Who's Who in Musicals: M to Mi
by John Kenrick
b. June 18, 1901 (Philadelphia, PA) - d. Jan. 14, 1965 (Houston, TX)
Hollywood's most beloved soprano enjoyed early success as a tap dancing Broadway ing'nue in The Night Boat (1920), Tip-Toes (1925) and Yes, Yes, Yvette (1927). The rise of sound film had the studios clamoring for her talents. MacDonald's striking looks and unaffected screen presence made her an immediate favorite. She co-starred with French entertainer Maurice Chevalier in several early musical screen hits, playing "Queen Louise" in The Love Parade (1929), "Princess Jaanette" in Love Me Tonight (1932) and "Madame Sonia" in The Merry Widow (1934). She introduced "Beyond the Blue Horizon" in Monte Carlo (1930).
MGM took a risk and teamed unknown baritone Nelson Eddy with MacDonald in Naughty Marietta (1935). Their rendition of "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" proved such a sensation that the studio reunited the duo for eight highly popular screen musicals. Rose Marie (1936) and its "Indian Love Call" provided the now classic image of Eddy as a Canadian Mountie wooing a willing Jeanette. While both Eddy and MacDonald had their musical and dramatic shortcomings, their charming chemistry delighted audiences, making grand operatic-sized emotions surprisingly believable. Their string of hits included Maytime (1936), Sweethearts (1938) and The New Moon (1940). For all their on-screen passion, the two stars were no more than friends in real life they socialized occasionally, and each sang at the other's wedding. Suggestions that they had an off-screen affair have been dismissed by all responsible sources.
MacDonald's other films include San Francisco (1936) with its hit title tune, The Firefly (1937) and Three Darling Daughters (1948). When the studio system faded, she made frequent concert appearances and toured successfully in Bitter Sweet, and starred in a regional production of The King & I. Offstage, MacDonald enjoyed a long and happy marriage to actor Gene Raymond. Plagued by coronary illness in her final years, she died of a heart attack at age 63. For more, see Edward Barton Turk's Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald (Univ. of California Press, Berkley: 1998).
b. Oct. 17, 1946 (Enfield, England)
Before he could afford an office, Mackintosh had his mother answer their home phone as "Macintosh Productions" to impress potential backers. After producing an unsuccessful West End revival of Anything Goes (1969), he had several minor successes before scoring an international hit with Side By Side By Sondheim (1976). Successful London revivals of My Fair Lady and Oklahoma came before Mackintosh and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber co-produced the mega-hit Cats (1981). This marked the beginning of a decade-long streak of highly profitable hits for Mackintosh, including Lloyd Weber's Song and Dance (1982) and Phantom of the Opera (1986), as well as Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil's Les Miserables (1985) and Miss Saigon (1989). Producing these shows in both London and New York, Mackintosh became the wealthiest and most powerful independent theatrical producer of the late 20th Century.
During the next decade, Mackintosh produced a musical version of Martin Guerre, a disappointing West End production of Sondheim's Follies (1989), and an overblown London revival of Oliver. His single-minded methods have won him a fair share of enemies on both side of the Atlantic, and led to several highly publicized disputes with Actor's Equity in the USA. His hit London revival of Oklahoma (1999) did not come to New York immediately because Makcintosh's claimed that his team did not have the time required to teach Americans how to do the show properly. It finally reached New York in 2002, receiving mixed reviews. His London revival of My Fair Lady (2001) won general acclaim. Despite announcing his "retirement" from producing new musicals, Mackintosh is currently collaborating with the Disney Corporation on the West End and Broadway stage adaptations of Mary Poppins (2004), and produced a 25th anniversary revised US tour of Les Miserables in 2010.
b. Mar. 12, 1921 (East Orange, NJ) - d. Jan. 24, 1986 (Lincoln, Nebraska)
A child actor and big band singer, MacRae interrupted his career to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He returned to make his Broadway debut in Three to Make Ready (1946). A popular recording artist, he starred on radio's Railroad Hour, a weekly series of abbreviated musicals. He won leading roles in a series of successful Hollywood musicals. Look for the Silver Lining (1949) and Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950) were followed by four hits co-starring Doris Day Tea For Two, West Point Story (both 1950), Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953).
MacRae's virile presence and soaring baritone made him a natural leading man. After appearing with Kathryn Grayson in a remake of The Desert Song (1953) and with Jane Powell in Three Sailors and a Girl (1953), MacRae co-starred with Shirley Jones in the popular screen versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma (1955) and Carousel (1956). MacRae's career peaked just as Hollywood abandoned big screen musicals. The Best Things in Life are Free (1956) was his last musical film. He continued to perform in nightclubs, and replaced Robert Preston in the Broadway production of I Do, I Do. After winning a long battle with alcoholism, Gordon succumbed to cancer in 1986. MacRae's wife Sheila and daughter Meredith enjoyed success acting on television, and his youngest daughter Heather has performed extensively in cabaret.
Maltby, Richard Jr.
Lyricist, librettist, director
b. October 6, 1937
As a student at Yale, he began writing a series of musicals with composer David Shire. Though most of these shows did not get far, the best songs from them provided the scores for two successful Off-Broadway revues Starting Here Starting Now (1977) and Closer Than Ever (1989). Maltby and Shire did reach Broadway with the innovative Baby (1983) and the disappointing Big (1996). On his own, Maltby won a Tony for conceiving and directing the Fats Waller revue Ain't Misbehavin' (1978). He contributed lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance (1985), Schonberg and Boubil's Miss Saigon (1989) and Charles Strouse's Nick and Nora (1991). He directed the long-running Off-Broadway review Our Sinatra (1998), co-developed the Tony-winning dance retrospective Fosse (1999) and helmed the short-lived Johnny Cash musical Ring of Fire (2006). Maltby provided book and lyrics for the costly failure Pirate Queen (2007), and directed the poorly received Story of My Life (2009).
b. Oct. 8, 1889 (Tiflis, Russia) - d. Dec. 4, 1987 (Woodland Hills, CA)
On stage and screen, this innovative director helped to shape some of the most important musicals of the 20th Century. His acclaimed stage work with the Theatre Guild brought Mamoulian to Hollywood, where his early sound films included the musicals Applause (1929) and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Love Me Tonight (1932). Although artistically daring, both films were commercial failures. Mamoulian had greater success with such non-musicals as Queen Christina (1933) and Becky Sharp (1935). He proved his extraordinary range directing the musical High, Wide, and Handsome (1937), the boxing drama Golden Boy (1939) and the classic Tyrone Power swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1940).
The Theatre Guild brought Mamoulian back to Broadway to direct three landmark musicals Porgy and Bess (1935), Oklahoma (1943) and Carousel (1945). He claimed so much credit for the success of these works that the Gershwins and Rodgers & Hammerstein were offended. Mamoulian also directed the innovative Broadway productions of St. Louis Woman (1946) and Lost in the Stars (1949). Rather than impose a personal style on these works, Mamoulian tried to bring out the unique qualities of each project, often with remarkable success. His final films were two MGM musicals, Summer Holiday (1948) and the screen version of Silk Stockings (1957). He was set to direct the film version of Porgy and Bess in 1958, but was replaced by Otto Preminger. Despite Mamoulian's brilliant successes, a reputation for temperamental behavior circumscribed his career. Forgotten in his final years, this once great director died of malnutrition in a broken down mansion he shared with an alcoholic wife and more than 40 cats.
Martin, Mary Virginia
b. Dec. 1, 1913 (Weatherford, TX) - d. Nov. 3, 1990 (Rancho Mirage, CA)
The daughter of a lawyer and an amateur violinist, this talented Texas native made her debut in local variety shows. A diminutive (five foot four) but shapely beauty with a powerful soprano voice, Martin reached Broadway in Leave It to Me (1938) stopping the show with Cole Porter's witty "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Her radiant stage presence and meticulous diction made her a favorite with songwriters, critics and audiences, and she remained a top musical stage and television star for the next thirty years. After starring in One Touch of Venus (1943) and Lute Song (1946), she made her London debut in Noel Coward's ill-fated Pacific 1860 (1946).
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II cast Martin as Annie Oakley in the national tour of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1947). Her triumphant performance brought Martin a special Tony Award for "spreading theatre to the country," and led to her being cast as the original Nellie Forbush in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific (1949). In that long-running hit, Martin introduced "Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy." Her onstage chemistry with baritone Ezio Pinza made theatrical history. Martin received a Tony for Best Actress in a musical, and repeated her success in the 1951 London production.
Martin became a frequent presence on network television while the medium was still in its infancy. Her 1953 duet with longtime friend Ethel Merman drew record ratings and became a best-selling recording. She brought her Tony-winning Broadway performance as Peter Pan to NBC in 1954. Although this show involved director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, composer Jule Styne, lyricists Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and co-starred Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, it is still thought of as Martin's triumph. She introduced "Neverland," set hearts soaring when she sang and flew to glory in "I'm Flyin!," and got legions of children and adults to prove that they believed in fairies by applauding with all their might. (She repeated the role for television three times the full color 1960 telecast was re-run through the 1970s and is still a favorite on home video.) Martin co-starred with Noel Coward in a unique two-person musical special, Together With Music (CBS, 1955).
Martin originated the role of Maria Von Trapp in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1959), introducing "Do, Re, Mi," "My Favorite Things," and the lyrical title tune and receiving her third Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. After starring in the ill-fated Jennie (1963), Martin starred in the London production of Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly! (1965) which she took on tour to Japan and to war weary American troops in Vietnam. She returned to Broadway to originate the role of Agnes in I Do! I Do! (1966), co-starring with Robert Preston. Over the years, Martin had turned down lead roles in Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl and Mame -- a list that rivals her numerous hits.
In her later years, Martin hosted a PBS talk show for seniors, reunited with Merman for an acclaimed benefit concert, toured with Carol Channing in the comedy Legends, and made her final Broadway appearance with Sir Anthony Quayle in the short-lived comedy Do You Turn Somersaults? In retirement, she received the Kennedy Center Honors, and saw her son Larry Hagman (who made his Broadway debut as a replacement sailor in South Pacific) achieve stardom on television. After a year-long battle with cancer, she died in Eisenhower Memorial Hospital at age 76.
Dancer, singer, actress
b. November, 1940 (Pontiac, MI)
This dynamic and popular performer made her Broadway debut when director/choreographer Bob Fosse selected her for the ensemble of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). After touring as Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, she became one of the go-go dancers on the TV music series Hullabaloo where she first worked with dancer/choreographer Michael Bennett. McKechnie played Kathy McKenna in the ill-fated musical The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1968) before Bennett cast her in composer Burt Bacharach's hit Promises, Promises (1968), where she danced in the comical showstopper "Turkey Lurkey Time." Bennett gave McKechnie the featured role of Kathy in Stephen Sondheim's Company (1970), including the memorable "Tick Tock" dance solo. She played Ivy in the unsuccessful 1971 revival of On The Town, and was the jealous Rose in the musical screen version of The Little Prince (1974).
McKechnie worked with Michael Bennett on a series of workshops that resulted in the landmark Broadway musical A Chorus Line (1975). Her performance as the semi-autobiographical character Cassie, and her breathtaking interpretation of "The Music and the Mirror" brought McKechnie the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. She married Bennett in 1976, but they divorced within a year. After a battle with crippling arthritis, McKechnie resumed performing in the mid-1980s by appearing in A Chorus Line and a national tour of Fosse's Sweet Charity, among other shows. She appeared off-Broadway in the revue Cut the Ribbons and as the swindling Mrs. Kelly in Annie Warbucks. Her performance as nightclub singer Emily Arden in the Broadway version of State Fair (1996) brought McKechnie the Fred Astaire Award for Best Female Dancer. She played Phyllis in the 1997 Drury Lane concert version of Sondheim's Follies, and played Sally in the 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production. In recent years, she has toured extensively in her one woman show, Inside the Music.
b. July 22, 1949 (New Rochelle, NY)
Teamed with lyricist Howard Ashman, this composer's gift for melodies that range from giddy celebration to soaring pop romance revitalized the animated musical in the late 20th Century. After writing an unsuccessful stage version of Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater (1979), Ashman & Menken created the sci-fi musical hit Little Shop of Horrors (1982). Thanks to a long run, several tours and countless productions worldwide, it became the highest grossing Off-Broadway musical up to that time. The delightful 1986 screen version brought the team their first Oscar nomination (for the bloodthirsty song "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space"). After Ashman developed several screen projects for the Disney studios, he re-teamed with Menken for the animated hit The Little Mermaid (1989) which brought Ashman & Menken a shelf's worth of Oscars (including Best Song for "Under the Sea") and Grammys. They surpassed this with the wildly successful Beauty and the Beast (1991), the only animated film ever nominated for Best Picture. The score and title tune received Oscars.
Ashman died of AIDS before the film was released, ending one of the most promising partnerships in musical history. Menken continued to work for Disney, teaming with lyricist Jack Feldman for the disappointing live action musical Newsies (1992). Ashman had written lyrics for an animated version of Aladdin (1993), which Menken completed with lyricist Tim Rice. The acclaimed score won a slew of Grammys and Oscars, including Best Song for the chart-topping "A Whole New World." In 1994, Rice assisted Menken in adapting Beauty and the Beast for the stage, and the long-running Broadway production established Disney as a powerhouse presence on Broadway. A Menken-Rice musical based on the life of King David did not go beyond a brief concert run.
Menken teamed with songwriter Stephen Schwartz to score Disney's animated hit Pocohontas (1995), winning Oscars for both the score and the ballad "Colors of the Wind." Menken composed the scores for several non-musical films, including Rocky V and Home Alone 2. His return to Off-Broadway with Weird Science (1992) failed to ignite much interest, but his lavish version of A Christmas Carol (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) was successfully revived at Madison Square Garden annually from 1994 to 2004. Menken & Schwartz turned out a superb score for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and Menken paired with David Zippel for Hercules (1997). Though highly entertaining, these films were not as commercially successful as Menken's earlier efforts, and the Disney corporation has since abandoned quality animated musicals in favor of action-oriented cartoons peppered with occasional pop tunes. His recent projects have included the film scores for Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010).
Menken wrote the score for the stage version of Sister Act, which played London in 2008 and reached Broadway in 2011. (received a Best Score Tony for the Broadway adaptation of Newsies (2012), and has been actively involved in the stage adaptations of The Little Mermaid (2008) and Aladdin (2014)
(b. Ethel Agnes Zimmerman)
b. Jan. 16, 1908 (Astoria, NY) - d. Feb. 15, 1984 (New York City)
The gutsy, belting "First Lady of Musical Comedy" was a stenographer before she launched a career singing in nightclubs and vaudeville. Her Broadway debut singing "I Got Rhythm" in Girl Crazy (1930) was a sensation, leading to fourteen of the most memorable starring roles in musical theatre history. Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Call Me Madam (1950) and Gypsy (1959) were among her best. For a detailed biography, please click here.
(b. David Margulois)
b. Nov. 27, 1911 (St. Louis, Mo.) - d. April 2000 (London, UK)
Merrick was an attorney when he co-produced Fanny (1954), the first of nearly 100 Broadway productions. Merrick's musicals included Jamaica (1957), Carnival (1960), Stop the World I Want to Get Off (1962), The Happy Time (1968) and Mack and Mabel (1974). His biggest hits were Gypsy (1959), Oliver (1963), Hello Dolly (1964), Promises Promises (1968) and 42nd Street (1980).
The most controversial Broadway producer of the late 20th century, Merrick's outrageous publicity schemes and ruthless treatment of cast and creative staff earned him the title of "The Abominable Showman." A series of debilitating strokes that began in 1983 gradually left Merrick unable to speak or walk, but this did not keep him from producing an ill-fated revival of Oh Kay (1990). He then surprised many by forcibly taking over the Broadway production of State Fair (1996), a move that did not prevent the show's commercial failure. His office officially announced his retirement barely a year before his death at age 88.
(b. Henry Lavan)
b. May 17, 1921 (Atlantic City, NJ) - d. Feb. 17, 1998 (Beverly Hills, CA)
Merrill worked as a nightclub comic, created troop shows during World War II, and served as a writer for NBC and Columbia Pictures before his first efforts at songwriting. He penned several popular hits in the early 1950s, including "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake" and "How Much is That Doggie in the Window." When MGM rejected his musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, Merrill teamed with director George Abbott and turned it into the Broadway hit A New Girl in Town (1957). Merrill then adapted O'Neill's Ah Wilderness into Take Me Along (1959), a modest success best remembered for its catchy title tune. Merrill's melodies had warmth and charm, and his lyrics expressed emotion in fresh, simple terms. A perfect example "Love Makes the World Go Round," the main theme of Carnival (1961). He also unofficially contributed "Elegance" to the score of Hello Dolly (1964).
As a lyricist, Merrill teamed with composer Jule Styne to create the score for Funny Girl (1964), in which newcomer Barbra Streisand introduced "Don't Rain On My Parade" and "People." They collaborated on the TV musicals Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood starring Liza Minnelli. Styne & Merrill also provided scores for the Boston flop Prettybelle (1971) starring Angela Lansbury, and the modestly successful Sugar (1972) starring Robert Morse. Merrill's later solo musicals were plagued by failure. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966) closed in previews, the charming Henry Sweet Henry (1967) lasted less than three months, Prince of Grand Street (1978) closed on the road, and Hannah . . . 1939 (1990) never went beyond a brief off-Broadway run. Suffering from a painful progressive illness and depression, Merrill took his own life at age 76.
b. March 19, 1901 (Paris, France) - d. March 15, 1976 (NYC)
Initially a stage manager for the Theatre Guild, Mielziner became one of Broadway's pre-eminent set designers, working on more than 35 musicals and numerous dramas. He adapted to the needs of each work, making inventive use of everything from classic painted flats to high tech effects. Mielziner's most memorable shows include Of Thee I Sing (1931), On Your Toes (1936), Carousel (1945), Finian's Rainbow (1947), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), The Most Happy Fella (1956), and 1776 (1969). He was working on The Baker's Wife (1976) at the time of his death.
(b. Lucille Ann Collier)
Actress, dancer, singer
b. April 12, 1919 (Houston, TX) - Jan. 22, 2004 (Los Angeles, CA)
(Note: Some sources quote an earlier birth date in the city of
Chireno. Miller eventually admitted that her birth records were faked so she
could work in Hollywood while still underage.)
With a record-setting 500 dance taps per minute, a socko belt voice and some massive hairdos, this ebullient performer remained an audience favorite throughout her 70+ year career. As a teenager, she danced in California nightclubs to augment her divorced mother's meager income. Miller was all of 16 when she received her first Hollywood studio contract. Minor roles in various RKO films led to a featured role in the Columbia screen version of You Can't Take It With You (1938). RKO then featured Miller in a series of musicals, including the screen version of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Too Many Girls (1940). She also starred in several popular low-budget wartime tuners, including Reville With Beverly (1943) and Eadie Was a Lady (1945). The material in these films was unremarkable, but Miller's dancing and wholesome, upbeat screen persona made her a favorite with servicemen overseas as well as civilian audiences back home.
Miller moved to MGM in the late 1940s, impressing critics and fans as Fred Astaire's former dancing partner "Nadine" in Easter Parade (1948), and as the pseudo-intellectual "Claire" in On the Town (1948). Although primarily a dancer, she proved a capable comic actress in Two Tickets to Broadway (1951) and Lovely to Look At (1952). Her most memorable film role was as "Lois" in Kiss Me Kate (1953), where her renditions of "Too Darn Hot," "Tom, Harry or Dick" and "From This Moment On" (with light-footed co-star Tommy Rall) were highlights. Sadly, Miller's popularity peaked just as original screen musicals faded. She made her final big screen appearances in Hit the Deck (1955) and in a musical version of The Women called The Opposite Sex (1956).
Nightclubs and national tours kept the energetic Miller busy. She took over the lead in Broadway's Mame in 1969 and brought the show back to capacity attendance. She spent the early 1970s touring in classic musical comedies such as Anything Goes, and showcased her still-amazing tap dancing (and her trademark bouffant hairdo) in a deliciously campy TV commercial for Great American Soups. Many were skeptical when Miller joined fellow MGM alumni Mickey Rooney for a Broadway revue based on the glory days of burlesque, but Sugar Babies (1979) became a surprise hit. Miller's singing finally got as much praise as her tapping, and a three year New York run led to an extended national tour, as well as a 1988 London production.
Miller's marriages to Bill Moss, Reese Milner and Arthur Cameron all ended in divorce. She also dated MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, but refused his proposal shortly before marrying Milner. In later years, she told interviewers that she preferred being alone to facing another unsatisfying romantic partnership. Miller's dancing career ended when after years of high-speed tapping damaged her feet. She made a triumphant appearance as "Carlotta" in the acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Sondheim's Follies (1998), where her soaring rendition of "I'm Still Here" left audiences cheering without a tap shoe in sight. She died after an extended bout with lung cancer.
Actress, dancer, singer
b. Sept. 1, 1898 (Evansville, Indiana) - d. April 7, 1936 (New York)
Her Broadway career amounted to just a dozen Broadway shows, but Marilyn Miller became one of the most beloved stage stars of her time. She started touring in her family's vaudeville act at age six, so she was a seasoned (and sharp-tongued) show biz veteran when she arrived on Broadway at age sixteen. Dancing daintily in toe shoes or tapping up a storm, she won hearts in Shubert revues and several editions of producer Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies. Although a weak singer and no great shakes as an actress, her dancing enthralled audiences. She is best remembered for starring in the title roles of a three 1920s hits: Sally (1920), Sunny (1925) and Rosalie (1928), introducing such classic songs as Jerome Kern's "Look For The Silver Lining" and "Who."
In reality, Miller bore little resemblance to the lighthearted characters she played on stage. Temperamental and blessed with a truck driver's vocabulary, she supposedly had to fight off the amorous attentions of producer Florenz Ziegfeld -- although some sources suggest she pursued him. Miller married Follies vocalist Frank Carter in 1920, at least in part to incite Ziegfeld's rage. On the night Carter died in a 1921 car crash, Miller still performed, giving the audience no clue of her grief. Two years later, she again irked Ziegfeld by marrying Mary Pickford's chemically dependent brother Jack. After both indulged in a series of rather public extramarital affairs, they divorced in 1927.
On screen, Miller appeared in early sound versions of Sally (1929) and Sunny (1930), as well Her Majesty Love (1932). Although technologically primitive, surviving prints give us some sense of her charm, as well as her limited vocal and acting ability. Miller was acclaimed as a first-rate comedienne when she returned to Broadway in the Irving Berlin-Moss Hart revue As Thousands Cheer (1933). During the run, she married chorus dancer Chester O'Brien. Increasingly heavy drinking and a series of crippling sinus and jaw infections forced her to stop performing. Months of costly but wildly inept medical care led to Miller's death at age 37. She is buried with first husband Frank Carter in New York's Woodlawn Cemetery.
Actress, singer, dancer
b. March 12, 1946 (Los Angeles, CA)
The child of director Vincente Minnelli and performer Judy Garland, Liza's powerhouse talents made her a star in her own right. After several concert and TV appearances with her mother, she made her New York debut as "Ethel Hofflinger" in an off-Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward (1963). Her long relationship with composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb began when she was cast in the title role of Flora, The Red Menace (1965), in which she introduced the enchanting "It's a Quiet Thing," winning her first Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. That same year, she co-starred with Cyril Ritchard in the ABC-TV musical The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood.
Liza achieved full-fledged stardom when Bob Fosse cast her as "Sally Bowles" in the screen version of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (1972) a performance that garnered the Academy Award for Best Actress. That same year, Minnelli teamed with Fosse for the TV concert Liza With a Z. (The Kander-Ebb title tune provided a witty solution to people mispronouncing Liza's name.) When illness forced Gwen Verdon to temporarily leave the cast of Kander and Ebb's Chicago (1975), Liza caused a sensation by stepping into the part of Roxie for several weeks. She worked with her father on the disappointing film A Matter of Time (1976), and starred as singer "Francine Evans" in Martin Scorcese's ambitious musical New York, New York (1977). The film was poorly received, but Kander and Ebb's title tune became one of Liza's trademarks.
Minnelli won her second Tony for Best Actress in a Musical playing "Michelle Craig" in Kander and Ebb's The Act (1978), and then wowed audiences with a series of concert tours. However, an increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs took a toll, and she was not at her best when she co-starred with Chita Rivera in Kander and Ebb's The Rink (1984). Minnelli made the first of many attempts at treatment, initiating an ongoing yo-yo pattern of descent and recovery. Acclaimed concert runs at Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium echoed her mother's triumphs decades before. Some fans cheered when Liza took over the title role in Broadway's Victor/Victoria (1997). Health problems and weight fluctuations plagued her in the years that followed. By the time she played Broadway's Palace in Minnelli on Minnelli (2000), she looked and sounded like a Liza impersonator. In 2002, Liza was svelte and radiant for her fourth wedding (to a concert promoter & collector of Judy Garland memorabilia). Her subsequent concert tours and bitter divorce were major disappointments to all but her most rabid fans. She returned to Broadway in Liza's at the Palace (2009), which won a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.
(b. Lester Anthony Minnelli)
b. Feb. 28, 1913 (Chicago, IL) - d. July 25, 1986 (Los Angeles, CA)
Minnelli toured the Midwest with his family's theatrical troupe before leaving to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He made his New York debut providing costume designs for Earl Carroll's 1932 Vanities, and was art director at Radio City Music Hall from 1933 to 1935 -- designing literally hundreds of distinctive sets & costumes. He directed and designed such Broadway shows as the Bea Lillie vehicle At Home Abroad (1935) and Jerome Kern's Very Warm For May (1939) before film producer Arthur Freed brought him out to MGM.
Minnelli honed his cinematic talents by contributing designs and directing scenes for various films, making his official directorial debut with the impressive screen version of Cabin in the Sky (1943). His Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) was a gorgeous bit of Americana and one of Judy Garland's biggest hits. Although many sources indicate that Minnelli was at least bisexual, he married Garland. Their daughter Liza Minnelli was born in 1946, and the often troubled marriage ended five years later. He would marry three more times
Minnelli directed eleven more musicals for MGM, including three all-time classics the Academy Award winning An American in Paris (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), and the Academy Award winning Gigi (1958). His films exhibited a stunning overall sense of visual style, marked by an extraordinary use of color and sweeping crane shots. Along with many non-musicals, his later films include On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) starring Barbra Streisand, and the muddled A Matter of Time (1976), starring his daughter Liza. A lifelong heavy smoker, he spent his final years plagued by emphysema and bouts of pneumonia, as well as the effects of Alzheimer's disease, and died at age 83.
(b. Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha)
Singer, dancer, actress
b. Feb. 9. 1909 (Marco de Canavezes, Portugal) - d. Aug. 5, 1955 (Hollywood, CA)
This energetic performer was winning notoriety in South American night clubs when producer Lee Shubert cast her in the Broadway revue The Streets of Paris (1939). She enchanted audiences with her hip-swaying, heavily accented rendition of "South American Way" a song she repeated in the film Down Argentine Way (1940). Miranda's ebullient personality dazzled on the big screen, making her an immediate favorite with audiences nationwide.
After appearing in Olsen and Johnson's zany Broadway revue Sons O' Fun (1941), Miranda was featured in more than a dozen lavish musical films. Fans enjoyed her outrageous accent and equally outrageous costumes, including an eye-filling array of fruit-laden headdresses. Her most memorable musicals included Springtime in the Rockies (1942), The Gang's All Here (1943), Greenwich Village (1944), Copacabana (1947) and A Date With Judy (1948). Miranda's hit songs included "Cuanto Le Gusta", "Chica Boom Chic" and "The Lady With the Tutti Frutti Hat." When the number of musical films declined in the 1950s, Miranda continued performing on television and in nightclubs. She suffered a heart attack while performing on Jimmy Durante's NBC variety show, but completed the broadcast and died after suffering a second heart attack at home that evening. She was 46 years old. The Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning, and Miranda's funeral in Rio de Janeiro was attended by more than half a million people.
Stage director, choreographer
b. 1854 (location unknown) - d. June 24, 1926 (Long Branch, NJ)
The first important director of Broadway musicals got his start as a call boy at Niblo's Garden, where he soon graduated to dancing in the chorus of an early revival of The Black Crook. The gradual loss of his hearing forced him to give up performing, but did not deter him from becoming a top stage director and choreographer then called "dance director." Mitchell sat on a piano to feel the rhythm of a song, or removed his shoes to sense the rhythm of dancers on stage. (Theatre veterans used to tell an unkind -- and probably apocryphal -- story of a set crashing backstage during a dance rehearsal, prompting Mitchell to shout, "Which one of you girls is off the beat?")
Since his specialty was movement, of people, sets, etc, Mitchell left the direction of dialogue to others. Beginning with the record-setting A Trip to Chinatown (1891), he became known for staging numbers that gave every member of the ensemble a chance to shine. At a time when theatrical discipline was notoriously lax, Mitchell demanded professional behavior from his performers. Joe Weber and Lew Fields hired him to stage several of their popular burlesque musicals, and praised the way Mitchell whipped their unruly troupe of comic actors into shape. Rarely noticed by critics and theatergoers, Mitchell became the most sought-after stage director in the American musical theatre.
Mitchell's hits include The Wizard of Oz (1903) starring Montgomery and Stone, Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland (1903), and the now-forgotten favorite The Pink Lady (1911). He is best remembered for staging seven editions of Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies, starting with the first in 1907. With these productions, Mitchell and Ziegfeld helped to define the Broadway musical revue, and Mitchell is credited with inventing the "production number" with his innovative use of the Follies' dancing ensembles. All told, Mitchell worked on an amazing total of more than 75 Broadway musicals. He fell ill while working as assistant director of Ziegfeld's No Foolin' (1926), and died on that show's opening night.