(b. Israel Gershvin)
b. Dec. 6, 1896 (New York City) - d. August 17, 1983 (Beverly Hills, CA)
When people speak of "a Gershwin song" they all too often forget that Ira provided the incomparable words for his brother George's best songs. (When asked what I think of 'Gershwin,' I usually say, "He was one of the greats, and his brother George wasn't bad either.") After publishing articles and vaudeville reviews, Ira started to write lyrics. He began collaborating with his brother in 1918. Ira's lyrics were inventive, whether playing gleeful games with the English language ("S'Wonderful") or searing through to the inner darkness of the human soul ("The Man That Got Away"). Ira was such a painstaking craftsman that colleagues called him "The Jeweler."
The Gershwin brothers' stage hits include Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1929), and Of Thee I Sing (1931) the first Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Ira's witty wordplay was the perfect match for George's innovative rhythms and melodies. Their final stage project was Porgy and Bess (1935), which still remains the greatest American opera. They wrote several film scores, including Shall We Dance (1937) and Damsel in Distress (1937).
After George's untimely death, Ira worked on a few select stage and screen projects. He collaborated with Kurt Weill on the Broadway hit Lady in the Dark (1941), in which Gertrude Lawrence introduced "Jenny" and "My Ship," and Danny Kaye introduced the lightning patter song "Tschaikowsky." For the musical screen remake of A Star Is Born (1954), Ira and composer Harold Arlen penned "The Man That Got Away," a lasting hit introduced by Judy Garland. After his retirement in 1954, Ira continued efforts to promote and preserve his brother's legacy. He lived to see Broadway's cavernous Uris Theater renamed The Gershwin in honor of both brothers.
Gilbert, William Schwenck
Lyricist, librettist, director, producer
b. Nov. 18, 1836 (London, UK) - d. May 29, 1911 (Grim's Dyke, UK)
Almost every important theatrical lyricist has deferred to Gilbert as the father of their art form, the first to elevate the craft. An unsuccessful attorney, he first won attention writing humorous verses for popular magazines under the nickname "Bab." After building a reputation as a comic playwright, Gilbert collaborated with composer Arthur Sullivan on the flop operetta Thespis (1871). When producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought them back together for the one-act charmer Trial by Jury (1875), London audiences were delighted. This initiated one of the greatest creative partnerships in theatrical history.
Gilbert and Sullivan turned out over a dozen works that they described as "comic operas," but which are clearly recognizable as musicals. Their international hits included H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance(1880), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), Yeoman of the Guard (1888) and The Gondoliers (1889), all of which continue to be performed today. Gilbert's well-crafted lyrics are often hilarious, and his intricate patter songs set a standard few have rivaled. His plots take a "topsy-turvy" view of reality that spoofs everything from governmental stupidity to social pretension, topics that are as relevant now as they were to his fellow Victorians.
Gilbert directed and produced every show with painstaking attention to detail. Demanding the best of everyone involved (including himself), his no-nonsense approach struck fear in the heart of many a performer. Gilbert's contentious personality cost him dearly when it led to a silly quarrel over new lobby carpeting for The Savoy Theatre, shattering his partnership with Sullivan after more than a decade. Of course, the carpet was just an excuse. Each felt his talents had been made subservient those of the other. But time and financial reality healed the rift, and they reunited to write two more not-so-successful shows before Sullivan's death in 1900. Gilbert remained professionally active, writing new plays and musical librettos. Knighted in 1907, he had the rare pleasure of living long enough to see himself acclaimed as what he was a national treasure. Robust to the end, Gilbert died while saving a young woman from drowning in a lake on his estate.
(b. Jacob Gellman)
Actor, singer, comedian
b. July 25, 1908 (New York, NY) - d. June 2, 1990 (NYC)
This beloved comic and onetime vaudevillian first made it to Broadway in revues, including Meet the People (1940), Alive and Kicking (1950), The World of Sholom Aleichem (1953) and Once Over Lightly (1955). Because Gilford and his wife Madeline Lee supported progressive social change, they were blacklisted by Hollywood during the political witch hunts of the 1950s. Jack continued to work on stage and in nightclubs. His gift for physical comedy (including a hilarious visual impersonation of a hot bowl of pea soup) made him the perfect choice to create the mute King Sextimus in Once Upon a Mattress (1959), a role he repeated in two television versions. Gilford originated the role of the nervous Roman slave Hysterium in both the stage and screen versions of Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), co-starring with longtime friend Zero Mostel.
As the beleaguered Herr Shultz in composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb's Cabaret (1966), Gilford introduced "Meeskite" and sang the "Pineapple Song" with Lotte Lenya. He played the flirtatious Bible publisher Jimmy in the long-running revival of No, No, Nanette (1971), and made his final Broadway appearance in a 1983 revival of The World of Sholom Aleichem. He appeared in an extended series of endearing TV commercials for Cracker Jack candied corn. Gilford continued to work in television and feature films into his 70s, including appearances in the sci-fi film Cocoon (1985) and the NBC-TV sitcom Golden Girls.
(b. Stanley Applebaum)
b. Nov. 26, 1933 (Lawrence, MA) - d. Oct. 30, 2007 (Los Angeles, CA)
With striking good looks and a powerful black velvet baritone, Goulet won attention in several Canadian productions before making his Broadway debut in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Arthurian musical Camelot (1960). As Sir Lancelot, he introduced the hit ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You," a song audiences would demand from him for the rest of his career. He made frequent TV appearances, recorded several pop albums, and appeared in several screen comedies. As French Canadian photographer Jacques Bonard in John Kander and Fred Ebb's The Happy Time (1968), Goulet gave the finest performance of his career, earning a Tony for Best Actor. Although the show received the Tony for Best Musical, it closed after only nine months.
Through the 1970s, Goulet starred in several national tours and became a concert regular in Las Vegas. The failure of his marriage to actress Carol Lawrence marked a low point in his career, followed by heavy drinking and increasingly rare public performances. He eventually remarried, sobered-up and enjoyed a professional renaissance, returning to nightclubs and starring in lucrative tours of South Pacific, Man of La Mancha and other classic musicals. Goulet returned to Broadway briefly as King Arthur in a 1993 revival of Camelot critics were harsh, but the production grossed millions during its tour. He made his final Broadway appearance taking over the role of Georges in a Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles (2005). Two years later, he died of pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 73.
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Dec. 18, 1916 (St. Louis, MO) - d. July 3, 1973 (Santa Monica, CA)
Long legs, a curvaceous figure and a bubbly personality made this attractive blond one of the most popular pin-ups of World War II and a major star at 20th Century Fox. After introducing Cole Porter's "Well Did You Evah?," in DuBarry Was a Lady (1939), she was immediately snatched up by Hollywood. Over the next 25 years, Grable appeared in more than 40 screen musicals, beginning with chorus and bit parts. By 1940, she was starring in Down Argentine Way, followed by Springtime in the Rockies (1941), Coney Island (1943), The Dolly Sisters (1945), Mother Wore Tights (1947) and Call Me Mister (1951). She co-starred with every musical star on the Fox lot, sharing several wartime hits with popular song and dance man Dan Dailey.
Grable turned in ingratiating performances in numerous screen comedies. After Three For the Show (1955), she left Hollywood to perform in nightclubs and on television. In 1967, she took over the lead in Broadway's Hello Dolly!, winning rave reviews. She starred in the lavish London flop Belle Starr (1969), and continued touring in nightclubs and regional theaters until cancer ended her life at age 56.
b. June 7, 1924 (Chicago, IL) - d. June 26, 2002 (New York City)
After getting her start on radio, this powerful, statuesque singer made her Broadway debut in Cole Porter's Seven Lively Arts (1944). After appearing in the short-lived Are You With It (1945), she starred as Annie Oakley in the London production of Annie Get Your Gun (1947). Gray returned to New York to co-star with Bert Lahr in Two On the Aisle (1951), where she introduced "If You Hadn't, But You Did." She starred as Cornelia in Carnival in Flanders (1953), introducing "Here's That Rainy Day." Despite the show's brief run she received the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.
MGM cast Gray in It's Always Fair Weather (1955), where she wowed audiences with her rendition of "Thanks Alot, But No Thanks." She played the voluptuous Lalume in the screen version of Kismet (1955), and was the bitchy Sylvia in The Opposite Sex (1956), MGM's musical version of The Women. Gray co-starred with Andy Griffith in the Broadway musical version of Destry Rides Again (1959) -- at one performance, she kept singing while a burning curtain was extinguished in full view of the audience. She worked on television and in nightclubs throughout the 1960s. She played Lorraine Sheldon in the ill-fated Broadway musical Sherry (1967), and replaced Angela Lansbury in the London production of Gypsy (1973). Gray played Dorothy Brock in the US tour of 42nd Street, and eventually took over the role on Broadway. As the unflappable Carlotta Campion, she sang "I'm Still Here" in the London production of Follies (1987). She died of a heart attack at age 78.
b. Feb. 9, 1922 (Winston-Salem, NC) - d. Feb. 17, 2010 (Los Angeles, CA)
A nimble soprano voice, ladylike screen persona and extraordinary beauty made Grayson the natural successor to MGM musical star Jeanette MacDonald. Discovered on Eddie Cantor's radio show, Grayson made her musical screen debut with Abbot and Costello in a remake of Rio Rita (1942). Grayson's dazzling vocals made her the perfect solo specialty, and MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer (who loved to showcase operatic talent in his films) featured her in Thousands Cheer (1943), Anchors Aweigh (1945) and It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). She really came into her own in The Toast of New Orleans (1950), where she introduced "Be My Love" with tenor Mario Lanza.
Grayson's most memorable screen roles were as Magnolia in the color remake of Show Boat (1951) and as Lilli Vanessi in the 3-D Kiss Me Kate (1953), both co-starring virile baritone Howard Keel. She portrayed opera singer Grace Moore in So This is Love (1953), and co-starred with Gordon MacRae in a disappointing remake of The Desert Song (1953), but big screen operetta was already a fading species. After singing beautifully in a heavy-handed remake of The Vagabond King (1956), Grayson retired from the screen. She appeared in nightclubs and starred in the first national tour of Camelot. She performed extensively on tour and in regional theaters, and in the 1980s made several appearances with former MGM colleague Angela Lansbury on the TV series Murder She Wrote. Grayson died in her sleep at age 88.
Lyricist, librettist, screenwriter, actor, singer,
b. Dec. 2, 1915 (New York City) - d. Oct. 23, 2002 (New York City)
Green and partner Betty Comden enjoyed the longest writing collaboration in theatrical history, sharing a career that stretched across seven decades. They got their start as writer/performers in 1930s New York cabaret and network radio, teaming with actress Judy Holliday in a comedy act known as "The Revuers." Comden & Green made their Broadway debut in On The Town (1944), for which they wrote the book and lyrics, with music by composer Leonard Bernstein. It included the hit songs "New York, New York" ("a hell of a town!"), and the soulful "Lonely Town." Comden and Green's witty plots and delicious wordplay led them to the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, where they wrote scripts and lyrics for such classic films as Singin' In The Rain (1952) and The Bandwagon (1953). They returned to Broadway to collaborate with Bernstein on Wonderful Town (1953), winning their first joint Tony for Best Book of a Musical.
Eventually, Comden and Green created the lyrics and/or libretti for more than a dozen Broadway musicals. They teamed with Jule Styne to add key songs to Mary Martin's memorable Peter Pan (1954), including "Never Never Land" and the hilarious "Captain Hook's Waltz." With Styne, they created Bells Are Ringing (1956) for old friend Judy Holliday, giving her the touching "The Party's Over" and the catchy hit "Just in Time." The same trio wrote the modestly successful Do Re Mi (1960), which included the lush "Make Someone Happy." In the 1960s and 70s, Comden and Green toured in several versions of their delightful two-person show. They won Tonys for the book and lyrics of Jule Styne's Hallelujah Baby (1969), the only time Best Musical went to a show that had already closed. Comden and Green received another joint Tony with the libretto for Applause (1970) . Teamed with composer Cy Coleman, they provided Tony-winning book and lyrics for On the Twentieth Century (1978), and Will Rogers Follies (1991) brought the three of them a Tony for Best Score. Comden and Green remained active collaborators, writing together almost daily until Green's death in 2002.
Actor, singer, dancer
b. April 11, 1932 (Cleveland, OH)
Small in stature but blessed with massive talent, Grey has long been a Broadway favorite. The son of comic Mickey Katz, Grey starred in the early TV musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk (1956). He built a solid reputation in nightclubs and The Littlest Revue (1956) before taking over the leads in Broadway's Stop The World - I Want To Get Off (1963) and Half a Sixpence (1965). He rocked Broadway as the original Emcee in John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret (1966), a role which brought him a Tony, an Academy Award, and a permanent place in musical theatre and film history. With a performance that was simultaneously chilling and irresistible, he captured the the character as no one else has. Grey became the third person to win both the Tony and the Oscar for a musical role -- to date only Yul Brynner and Rex Harrison have achieved the same double honor.
Grey triumphed portraying George M. Cohan in George M! (1968) and gave acclaimed performances in two prestigious flops playing King Charles in Goodtime Charley (1975) and Jacobowsky in Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour (1979). He won fresh acclaim starring in a 1987 revival of Cabaret, and garnered fresh praise as the self-effacing Amos in the smash 1997 revival of Chicago. Grey returned to Broadway as the original amoral "Wizard of Oz" in Wicked (2003), and portrayed "Moonface Martin" in a hit revival of Anything Goes (2011). Father of film star Jennifer Grey, in 2015 Joel surprised some fans by announcing his homosexuality.