Who's Who in Musicals: T to Wa
When a smart-mouthed stagehand once asked Tanguay how she would react if someone flirted with her, she picked him up and threw him against a backstage wall, leaving him unconscious. When he threatened to sue, Eva settled the issue by pulling a wad of cash out of her purse and peeling off a $1000 bill. Tanguay often publicized her seemingly unlikely devotion to Christian Science, adding the slogan "Naught can disturb - God is Peace" to her ads in Variety. She was a master of publicity, earning nationwide headlines when she was allegedly kidnapped or the victim of a robbery. Popular through vaudeville's final years, she lost her fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and spent her final years impoverished. When Tanguay was blinded by cataracts, fellow vaudevillian Sophie Tucker paid for surgery that restored her sight.
Her most memorable role was in George M. Cohan's Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway (1906), where she played New Rochelle housemaid Mary Jane Jenkins, who gives up a fortune to marry the impoverished man she loves. In that show, she introduced both "Mary's A Grand Old Name" and "So Long Mary." Templeton was married three times, and her final union in 1906 (to industrialist William Patterson) made her one of the wealthiest women in America. She withdrew from performing for several years, then made selective vaudeville appearances and co-starred in the final Weber and Fields musical, Hokey Pokey (1912). She headlined an all-star bill of old-timers at the Palace in 1925. After her husband's death in 1931, Templeton made a final trip to Broadway as Aunt Minnie in Roberta (1933), introducing the sentimental Jerome Kern- Otto Harbach ballad "Yesterdays." Beset by financial problems and arthritis, she retired to the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Soon after moving in with a cousin in San Francisco, she died at the age of 73.
Although Tucker is primarily remembered as warm hearted and generous, she had a tough side an essential for anyone who wanted to survive in the hard nosed world of show business. Tucker could silence managers or hecklers with streams of unprintable language, or burst into vulnerable tears -- opting for whichever tactic seemed most likely to win a particular argument. At one point, she refused to talk to longtime friend Harry Richman for several years because he had walked out of a nightclub during one of her solos. When Richman explained that he was just trying to settle his bill, Tucker responded, "Listen to me, kid, and never forget what I'm telling you. Not even Jesus Christ himself walks out on Tucker." She was so obviously sincere that Richman apologized, and their friendship resumed.
Tucker's Broadway appearances included the 1924 Earl Carroll Vanities and playing the politically ambitious "Mrs. Goodhue" in Leave It to Me (1938) introducing Cole Porter's "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love." Because studios were hemmed in by restrictive decency codes, her films appearances were sanitized and forgettable. After vaudeville faded, Tucker remained popular in nightclubs, radio and television. Her club act was famous for its risqué humor, with songs like "You've Got to Be Loved to Be Healthy (and I'm the Healthiest Gal in Town)." She specialized in bawdy humor, but the outrageous "Sophie Tucker jokes" Bette Midler tells are often apocryphal. Tucker continued performing into the 1960s, and saw her life depicted in the unsuccessful (and heavily fictionalized) Broadway musical Sophie (1963). She personally maintained a file of seven thousand friends and fans she remained in touch with until her death due to lung cancer at age 82.
Tune tempered traditional show business razzmatazz with an array of fresh staging ideas, earning a reputation for providing visual surprises and showstoppers. The long-running Grand Hotel (1989) brought Tune Tonys for direction and choreography. He triumphed with Will Rogers Follies (1991) winning still more awards. Tune's nightclub appearances culminated in a limited solo run at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre in 1992. He was "Production Supervisor" for the long-running revival of Grease (1994) the same season that he directed the disastrous sequel The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. Tune starred in the pre-Broadway tour of Busker Alley (1995) until his fractured toe forced the show to close on the road. Since then, he has performed in Las Vegas, and his club act had a brief run Off-Broadway.
Urban was artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera from 1917 to 1931, contributed set designs for various plays and films, and designed select private homes. He also designed the interiors of several art deco restaurants, including the posh St. Regis Roof in New York. He died at age 61, barely a year after Flo Ziegfeld. The Ziegfeld Theater was demolished in 1966 to make way for a skyscraper and a movie house. All that survives of Urban's work today are his eye-filling set sketches for the Follies, and the imposing art deco lower floors of the Heart Organization's office building at Broadway and 57th Street.
Vera-Ellen signed with MGM in the late 1940s, opening the way to her most memorable screen performances. She danced with Gene Kelly in both Words and Music (1948) and On The Town (1949), and shared memorable dance duets with Fred Astaire in Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York (1952). Few knew that all of her screen singing was dubbed -- a common practice at the time.
During Vera-Ellen's post-MGM career, she partnered Donald O'Connor in Call Me Madam (1953), and was reunited with Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954). After the disappointing Let's Be Happy (1957), she realized that big screen musicals were passing out of vogue. Vera-Ellen did some nightclub work, but there was limited demand for a non-singing dancer. She soon retired from show business. Long plagued by obsessive eating disorders and arthritis, she continued to dance in private, staying out of the public eye until cancer ended her life at age 60. For more, see David Soren's Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery (Baltimore: Limelight Press, 2003).
After winning a Tony for her show-stealing performance as the sexy "Claudine" in Broadway's Can-Can (1953), Verdon starred in a triumphant series of musicals choreographed by Bob Fosse. Her combination of vulnerability and sleek sexuality made her the prototypical Fosse dancer. Verdon starred as the demonic "Lola" in Damn Yankees (1955) (the only one of her stage roles she would repeat on film), the prostitute "Anna" in New Girl In Town (1957), and the warmhearted "Essie Whimple" in Redhead (1959), winning additional Tonys for each of these performances. She became Fosse's third wife in 1960. After taking time off to raise their daughter Nicole, Verdon returned to Broadway in two more Fosse productions. She played the title role in Sweet Charity (1966), introducing "If They Could See Me Now." Librettist Neil Simon wrote that Verdon "was a beautiful woman but never used her sex onstage except in a humorous way, which only made her more sexy."
As the original murderous housewife "Roxie Hart" in Chicago (1975), Verdon sang "Me and My Baby" and shared "Nowadays" with co-star Chita Rivera. When arthritis curtailed Verdon's ability to dance, she continued to act in various non-musical films, including Cocoon (1985). She assisted Fosse in staging new shows and revivals. Although many assumed that Verdon had divorced the promiscuous Fosse, the couple remained married and close she was at Fosse's side when he collapsed from a fatal heart attack in 1987. Verdon's determination to preserve her late husband's artistic legacy culminated in Fosse (1999), a Tony-winning compendium of his most memorable dances. While visiting her daughter in Vermont, Verdon suffered a fatal heart attack at age 74.
Gene Kelly encouraged MGM to sign up Walters, who made his mark in Hollywood staging dances for Girl Crazy (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and The Harvey Girls (1945). He proved a capable and efficient director, helming a series of musicals for MGM, including Good News (1947), Easter Parade (1948) and Lili (1953). Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and other top stars found Walters' steady, professional approach reassuring. His best remembered dance routine is probably Garland's "Get Happy" in Summer Stock (1950), the last great number of her long MGM career. Walters also directed many musicals starring Esther Williams, for which he created innovative water ballets and underwater routines.
As the number of screen musicals declined, Walters remained in demand, directing High Society (1956), Jumbo (1962) and the underrated screen version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). He also directed numerous non-musical films. His final assignment was directing Cary Grant's last picture, Walk, Don't Run (1966), the only screen project Walters worked on outside of MGM. He lived a relatively open homosexual life through Hollywood's most closeted decades. He died from lung cancer at age 71.
Warren & Dubin went on to compose a series of classic screen scores for Warner Brothers, many directed by the innovative Busby Berkeley, including Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade (1933), Dames (1934) and Go Into Your Dance (1935). These songs made no attempt to develop plot or character -- they were stand-alone numbers Berkeley could build into eye-popping production numbers.
When Dubin's dependence on alcohol and illegal drugs made him unreliable, Warren worked for every major studio, collaborating with a succession of top lyricists, including Johnny Mercer, Arthur Freed, Samy Cahn and Ira Gershwin. As popular tastes changed, Warren's versatility kept his melodies fresh, extending his career over three decades and more than sixty film scores. He composed three Academy Award winning songs "Lullaby of Broadway," "You'll Never Know" and "On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe." His one stab at composing for Broadway was Shangri-La (1956), an unsuccessful adaptation of Lost Horizon. Just weeks before Warren's death, his music finally conquered Broadway in Gower Champion's wildly successful stage version of 42nd Street (1981).
After Blackbirds (1930) and Rhapsody in Black (1931), Waters appeared in the stellar revue As Thousands Cheer (1933), where she introduced the Irving Berlin classics "Heat Wave" and "Suppertime." She had the distinction of being the first black star to headline a mixed cast on Broadway in the revue At Home Abroad (1935). Waters enjoyed her greatest musical role as housewife Petunia Jackson in Cabin in the Sky (1940), introducing "Taking a Chance on Love." She repeated the role in the 1943 screen version, the best of her few musical screen appearances.
Aside from frequent nightclub performances, Waters was a powerful dramatic actress, getting an Academy Award nomination for Pinky (1949). In the stage and screen hit Member of the Wedding, she sang a moving rendition of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." A heavy drinker and active bisexual throughout much of her career, Waters became a devout born-again Christian in her later years, living abstemiously and making appearances with preacher Billy Graham. She died of heart disease at age 80.
In a 41 year career, Wayburn (who took his stage name spelling from a program typo) staged hundreds of stage productions. He worked frequently for producer Florenz Ziegfeld, doing much to define the look of the classic Broadway show girl by dividing chorus girls according to height and inventing the trademark "Ziegfeld Walk." Balancing the forward thrust of each hip with a thrust from the opposite shoulder, this walk made it possible for chorus girls to descend stairs while wearing huge headpieces. Wayburn remained active after Ziegfeld's death, staging traveling movie house revues.
Wayne remained a familiar face on stage, screen and television for the rest of his life. His musical stage roles included "Jack Jordan" in Say, Darling (1958), "Ezra" in The Yearling (1965) and "Granpere" in John Kander and Fred Ebb's The Happy Time (1968). He appeared as the recurring comic villain "The Mad Hatter" on television's Batman, and on the big screen played "Dr. Charles Dutton" in The Andromeda Strain (1971). He relocated to California in 1977, where his television roles included "Digger Barnes" on Dallas (1978), and a memorable appearance as Blanche's "Big Daddy Hollingworth" on The Golden Girls (1986). Wayne died of lung cancer at age 81.
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