Who's Who in Musicals: I To K
Irving, George S.
Irving won a Tony as Best Featured Actor in a Musical playing the outrageous fashion designer "Madame Lucy" in the revival of Irene (1974). His brilliant performance as "Mr. Macawber" was not enough to save Copperfield (1981), but he won well-earned raves for his performances as "Sergei" in On Your Toes (1983) and "Sir John" in the NY production of Me And My Girl (1986). Irving was married to the late Maria Karnilova for over fifty years. They appeared as the "King" and "Queen" in NY City Opera's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. At New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse, Irving appeared as "Pickering" in My Fair Lady (2002), "Merlin/Pellinore" in Camelot (2003) and "Mr. Marachek" in She Loves Me (2004). His delightful one man show toured briefly in the summer of 2004, and he once again played "Marlowe" in the York Theatre's Enter Laughing (2010), a revised version of So Long 174th Street).
Janis made her New York debut at age 16 in the New York Theatre roof garden revue When We Were Forty-One (1905). Her Broadway musical appearances included The Vanderbilt Cup (1906), The Fair Co-Ed (1908) and a Cinderella re-do called The Lady of the Slipper (1912). She triumphed in London on several occasions, including two editions of The Passing Show (1915-1916). Ziegfeld featured Janis in The Century Girl (1917). Although one of her biggest hit songs was "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier," she entertained troops during World War I so tirelessly that she became known as "The Sweetheart of the AEF."
After the war, Janis returned to vaudeville and re-conquered Broadway in a revue shamelessly called Elsie Janis and Her Gang (1919). She starred in the national tour of the Gershwin Brothers' hit Oh Kay in the late 1920s. When vaudeville faded, Janis became a story and talent consultant for Paramount Studios. She provided scripts and lyrics for various films, including the early screen musical Madam Satan (1930). Her only known talking film appearance was in Women in War (1939). When she died at age 66, childhood friend Mary Pickford was at her bedside.
He starred in thirteen Broadway musicals, including Robinson Crusoe Jr. (1916), Sinbad (1918), Bombo (1921) and Big Boy (1925), none of which are revivable today. These loosely constructed shows were flexible enough for Jolson to interpolate new songs whenever he felt so inclined. His hits include "Mammy," "Swanee," "Rock-a-bye Your Baby" and "California, Here I Come." By the 1920s, thanks to Jolson's endless touring and numerous best-selling recordings, almost everyone in America knew his name and his voice. In a time before radio, sound film or television, that was an astounding accomplishment.
In 1927, Jolson starred on screen in The Jazz Singer, the landmark feature that made talking film a commercial sensation. He appeared in a dozen more movies, but the camera never did full justice to his bigger-than-life performance style. When his fourth wife Ruby Keeler became a major film star, Jolson's jealous behavior drove her to divorce. Two film bios based loosely on his life (and using his singing voice on the soundtrack) revived his flagging career The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949). He was a popular presence on radio, both as a guest artist and as the star of his own variety series. A dedicated USO performer from World War I onwards, Jolson died of a heart attack shortly after an exhausting tour of US military camps in Korea. For more on this mercurial talent, see Herbert G. Goldman's Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life (Oxford Univ. Press, NY, 1988). You can also find more in our special site feature, Jolson 101.
Kalmar and Ruby's songs were often far more memorable than the films they adorned. Few recall the movie Check and Double Check, but the catchy "Three Little Words" remains a standard. "Only When You're in My Arms" and "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" are classic examples of the smooth blend of words and music that mark Kalmar and Ruby at their best. MGM immortalized the team in the entertaining and highly fictionalized biographical musical Three Little Words (1950).
Kander and Ebb's later scores included The Happy Time (1968), Zorba (1968), 70 Girls 70 (1971), Chicago (1975), Woman of the Year (1980), The Rink (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Steel Pier (1997) and the films Funny Lady (1975) and New York, New York (1977). Kander & Ebb's musicals are notable for their often startling originality, each score having a unique sound and style. Superb musical dramatists, they were masters at writing songs that can stand on their own while being fully integrated into the show they are written for. Liza Minnelli is closely identified with several of their biggest hit songs, including "Cabaret" and "New York, New York".
The film version of Chicago (2002) became the first musical in thirty five years to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Kander & Ebb's four decade collaboration ended with Ebb's death in 2004, but two more of their works eventually reached Broadway -- Curtains (2007) and The Scottsboro Boys (2010).
Karnilova played "Grandmama Inez" in the stage adaptation of Gigi (1973), and was "Mrs. Peterson" in the ill-conceived Bring Back Birdie (1981). She returned to the role of "Golde" in Hershel Bernardi's well-received revival of Fiddler (1981), and made her final stage appearance as "The Queen" in NY City Opera's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Her "King" in that production was her longtime husband, Tony-winning actor George S. Irving.
Kaufman, George S.
After entertaining the troops on both fronts during World War II, Kaye starred in a series of films for producer Sam Goldwyn, including Up In Arms (1944), The Kid From Brooklyn (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Inspector General (1949), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), and The Court Jester (1956). Kaye co-starred with Bing Crosby in White Christmas (1954), and made frequent nightclub and concert appearances in England and the US. Kaye starred in his own popular CBS television variety series in the 1960s, returning to Broadway as the Biblical character "Noah" in the Richard Rodgers -Martin Charnin musical Two By Two (1969). Kaye misbehaved shamelessly throughout the run, even turning a broken leg into an excuse to terrorize his fellow actors with his wheelchair and crutches. In Kaye's later years, he made frequent television appearances and toured the world as a spokesperson for UNICEF.
Keel's most memorable screen role was as "Adam Pontipee" in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), introducing "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," "Sobbin' Women" and sharing "When You're In Love" with co-star Jane Powell. With screen musicals fading, Keel bid the form farewell after playing "Hajj" in Kismet (1955). On Broadway, he co-starred with Carol Lawrence in Harold Arlen's ill-fated Saratoga (1959), and took over the male lead in No Strings in 1963. He starred as "Lewis Lambert Strether" in the musical Ambassador (1971), which is possibly the only musical to flop resoundingly in both London and New York. Keel re-teamed with Jane Powell in 1977 for a record-setting US tour of South Pacific. In 1981, he joined the cast of TV's popular drama series Dallas, and played the role of "Clayton Farlow" for the next ten years. Keel continued to appear in concerts until shortly before his death due to colon cancer at age 85.
Keeler came into her own when film mogul Darryl F. Zanuck cast her in the landmark Warner Brothers musical 42nd Street (1933). As chorine-turned-star Peggy Sawyer, she introduced the hit title tune and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo." Director Busby Berkeley starred her (frequently with handsome tenor Dick Powell) in a quick series of big screen hits, including Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade (1933), Dames (1934), and Flirtation Walk (1934). The public loved Keeler unlike more technically gifted stars, she was just a normal person, "one of us." When Jolson realized his wife's stardom was eclipsing his own, he pushed for a joint project, but Go Into Your Dance (1935) only affirmed his professional decline and her continuing popularity.
After dancing on a giant typewriter with Lee Dixon in Ready, Willing, and Able (1937), Keeler tired of both Jolson and Hollywood. She divorced Jolson, married a wealthy stock broker and made no more screen appearances after Sweetheart of the Campus (1941). She spent thirty contented years in private life before returning to Broadway as tap dancing housewife "Sue Smith" in an acclaimed revival of No, No, Nanette (1971), supervised (officially, at least) by an aging Busby Berkeley. Nostalgic audiences roared for Keeler, delighted to find her old "gee I hope you like me" screen persona intact. She spent her later years enjoying numerous tributes, always seeming a bit surprised by the lasting interest and affection she inspired. She died of cancer at age 83.
Keith, Benjamin Franklin
Although Albee had the tougher reputation, Keith was equally ruthless. Keith's no-nonsense wife Mary traveled the circuit enforcing strict decency standards for all acts. Anyone she or Keith's local managers found offensive became unemployable in any Keith house nationwide. Keith often carried a hammer in his belt, and would delight in making minor repairs around his theaters. He was happy to leave management of the circuit to Albee, and withdrew altogether from involvement in the chain after 1909. Keith died five years later at age 68. After his son Andrew died in 1918, full control of the circuit fell to Albee, whose relentless greed helped to choke vaudeville to death.
MGM producer Arthur Freed brought Kelly out to Hollywood, where Donen was already seeking work. Together, Kelly and Donen collaborated in varying capacities on some of the finest musical films ever made. Kelly's film debut in For Me and My Gal (1942) costarring with Judy Garland brought Kelly immediate popularity. Loaned out to Columbia to choreograph and co-star with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944), Kelly danced with himself in a brilliant "shop window" sequence conceived by Donen. Kelly won so much acclaim that MGM refused to loan him out for any more musicals. He interrupted his career to serve in the Navy during World War II, and directed several Defense Department films before returning to Hollywood. Kelly co-starred with pop singer Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949). He re-teamed with Garland in The Pirate (1948) and Summer Stock (1950) -- the latter featuring Kelly's brilliant dance using a sheet of newsprint as a rhythmic prop.
Kelly's screen version of On the Town (1949) was such a success that Freed encouraged him to develop two of the greatest film musicals of all time. First came the Academy Award winning An American In Paris (1951), in which he played ex-GI/artist Jerry Mulligan, and staged the most ambitious and visually ravishing ballet Hollywood ever mounted. Then came the joyous Hollywood spoof Singin' in the Rain (1952), in which Kelly played silent movie star Don Lockwood, sharing the direction and choreography with Donen. Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds sang and danced their way through "Good Mornin'," and Kelly's rain soaked, blissful rendition of the title tune became one of the most familiar images in popular Western culture. As the studio system fell apart in the 50s, Kelly's musicals proved progressively less successful, ranging from the passable screen version of Brigadoon (1954) to the uneven It's Always Fair Weather (1955) to the ambitious but commercially disastrous Invitation to the Dance (1956). Audience tastes were drifting away from musicals. By the time Kelly starred as a nightclub singer in the charming Les Girls (1957), rave reviews were not enough to make the film a hit.
A versatile comic and dramatic actor, Kelly's many non-musical roles include the tragic war prisoner Victor in The Cross of Lorraine (1944), the dashing D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1948) and the wise-cracking reporter Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind (1960). He also played Father O'Malley in a short-lived TV series based on the film Going My Way. Kelly played egotistical film star Pinky Benson in the Shirley MacLaine vehicle What a Way to Go (1964), and he was Andy Miller in the disappointing Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). His frequent television appearances include an acclaimed musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk (1966), as well as frequent TV specials. Kelly directed the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song (1954) and the lavish big screen version of Hello Dolly! (1969). After appearing in That's Entertainment (1974) and teaming with Fred Astaire for That's Entertainment II (1976), his final screen role was in the otherwise incoherent Xanadu (1980). In his final years, Kelly was delighted by the resurgent interest in classic musical film. He made his last public appearance when the Three Tenors paid musical tribute to him in Los Angeles. He died of a stoke soon afterward at age 83.
Kern continued to turn out musical comedy hits through the next decade, including the Marilyn Miller vehicles Sally (1920) with "Look for the Silver Lining" and Sunny (1925). These two shows enjoyed similar success in Britain, making Kern the first American composer to see his shows win acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Collaborating with lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, he composed the epic Show Boat (1927), a dazzling score which included "Make Believe," "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man." Hammerstein also provided lyrics for Kern's Sweet Adeline (1929), Music in The Air (1932) with "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star," and Very Warm for May (1939) which included "All The Things You Are," a soaring ballad that experts as varied as Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim have called a model of musical composition.
Kern's best music has a timeless appeal. He collaborated with lyricist Otto Harbach on The Cat and the Fiddle (1931) and Roberta (1933) the latter including the rapturous "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Kern's film scores include Swing Time (1936), High, Wide and Handsome (1937), Cover Girl (1944) and Centennial Summer (1946). He was working on the score for what would become Annie Get Your Gun when a stroke felled him on the streets of New York at age 60. Days later, Hammerstein quietly sang "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star" into Kern's ear, and knew by the lack of response that one of America's greatest composers was gone. But as The New York Times put it in their editorial headline, "His Music Will Not Die."
Kidd's made his big screen debut as ex-GI Angie Valentine in It's Always Fair Weather (1954), co-starring with Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey. He later played a choreographer in the film Smile (1975), and appeared in the PBS TV musical Actor (1978). His later work as a Broadway director/choreographer included Skyscraper (1965), The Rothschilds (1970), and short-lived productions of Good News (1974), Cyrano (1973) and The Music Man (1980). Kidd took over the direction of the musical version of The Goodbye Girl (1993), worked on several music videos, and staged a brief campfire dance for longtime friend Julie Andrews in a live television production of On Golden Pond (2001). At the time of Kidd's death due to cancer in 2007, his family confirmed that his birth date -- long announced as 1919 -- was actually 1915.
Kiley's only major musical film appearance was as The Aviator in Lerner and Loewe's The Little Prince (1974), where he introduced "I Never Met a Rose." He made frequent non-musical appearances on stage and television, and his mellifluous voice made him a popular narrator of TV documentaries. His and co-star Leslie Uggams recreated their original roles for the delightful 1993 recording of their 1968 Broadway flop, Her First Roman. Although Kiley was over 70, his golden baritone soared with enviable ease as he gave yet another witty and sensitive performance. It was his last musical project before the long battle with cancer that marked his final years.
King starred as "Francois Villion" in The Vagabond King (1925), stopping the show nightly introducing Friml's stirring "Song of the Vagabonds" (". . . and to hell with Burgundy!"). As "D'artagnan" in The Three Musketeers (1928), King introduced "Only a Rose" he repeated the role two years later in London. Florenz Ziegfeld cast him as "Gaylord Ravenal" in the first revival of Show Boat (1932). Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart selected King to play "Count Palafi" in I Married An Angel (1938), where he introduced the title ballad.
King's last musical stage role was the idealistic diplomat "Hugh Conway" in Shangri-la (1956), Harry Warren's unsuccessful adaptation of the film classic Lost Horizon. That same season, King saw his son Michael originate the role of "Freddy Eynsford-Hill" in the mega hit My Fair Lady. After appearing as "Emperor Chang" in Cole Porter's TV musical Aladdin (1958), King continued to appear in numerous non-musical roles. His last Broadway role was "Baron Von Epp" in John Osborne's drama A Patriot for Me (1969). He died three years later at age 73.
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