Judy Tyler, remembered today for her role as Peggy Van Alden, was only 24 years old when she died, merely two weeks after completing Jailhouse Rock.
Judy packed a lot of life into the short time she was given. She started modeling at age 16 and became a chorus girl at the famous Copacabana when she was barely 18. She danced on the comedy shows of Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, before playing the role of a highly popular character on the most celebrated children’s TV show of all time. Judy was also a successful nightclub singer and a featured singer/dancer on Sid Caesar’s comedy shows when she landed a lead role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical. All these different roads eventually led to a contract with M-G-M in 1957, where she was cast opposite Elvis in the movie that would have been her breakout role.
In this topic, we’ll take an in-depth look at the life and career of the versatile and hard working young woman who was so much more than just Peggy Van Alden.
Judy’s career can not easily be divided into chapters because of a continuous overlap of different activities. However, roughly five phases can be distinguished:
1932–1950 | Becoming Judy Tyler
1951–1953 | The Howdy Doody years
1954 | Singing at the Mocambo
1955–1956 | The theater years
1957 part 1 | Hollywood calling
1957 part 2 | The final roadtrip
1932-1950 | Becoming Judy Tyler
Judy Tyler was born on October 9, 1932, as Judith Mae Hess in Manhattan, New York. She spent her childhood in New York City until the family moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, when she was a teenager. At the time of Judy’s birth, her father, Julian Hess, worked as a contracter, and her mother, Lorelei Kender, was a housewife. However, in a previous life, Julian had been a trumpet player in various orchestras, including Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, while Lorelei had been a chorus girl at the fabled Ziegfeld Follies as well as a dancer in countless Broadway productions during the 1920’s. Lorelei retired from the stage when Judy was born.
The very first time Judy’s name appeared in a magazine, was in the October 1945 issue of Walt Disney’s Comics And Stories, when 13-year old Judith Mae Hess was announced as one the winners of a contest that had been held in the May 1945 issue.
The contest prizes consisted of War Bonds and War Stamps ranging in value between $25 and 10c.
Judy’s prize: a 10c War Savings Stamp.
Interestingly, Judy entered the contest when WW2 was still going on, but by the time the winners were declared, the war had been over for a month.
In August 1949, Judy’s grandmother sent in a photograph of Judy to a beauty contest that was held annually by Stardust Inc., manufacturer of ladies’ garments. From over 35,000 contestants, Judy was chosen as “America’s Most Photogenic Girl” with the title of Miss Stardust. Next to a whopping $500,- in prize money and Judy’s portrait in a series of company advertisements (an example of which is shown to the right), Judy also received a contract with the modelling agency of Harry Conover, the foremost agency in the business.
Conover specialized in “the girl next door” type of girls and his scouts famously scoured college campuses for new talent. He often gave his models striking names, such as Choo Choo Johnson, Chili Williams and Frosty Webb. The name Conover gave Judith Mae Hess was short and strong and fitted her appearance and personality just perfectly: Judy Tyler.
Inspired by both of her parents’ former careers in showbusiness, Judy had been taking ballet lessons since the age of 6, which was followed by acting, dancing and singing lessons in 1949, before auditioning for The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Here she would eventually become a classmate of Grace Kelly. Around this time, Judy, still only 16 years old, had dropped out of high school, left her home in Teaneck, and moved into a small apartment of her own in New York City.
In October 1949, Judy appeared on national TV as an extra in NBC’s variety show Versatile Varieties. A month later, she made her debut as a singer in the first of 26 appearances on Al Siegel’s Songshop, a weekly half-hour musical variety program on WOR-TV, one of New York’s local TV stations.
Another first for Judy, was that pics of her appeared in the December 1949 issue of Glamorous Models, one of the many pin-up mags of the 40’s and 50’s that were filled with photos of “fashion models”, but basically served the purpose of showing half-naked girls. This mag became a collector’s item because it included five pages of a young Marilyn Monroe in bikini.
In the January 1950 publicity photo to the left, Miss Stardust of 1949 sits atop the piano of Hoagy Carmichael, whose immortal hit from the late 20’s, Stardust, inspired the name of the garments company.
Through the Conover agency, Judy was hired to do photo shoots for all sorts of companies and products. In the April 1950 photo we see to the right, Judy and two other Conover Girls “test” the famous Cyclone rollercoaster in a shoot for the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.
A high point in Judy’s early career, was that she starred in a two-minute short titled Our Town, U.S.A., produced by 20th Century Fox to promote movie-going. The short depicted a typical American family (consisting of a father, mother, son and daughter) sitting in their kitchen and discussing movies and movie-going. In April and May 1950, this short was screened several times a day in theaters and drive-ins all across the country.
In the summer of 1950, Judy landed her first nightclub job when she was hired as a showgirl at Bill Miller’s Riviera in Fort Lee, New Jersey. A few months later, she joined the chorusline at the Copacabana in New York City. Judy can be spotted in the top left corner of the photo to the right, taken during a New Year’s party at the Copa on December 29, 1950.
At the Copacabana, Judy met 26-year old Colin Romoff, one of the pianists at the club. Colin would go on to play a very significant role in Judy’s early professional life by not just becoming her vocal coach and agent, but, on December 21, 1950, after only a two month courtship, also her husband.
In the photo below, we can see how crowded and small the Copacabana actually was, leaving very little room for the dancers.
During a December 1955 interview, when asked how she became a Copa Girl, Judy replied: “Well, I just walked over there, and they said “Do you dance?”, I said “Yes! I’m a dancer!”. They then said “Okay”.
Of course, to call it dancing was ridiculous. It was hardly walking”.
In 1951, with Colin’s help, Judy began switching her workplace from the dancefloor of the Copa, to the studio floors of TV stations. For 13 consecutive weeks, Judy danced on The Milton Berle Show, which was followed by appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour, with Eddie Cantor, and the All Star Revue, with Jimmy Durante.
Then, in october 1951, Judy would steer her career in a very different direction by auditioning for a role in a children’s TV show.
1951-1953 | The Howdy Doody years
The Howdy Doody Show was a popular children’s program that aired between 1947 and 1960. In 1947, only 20.000 American homes actually had a TV, but the show would eventually become the most celebrated children’s show of all time.
Howdy Doody was a frecklefaced puppet living in Doodyville. On Howdy’s face, were exactly 48 freckles, one for each of the US states at that time. Many of Doodyville’s characters were puppets, but some were played by actors. To the left we see Bob Smith, he was the show’s host, better known as Buffalo Bob.
Other notable human characters were Clarabell the Clown, who was mute and only spoke in pantomime, and Chief Thunderthud of the Ooragnak (“Kangaroo” spelled backward) tribe. Thunderthud introduced the word “Kawabonga”, an expression of surprise and frustration, into the English language.
Phineas T. Bluster, the mayor of Doodyville and nemesis of Howdy, and Princess Summerfall Winterspring, an indian girl of the Tinka Tonka tribe, were two of the show’s major supporting puppet characters.
Little boys had instantly taken to the western theme of the show. In late 1951, the show’s producers decided to turn the
Princess Summerfall Winterspring puppet into a human character in an attempt to appeal more to young girls as well.
When Judy auditioned for the part of Princess Summerfall Winterspring in October 1951, producer Roger Muir had already tested 300 hopefuls, but it immediately became clear to him that Judy was the one the production team had been looking for.
Roger Muir: “I was amazed, because without ever having seen Judy, the puppet-maker had made the Princess just like her. The resemblance startled everyone of us. And Judy could dance and sing wonderfully as well. She was hired on the spot”.
The Howdy Doody Show was recorded before a live audience of children, known as the Peanut Gallery. Click the ► button below to hear Judy and the peanuts sing The Howdy Doody Yell.
Bob Smith (Buffalo Bob) and Judy during rehearsals for
the show in December 1951.
Judy, Bob Smith and Bill Le Cornec (as Oil Well Willy)
during the 1000th episode of the show in 1952.
The show’s success made it very appealing for marketing and extensive commercials for all sorts of Kellogg’s products were shown throughout each episode. A less popular product line among kids no doubt, but also Colgate was one of the show’s main sponsors.
The demand for Howdy Doody merchandise matched the enormous popularity of the show and the Doodyville characters appeared on all kinds of products. In the image below, Princess Summerfall Winterspring poses with the toy that was modeled after her, which apparently was “America’s Most Beautiful Doll”.
The Howdy Doody Show kept Judy busy nearly fulltime. Though it was filmed in Judy’s hometown of New York, it was broadcast live, five days a week. But there was also the hour-long Howdy Doody Radio Show, which was taped in advance and broadcast on Saturday morning. Next to the tv and radio programs, the show’s cast members were also expected to make public appearances (in character, of course) during the weekends at department stores, children’s hospitals and amusement parks.
Princess Summerfall Winterspring had not just become hugely popular with children, but with the older brothers and dads of these children as well! In a September 1953 article, Judy was quoted saying: “It does surprise me to get so many letters from fathers and older brothers of kids who watch the show. And there must be a lot of them judging from the number of letters I get. But they’re really all nice letters and very sanitary, nothing like the letters I received when I danced at the Copa”.
During 1953, despite Judy’s continuing popularity after nearly two years on the show, cracks began to appear because Judy’s off screen behaviour was more and more at odds with the good girl image of her Princess character.
For his 1987 book Say Kids! What Time Is It? about the history of The Howdy Doody Show, author Stephen Davis interviewed several former cast and crew members, and according to producer Roger Muir “Judy could swear with the élan of a fishwife”. Bob Smith, the host of the show, apparently actually got a kick out of Judy’s use of foul language and even encouraged it. Dayton Allen, a voice actor on the show, on the other hand, called Judy “a tough cookie, who knew everyone and who’d been around the room a few times”. Howard Davis, one of the show’s directors, noted that Judy loved to shock. Backstage she would say things like “Jesus Christ, if that kid in the second row coughs again while I’m singing, I’ll slug the little shit!”. According to voice actor Allen Swift “Judy Tyler always felt that the show was a little beneath her. So she was always this tough chorus girl broad who’d bad-mouth the Peanut Gallery kids until the red light came on, then she was all big eyes and sweet as candy”. Regarding Judy’s promiscuity, Scott Brinker, the show’s prop man, declared “Anybody who wanted to, could have. And did”.
In November 1953, Judy Tyler left The Howdy Doody Show. The reasons given for her departure, were that she was considering film roles while awaiting the birth of her first child. In Stephen Davis’ book, producer Martin Stone revealed that he fired Judy because her outrageous language and sexual escapades were potentially harmful and could cause a serious scandal. According to Stone “The Princess was a symbol of purity, beauty, loveliness and good behaviour, and after a while the symbol was no longer matched by the person. Judy was problems, problems problems. But we loved her. She was tremendous. She had guts, and she was sensational!”.
A replacement for the Princess was found in Linda Marsh, but the character would never again be as popular as when Judy played her, and in 1957 the Princess was turned back into a puppet for the remainder of the show.
Three weeks after leaving The Howdy Doody Show, Judy appeared on The New Revue, an entertainment show presented by legendary news broadcaster Mike Wallace. On this program, Judy did a sing and dance act with Harrison Muller, Toni Southern and Helaine Ellis. Her appearance on this show marked the first time that TV audiences were able to see Judy Tyler in full color.
1954 | Singing at the Mocambo
The Mocambo on Sunset Strip was one of the hottest spots in town during the golden age of the Hollywood nightclubs in the 40’s and 50’s. The Latin-American themed club was known as the playground of the stars because on any given night, one might find the room filled with the crème de la crème of the movie industry. Among the stars that frequently hung out here, were Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Grace Kelly, Judy Garland, Tony Curtis, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne.
During those golden years, some of the biggest names performed at the club, including Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Bob Hope, Liberace and Sammy Davis Jr.
On April 7, 1954, it was at this club that 21-year old Judy Tyler made her solo debut as a nightclub singer, backed up by the Paul Herbert Orchestra and facing perhaps the toughest crowd imaginable.
Not many people in the audience that night would have been familiar with Judy Tyler, especially not because she was rushed in at the last minute, without any promotion at all, when the original act, dancers Tony and Sally DeMarco, were forced to cancel their appointment as a result of Mrs. DeMarco’s sinus infection.
This is what Variety had to say about Judy’s debut at the Mocambo: “Just a determined kid who won over as tough an audience as she’ll ever face with an ease and composure that would have been the envy of a seasoned trouper. A looker with a personality, she belted out six songs, smiled pretty and thanked everybody as she strolled off stage without a twitch of nervousness. The applause was deafening. Miss Nobody became an overnight favorite”.
The photo to the right was taken on the night of Judy’s premiere at the Mocambo. The photographer focused on the most famous person in the room at that moment, Gene Tierney, one of Hollywood’s prominent actresses during the 40’s, who is dancing with her partner Prince Aly Khan to the sounds of the orchestra. But in the bottom right corner of the photo we can spot none other than “Miss Nobody” looking straight at the camera.
Judy’s engagement at the Mocambo lasted two weeks. As was standard, at least two sets were performed each night, the first at 10:30pm, the second at 12:30am. Cover charge was $2. Among the songs Judy played were popular tunes like Lulu’s Back In Town, Bye Bye Baby and ‘S Wonderful.
In a September 1955 interview, Judy stated that she had turned down the opportunity to play a lead role in the Broadway musical
By The Beautiful Sea. This musical eventually opened in February 1954 and closed in November of the same year.
In August 1954, Judy had signed on to star in the western The Far Horizons, only to drop out of the movie before filming started.
It’s not known exactly why Judy turned down the theater role, nor why she abandoned the movie contract, since both opportunities perfectly matched her ambitions. However, as it turned out, in sharp contrast to how loaded with activities the previous four and a half years had been, following the (very successful) Mocambo gig in April 1954, Judy would not be performing for one whole year.
1955-1956 | The theater years
As of mid 1955, Judy was back in full force. Two photo shoots were done this year, both of which presented a version of her that was lightyears away from her Howdy Doody character. The three photos we see above, are the work of legendary portrait studio Maurice Seymour. The photographer of the photos to the left and below, sadly, is unknown.
In May 1955, Judy played a supporting role in The Elgin Hour, a weekly 60-minute anthology drama series that was broadcast live on ABC. Also in May, she appeared on an episode of ABC’s game show Stop The Music as that week’s musical guest.
The month of June brought Judy a new career milestone when she appeared as a featured guest on Steve Allen’s late-night talk show The Tonight Show. According to one news report, “Judy Tyler may be the first vocalist in the history of the Steve Allen Show to be introduced without a plug for a recording or album”.
Very popular in the first half of the 20th century, were so-called summer stock variations of well known Broadway musicals. The concept of summer stock theater combined the summer season (regarded in the theater world as the industry’s off-season) with musical productions that were staged by touring companies. Summer stock musicals were slimmed-down, cheaper to produce versions of hit musicals, in which the original cast was replaced with up and coming new talent. The popularity of summer stock theater can largely be attributed to the fact that it offered people in rural areas the opportunity to see a musical they would normally only be able to see when visiting cities like New York.
In the early 50’s, circus tents were quickly becoming the preferred setting for summer stock companies to house their productions. A company that made use of a circus tent, was the Warwick Musical Theatre, but unlike the traveling summer stock companies, this theater was given a permanent location, in Warwick, Rhode Island. The Warwick Musical Theatre opened its doors in June 1955 with a full season of 10 summer stock productions. The first musical that was performed at this venue, was Annie Get Your Gun. The female lead in this production, playing legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley, was Judy Tyler.
As was common for summer stock, new productions opened on Monday and closed on Saturday. There was usually one show per evening, plus a matinee on Saturday and also sometimes on Wednesday. Ticket prices (at the Warwick Musical Theatre) ranged from $1,20 to $3,60, while kids paid 60c for the matinee, this was approximately half the price of admission of musicals on Broadway. The Sundays were used to prepare the theater for the upcoming production. Since Annie Get Your Gun was the theater/season’s opener, a special gala premiere was held on the Friday prior to the musical’s official run.
The newspaper advertisement to the right is from the day of the opening, June 24, 1955.
In the photos below, we see the box office of the theater, and the theater’s owner, Burton Bonoff (the man to the left), who appears to be giving Judy a tour of the 2000-seat venue.
Broadway stars may not have performed in summer stock, but quite a few theater and silver screen stars actually started their careers in summer stock as it was not only seen as a perfect learning experience, but also as a stepping stone towards a career in theater and movies. These reasons were probably also Judy’s motivation for hitting the summer stock road.
In late June 1955, a Maurice Seymour photo of Judy appeared on the cover of Rhode Island Panorama, a tourism magazine that was distributed through hotels.
Annie Get Your Gun was also performed at the Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon, Pennsylvania, from July 11 to July 16, 1955.
Similar to the Warwick Musical Theatre, also the Valley Forge Music Fair debuted in 1955 with a “theatre-in-the-round”.
According to a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“An energetic cast headed with distiction by Judy Tyler. Even with a string of sure-fire songs, it takes an actress who will lend conviction to a difficult role, and the production has just that in Judy Tyler. She is pretty in any situation, and she makes you think
she can really shoot that gun”.
Caesar Presents was the Summer replacement of comic Sid Caesar’s very successful weekly comedy show Caesar’s Hour. The replacement show, however, was met with low ratings and nothing but bad reviews. After the first two episodes had aired, the show was even labeled as the season’s definitive summer turkey.
On July 18, 1955, just two days after completing Annie Get Your Gun, Judy appeared on the third episode of Caesar Presents as a singer. Starting with the fourth episode, she was signed on as a regular for the rest of the season, and Judy would not just sing but also be given the opportunity to show her comedic side by participating in the sketches. The reviews remained terrible, although one critic stated “Judy Tyler keeps things interesting by doing all her scenes in high heels”, while a more serious critic wrote that Judy’s voice was simply too good for such bad script writing. Despite the harsh criticism, Judy’s presence on the show would soon be brought to the attention of the most successful duo in musical history: Rodgers and Hammerstein.
By the Summer of 1955, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein had already enjoyed enormous successes with hit musicals like Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The King and I. So naturally expectations were high for the dream team’s latest project: Pipe Dream.
Pipe Dream was based on the John Steinbeck novel Sweet Thursday (the sequel to his highly acclaimed Cannery Row), which is set in Monterrey, California, and revolves around a marine biologist named Doc who returns home after the Second World War only to find most of his friends gone. Doc’s closest friend Dora has died and Dora’s whorehouse, the Bear Flag Restaurant, is now run by Dora’s sister Fauna. Next to Doc and Fauna, the story also includes the character of Suzy, who is new in town and one of the prostitutes at the Bear Flag.
Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted a big name to carry Pipe Dream, which they found in Helen Traubel, who had been an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera from 1937 until 1951 and who is best known for her Wagnerian roles. For the male lead, the duo originally had set their minds on Henry Fonda, but after six months of singing lessons, and in Fonda’s own words, he “still couldn’t sing for shit”. Experienced actor and singer William Johnson was then cast as the male lead.
For the role of Suzy, Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to sign Julie Andrews, but she had just agreed to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, a role that would soon catapult her into superstardom. Judy then landed the role of Suzy after Reginald Hammerstein, Oscar’s brother, had spotted her on television’s Caesar Presents.
In an August 1955 interview, an extremely delighted Judy Tyler summarized what she saw as her big break, as follows: “This part is what I’ve been working for all my life. Call it my ultimate desire. You can’t imagine, I can’t imagine! A starring role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein show. Imagine! Me!”.
When rehearsals for Pipe Dream began in September 1955, Judy was still under contract with Sid Caesar, but Casear gracefully bowed out of the picture, and Judy reciprocated with the promise of making a guest appearance on Caesar’s main show, Caesar’s Hour, during the upcoming Winter season.
To the left we have the souvenir program that was handed out at the premiere of Pipe Dream at the Shubert Theatre in New York City in October 1955. Below we see Judy with Helen Traubel and William Johnson during a performance in late 1955.
To Steinbeck’s dismay, parts of the storyline of his book went out the window when Sweet Thursday was turned into Pipe Dream. In a letter to Hammerstein, Steinbeck described Suzy as “an ill-tempered little hooker who isn’t even very good at that”. According to Steinbeck, “Suzy has to be a whore in order for Pipe Dream to work as a drama”. However, Hammerstein was afraid the Broadway crowd would not be able to appreciate the setting of a bordello, let alone a prostitute as one of the main characters, so he changed the bordello to a boarding house and Suzy became a casual visitor who’s occupation was only vaguely hinted at, or as Steinbeck wrote to Hammerstein: “You’ve turned my prostitute into a visiting nurse!”.
Judy was involved in six of the songs in Pipe Dream, of which Everybody’s Got A Home But Me was her big solo number. Please click the ► button below to listen to Judy’s beautiful rendition of this song.
Sheet music was available for all major songs in the musical. To the left we see the sheet music of Everybody’s Got A Home But Me.
The original soundtrack recording of Pipe Dream, was released by RCA Victor in 1955.
In November 1955, shortly after Pipe Dream had opened, Judy for the first time made the cover of a major magazine when she was featured on the cover of LIFE as one of the “Shining Young Broadway Stars”, together with Jayne Mansfield, Lois Smith, Susan Strasberg and Diane Cilento. According to the article in this magazine dedicated to her, Judy has “a warm, throaty voice and a breezy stage manner”.
However, when the first reviews of Pipe Dream started appearing, the bulk of these weren’t positive. Most critics agreed that opera diva Helen Traubel was less than comfortable in her role as the Madam of a whore house, but also the storyline received a beating for “wandering along aimlessly”. The two saving graces of Pipe Dream, according to the critics, were the musical’s songs, and Judy Tyler. One critic noted: “The performer with the highest credit is young Judy Tyler, who has charm, sings attractively and has character. Tyler clearly has a future”.
The overall bad reviews, attributed in large part to the miscasting of Traubel, led to a lack of public interest, and a poor box office performance seemed inevitable.
On December 11, 1955, Judy made her first of two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. As an added attraction to the program,
she and co-star William Johnson recreated a scene from Pipe Dream which included their duet of All At Once You Love Her.
Two weeks later, Judy returned Sid Casear the favor of tearing up her contract with him, by appearing on the December 26
Christmas episode of Caesar’s Hour, where she sang the jazz standard How High The Moon.
In February 1956, Judy once again graced the cover of a major weekly magazine, TV Guide, this time in the company of Ed Sullivan.
On February 5, Rodgers and Hammerstein and members of the Pipe Dream cast appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in an effort to boost sales of the failing musical. During this show, next to a lenghty interview Ed Sullivan conducted with Rodgers and Hammerstein, four songs were performed, including Judy’s solo number Everybody’s Got A Home But Me, and her duet with William Johnson, All At Once You Love Her. Over the course of the program, Mr. Sullivan went very much out of his way to urge his viewers to go see Pipe Dream.
Other notable guests on this episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, included Lucille Ball and Orson Welles. Most notably absent from the show, was none other than Pipe Dream‘s original star attraction, Helen Traubel.
Also in February, Judy did a Funny Valentine-themed photo shoot. Three of these photos can be seen below. The photo in the middle, in which Judy is holding a pipe, was a bow to those who helped make her pipe dream of success a reality.
That same month, the rather risque pin-up style pics we see here, were taken at the Sports, Travel and Vacation Show in New York.
In March 1956, Rodgers and Hammerstein made a serious attempt to lure audiences into the theater by revising the storyline of Pipe Dream. For the same reason, also some of the production numbers were re-arranged. Unfortunately, ticketsales did not improve.
Right from the start, according to critics, “Helen Traubel had been a major headache to the Pipe Dream cast and producers”. In May 1956, the designated star of the show, who had missed 42 of the first 200 performances “due to illness”, was replaced with Nancy Andrews. From here on, Judy would share top billing with William Johnson, as can be seen on the updated poster to the right.
A massive civil rights rally was held in Madison Square Garden on May 24, 1956. Over 20,000 people attended the “Negro Freedom Rally” that was presented by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Even though he is mentioned on the flyer we see to the left, Dr. Martin Luther King was not present at the rally. Not mentioned on the flyer but actually present, was Miss Rosa Parks.
Among the “Stars of Stage, Screen, Radio and Television” were speakers Tallulah Bankhead, Cab Calloway, Jayne Mansfield and Judy Tyler.
In the end, Pipe Dream failed to live up to the high expectations, eventually becoming Rodgers and Hammerstein’s least successful musical. Apart from the miscast of the lead character, it was also clear that Oscar Hammerstein (who is pictured to the right) felt ill at ease with the sleaziness and explicit sexuality of Steinbeck’s setting and characters. Hammerstein: “We went and did something we were never cut out to do, and we should never have done it”.
The show ran for 245 performances, but most of these tickets had been sold in advance. Pipe Dream closed on June 30, 1956.
Despite the bad reviews and early closure of the musical, Judy’s performance was widely praised and even earned her a prestigious Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (won by Lotte Lenya for her role in The Threepenny Opera). Judy Tyler had definitely put herself on the Broadway map.
At this point in the Judy Tyler story, the 23-year old has exactly one more year to live. 1956 is of course not over yet and this year had plenty more in store for her. But we’ll pause our look at the life and career of Judy Tyler right here and continue in a few months time, when we’ll thoroughly explore the Hollywood-phase of Judy’s life and how she eventually got to rub noses with that boy from Tupelo.
Keep an eye on Echoes!
Compiling this article, had all the hallmarks of putting together a jigsaw puzzle of which the box cover is missing. Hundreds of vintage newspapers have been consulted over the course of circa a year, but, undoubtedly, important (and as of yet unknown) pieces of the Judy Tyler puzzle will still be missing. If anybody is able to add information to the story so far (prior to July 1956), please leave a message below or use the email-address at the bottom of this page to get in touch. Thank you.
The following publications were especially helpful:
The TV Puppet That Ran Wild (by Reg Ovington, The Sunday Times-Union, September 13, 1953)
Judy Tyler’s Last Interview (by Marcie Borie, Modern Screen, October 1957)
Black Drama – The Story Of The American Negro In The Theatre (Loften Mitchell, 1967)
Say Kids! What Time Is It? (Notes From The Peanut Gallery) (Stephen Davis, 1987)
Hollywood’s Hard-Luck Ladies (Laura Wagner, 2020)
Thanks to the fine members of The Doodyville Historical Society: The Original Howdy Doody Fan Club on Facebook.
Thanks to Ron Seymour for identifying the photos his father took of Judy in 1955.
Click here to visit The Maurice Seymour Gallery.
Credit for the photos of the Warwick Musical Theatre goes to the son of the theater’s creator/owner, Larry Bonoff.
Click here to visit Larry’s website, which is an absolute treasure trove for theater enthusiasts.
Congratulations, Judith. A very interesting, well-researched and well-presented work. I will look forward to the second part of the article. Thank you !
Great article, look forward to the follow-up!
Great information. Keep up the good work.
Very informative article Bob.
Looking forward to the second part.
Excellent information, thanks
Excellent. Thank you.
Excellent article, Bob. Fantastic research and well written – as always
Brilliant research and excellent description
of a remarkably talented young woman.