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About Judy Holliday
Although her life was cut tragically short by cancer, actress/singer Judy Holliday managed significant accomplishments in a career that lasted 25 years and included both Academy and Tony Awards. Her success in the 1946 stage production of Born Yesterday as "Billie Dawn" led to her being cast in the 1950 film version, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She appeared regularly in film during the 1950s. She was noted for her performance on Broadway in the musical Bells Are Ringing, winning a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and reprising her role in the 1960 film.
She was born Judith Tuvim ("Tuvim" approximates the Yiddish word [yontoyvim] for "Holidays") in New York City, the only child of Abe and Helen Tuvim, who was of Russian Jewish descent. She grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York and graduated from Julia Richman High School.
After graduating from the Julia Richman High School in New York City in 1938, she hoped to attend Yale Drama School but was too young for admission. She went to work in the summer of 1938 as a switchboard operator at Orson Welles's Mercury Theater. Later that year, Max Gordon, owner of a Greenwich Village nightclub, offered her a chance to demonstrate her talent as a scriptwriter and lyricist. Tuvim contacted a group of performers she had met while vacationing at an upstate resort who called themselves "Six and Company." Among them was an unknown pianist, Leonard Bernstein, and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The group renamed themselves "The Revuers," and as Lee Israel comments, "with her immense, fawnlike eypes and her brown hair piled up, Judy's talent for comedy was quickly perceived." The Revuers subsequently appeared for thirty-two weeks on an NBC radio program. With Judy Tuvim's career burgeoning, she adopted a new name, Judy Holliday (tuvim is the Hebrew word for holiday). In 1943 The Revuers left for Hollywood, but to their disappointment the major studios were more interested in the girl with "the natural gift of comedy," than in the group.
Holliday finally accepted a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1944 but insisted that The Revuers appear in her first film, Greenwich Village. It was a box office failure. Unhappy with the beginnings of her film career, Holliday did not enjoy her stay in Hollywood. After appearing in Winged Victory (1944) and Something for the Boys (1944), she was released from her contract and returned to New York. In March 1945, she starred on Broadway in Kiss Them for Me, playing the first of her many dumb but good-natured characters. Her performance won her the Clarence Derwent Award as the best supporting actress of the year. In early February 1946 Jean Arthur's misfortune came to be Holliday's biggest break. Three days before Garson Kanin's stage comedy Born Yesterday was scheduled to open in Philadelphia, Arthur was forced to leave the cast due to illness. Holliday auditioned for the role of Billie Dawn and learned it in three days. The play opened on Feb. 4, 1946, to rave reviews and Holliday then played Billie Dawn for three years. Garson Kanin remembers her as a "tremendously rare combination of intellect and instinct. And a girl of principle, and of deep social feeling." In 1948 the screen rights to Born Yesterday were purchased by Columbia Pictures. As a movie, Born Yesterday (1950) brought Holliday an Academy Award for best actress. Gloria Swanson, a nominee for the Oscar for her performance that year in Sunset Boulevard, congratulated Holliday saying, "My dear, couldn't you have waited? You have so much ahead of you—so many years. This was my only chance."
Holliday's other screen credits included The Marrying Kind (1952), about a blue-collar couple facing divorce. The remaining films for Columbia were all tailor-made for the roles she played best. George Morris commented that she could "switch from comedy to tragedy with a mere inflection in her voice: a mixture of dumb blonde, naivete, New York savvy was her strongest instrument."
Holliday's career was threatened in 1952 when she was subpoenaed, along with many other performers, by a Senate subcommittee investigating subversive influences in the performing arts. As Lee Israel comments, "In the context of the 1950's when guilt was historic and by association ... she had plenty to be frightened of." Certain facets in her life lead to such conclusions. Many of the performers at the Mercury Theater were labeled "radicals," and she had been a signer of an advertisement that appeared on December 1, 1948, calling upon the film industry to revoke its Communist blacklist. Holliday stated to the subcommittee: "I am not a member of any organization that is listed by the Attorney General as subversive. In any instance where I lent my name in the past, it was certainly without knowledge that such an organization was subversive." But certain allegations could not be denied. "Irresponsible and slightly more than that—stupid," was Holliday's self-description of her association with these groups. As a result of the hearings Holliday was blacklisted by television for ten years. She was still able to star in films, such as It Should Happen to You (1954), Phffft (1954), The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), in which she played a shrewd, inexperienced businesswoman, and Full of Life (1957). In 1956 she starred on Broadway as Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing and received an Antoinette Perry Award for her performance. She recreated the role four years later in the film version.
In 1960, during the pre-Broadway tryout of Laurette, in which she played her first dramatic role, Holliday developed a voice problem that prevented her from projecting her voice beyond the first few rows of the theater. The show was forced to close, and the problem was subsequently diagnosed as cancer. Holliday was unable to perform again, with the exception of a brief run in the musical Hot Spot (1963). At that time, she was involved in an intense relationship with jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. After five years of struggle with her illness, Holliday died on June 7, 1965, in New York City.
Judy Holliday's career was paradoxical. Although gifted with intelligence and humor, she consistently portrayed inarticulate nitwits. Gene Lees, who remembered her comedic ability, remarked that "had she lived, Judy Holliday would be, without question, one of our major dramatic actresses. "In 1948, Holliday married David Oppenheim, a clarinetist. They had one child, but were divorced in 1957.
Judy Holliday (June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1965) was an American actress.
Holliday began her career as part of a night-club act, before working in Broadway plays and musicals. Her success in the 1946 stage production of Born Yesterday as "Billie Dawn" led to her being cast in the 1950 film version, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She appeared regularly in film during the 1950s. She was noted for her performance on Broadway in the musical Bells Are Ringing, winning a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and reprising her role in the 1960 film.
In 1952, Holliday was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to answer claims that she was associated with communism. Although not blacklisted from films, she was blacklisted from radio and television for almost three years.
Born Judith Tuvim ("Tuvim" approximates the Yiddish word [yontoyvim] for "Holidays") in New York City, she was the only child of Abe and Helen Tuvim, who were of Russian Jewish descent. She grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York and graduated from Julia Richman High School. Her first job was as an assistant switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre run by Orson Welles and John Houseman.
As a child, Holliday exhibited a profoundly high intelligence, having a measured IQ score of 172, placing her above the 99.999th percentile.
Holliday began her show business career in 1938 as part of a night-club act called "The Revuers." The other four members of the group were Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alvin Hammer and John Frank. The Revuers played engagements at various New York night clubs, including the Village Vanguard, Spivy's Roof, the Blue Angel and the Rainbow Room, and also the Trocadero in Hollywood, California. They disbanded in early 1944.
In 1944, she played a small but noticeable role as an airman's wife in the Twentieth Century Fox film version of the U.S. Army Air Forces' hit play Winged Victory. She did not appear in the stage version, which toured the U.S. both before and after production of the film.
Holliday made her Broadway debut on March 20, 1945, at the Belasco Theatre in Kiss Them for Me and was one of the recipients that year of the Clarence Derwent Award.
In 1946, she returned to Broadway as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin had written the play for his friend Jean Arthur. Arthur played the role of Billie out-of-town, but after illnesses she resigned. Kanin chose Holliday as her replacement.
In his book Tracy and Hepburn (1971), Kanin mentions that, when Columbia bought the rights to film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn wouldn't consider casting the Hollywood-unknown Holliday. Kanin, together with George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn, conspired to promote Holliday by offering her a key part in the 1949 film Adam's Rib. She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version, but only after she did a screen test (which at first was used only as a "benchmark against which to evaluate" other actresses being considered for the role). She won the first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and at the 23rd Academy Awards, Holliday won the Academy Award for Best Actress, over Gloria Swanson, nominated for Sunset Boulevard, Eleanor Parker, for Caged, and Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, both for All About Eve.
In 1954, she starred opposite then-newcomer Jack Lemmon in his first two feature films, the popular comedies It Should Happen to You and Phffft!
Bernard Dick summed up Holliday's acting: "Perhaps the most important aspect of the Judy Holliday persona, both in variations of Billie Dawn and in her roles as housewife, is her vulnerability...Her ability to shift her mood quickly from comic to serious is one of her greatest technical gifts." George Cukor said that she had "in common with the great comedians...that depth of emotion, that unexpectedly touching emotion, that thing which would unexpectedly touch your heart."
Investigated for Communism
In 1950 Holliday was the subject of an FBI investigation looking into allegations that she was a Communist. The investigation "did not reveal positive evidence of any membership in the Communist Party", and was concluded after three months. Unlike many others tainted by the Communist investigation, she was not blacklisted from movies, but she was blacklisted from performing on radio and television for almost three years.
In 1952 she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to "explain" why her name had been linked to Communist front organizations. In spite of her high IQ, she was advised to play dumb (like some of her film characters) and did so. She acknowledged that she "had been taken advantage of".
In November 1956 she returned to Broadway starring in the musical Bells Are Ringing with book and lyrics by her Revuers friends, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and directed by Jerome Robbins, for which she won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. In 1960 she starred in the film version of Bells Are Ringing. Of her performance in the stage musical, Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times: "Nothing has happened to the shrill little moll whom the town loved in Born Yesterday. The squeaky voice, the embarrassed giggle, the brassy naivete, the dimples, the teeter-totter walk fortunately remain unimpaired...Miss Holliday now adds a trunk-full of song-and-dance routines...Without losing any of that doll-like personality, she is now singing music by Jule Styne and dancing numbers composed by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. She has gusto enough to triumph in every kind of music hall antic." In 1956 she starred in the film The Solid Gold Cadillac.
In October 1960 she had started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette, based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero, with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula. When Holliday became ill and had to leave the show, it closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production, in October 1960.
Holliday's last role was in the stage musical Hot Spot, which closed after 43 performances on May 25, 1963.
Holliday died from breast cancer on June 7, 1965. She was survived by her young son, Jonathan Oppenheim, and by her ex-husband, clarinetist, conductor and educator, David Oppenheim, whom she had married in 1948 and divorced in 1958. She also had a long-term relationship with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan. Holliday was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Jonathan Oppenheim grew up to become a documentary film editor of note, editing Paris Is Burning, Children Underground, and Arguing the World.
Holliday has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.
Filmography and Stage