Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress. Born Freda Josephine McDonald inSt. Louis, Missouri, she became a citizen of France in 1937. Fluent in both English and French, Baker became an international musical and political icon. She was given such nicknames as the “Bronze Venus”, the “Black Pearl”, and the “Créole Goddess”.
Baker was the firstAfrican Americanfemale to star in a major motion picture,Zouzou, tointegratean American concert hall,and to become a world-famous entertainer. She is also noted for her contributions to theCivil Rights Movementin the United States (she was offered the unofficial leadership of the movement byCoretta Scott Kingin 1968 followingMartin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, but turned it down), for assisting theFrench Resistanceduring World War II, and for being the first American-born woman to receive theFrench militaryhonor, theCroix de guerre.
Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby (May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Crosby’s trademarkbass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation.
A multimedia star, from 1934 to 1954 Bing Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings and motion picture grosses. His early career coincided with technical recording innovations; this allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, polls declared him the “most admired man alive,” ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also in 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. He worked for NBC at the time and wanted to record his shows; however, mostbroadcast networksdid not allow recording. This was mainly because of the quality of recording at the time. While in Europe performing during the war, Crosby had witnessed tape recording, on which The Crosby Research Foundation would come to have many patents. The company also developed equipment and recording techniques such as theLaugh Trackwhich are still in use today. In 1947, he invested $50,000 in theAmpexcompany, which built North America’s first commercialreel-to-reel tape recorder. He left NBC to work for ABC because NBC was not interested in recording at the time. This proved beneficial because ABC accepted him and his new ideas. Crosby then became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings ontomagnetic tape. He gave one of the first Ampex Model 200 recorders to his friend, musicianLes Paul, which led directly to Paul’s invention ofmultitrack recording. Along withFrank Sinatra, Crosby was one of the principal backers behind the famousUnited Western Recordersrecording studio complex in Los Angeles.
During the “Golden Age of Radio,” performers often had to recreate their live shows a second time for the west coast time zone. Through the medium of recording, Crosby constructed his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal,time shifting) being used in motion picture production. This became the industry standard.
Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actorfor his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way, and was nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary’s the next year, becoming the first of four actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, Crosby received the firstGrammy Global Achievement Award. Crosby is one of the 22 people to have three stars on theHollywood Walk of Fame.
After a fruitless search, Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, to his first position as a choreographer with the Charles Gaynor musical revue Hold Your Hats at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in April, 1938. Kelly appeared in six of the sketches, one of which, “La Cumparsita”, became the basis of an extended Spanish number in Anchors Aweigh” eight years later.
His first Broadwayassignment, in November 1938, was as a dancer in Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me! as the American ambassador’s secretary who supports Mary Martin while she sings “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”. He had been hired by Robert Alton who had staged a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and been impressed by Kelly’s teaching skills. When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing and dance in a total of eight routines. In 1939, he was selected to be part of a musical revue “One for the Money” produced by the actressKatharine Cornell, who was known for finding and hiring talented young actors.
Kelly’s first career breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on October 25, 1939, where for the first time on Broadway he danced to his own choreography. In the same year he received his first assignment as a Broadway choreographer, for Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe. His future wife,Betsy Blair, was a member of the cast. They began dating and married on October 16, 1941.
In 1940, he was given the leading role in Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey, again choreographed by Robert Alton, and this role propelled him to stardom. During its run he told reporters: “I don’t believe in conformity to any school of dancing. I create what the drama and the music demand. While I am a hundred percent for ballet technique, I use only what I can adapt to my own use. I never let technique get in the way of mood or continuity.” It was at this time also, that his phenomenal commitment to rehearsal and hard work was noticed by his colleagues. Van Johnson who also appeared in Pal Joey recalled: “I watched him rehearsing, and it seemed to me that there was no possible room for improvement. Yet he wasn’t satisfied. It was midnight and we had been rehearsing since eight in the morning. I was making my way sleepily down the long flight of stairs when I heard staccato steps coming from the stage…I could see just a single lamp burning. Under it, a figure was dancing…Gene.”
Offers from Hollywood began to arrive but Kelly was in no particular hurry to leave New York. Eventually, he signed with David O. Selznick, agreeing to go to Hollywood at the end of his commitment to Pal Joey, in October 1941. Prior to his contract, he also managed to fit in choreographing the stage production of Best Foot Forward.
Julie London (September 26, 1926 – October 18, 2000) was an American singer and actress. She was best known for her smoky, sensual voice. London was at her singing career’s peak in the 1950s. Her acting career lasted more than 35 years. It concluded with the female lead role of nurse Dixie McCall on the television series Emergency! (1972–1979), co-starring her best friendRobert Fuller and her real-life husbandBobby Troup, and produced by her ex-husbandJack Webb.
Born December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra was the only child of Italian immigrants Natalie Della (Garaventa) and Antonino Martino Sinatra, and was raised Roman Catholic. He left high school without graduating,having attended only 47 days before being expelled because of his rowdy conduct. Sinatra’s father, often referred to as Marty, served with the Hoboken Fire Department as a Captain. His mother, known as Dolly, was influential in the neighborhood and in local Democratic Partycircles, but also ran an illegal abortion business from her home; she was arrested several times and convicted twice for this offense. During the Great Depression, Dolly nevertheless provided money to her son for outings with friends and expensive clothes. In 1938, Sinatra was arrested for carrying on with a married woman, a criminal offense at the time. For his livelihood, he worked as a delivery boy at the Jersey Observer newspaper, and later as a riveter at the Tietjan and Lang shipyard,but music was Sinatra’s main interest, and he listened carefully tobig band jazz. He began singing for tips at the age of eight, standing on top of the bar at a local nightclub in Hoboken. Sinatra began singing professionally as a teenager in the 1930s,although helearned music by ear and never learned how to read music.
A biography of Martin titled Dean Martin: King of the Road, by Michael Freedland, alleged that he had links to the Mafia early in his career. According to this book, Martin received help with his singing career from members of the Chicago Outfit, who owned saloons in the city, and later performed in shows hosted by these bosses when he was a star. The mob bosses were Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana. Freedland suggests that Martin felt little sympathy for the Mafia and did small favors for them only if it was not inconvenient for him. Another book, The Animal in Hollywood by John L. Smith, depicted Martin’s longtime friendship with Mafia mobstersJohnny Roselli andAnthony Fiato. Smith suggested that Fiato did many favors for Martin, such as recovering money from two swindlers who had cheated his ex-wife Betty out of thousands of dollars of her alimony.
Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath inIndependence, Missouri, the only child of William Eddins McMath, anelectrical engineer, and his wife, Lela Emogene Owens (1891–1977). Ginger’s parents separated soon after her birth, and she and her mother went to live with her grandparents, Walter and Saphrona (née Ball) Owens, in nearbyKansas City. Rogers’ parents fought over her custody. After her mother denied him visitation, her father reportedly absconded with his daughter twice. After her parents divorced, Rogers stayed with her grandparents while her mother wrote scripts for two years inHollywood. Rogers was to remain close to her grandfather (much later, when she was a star in 1939, she bought him a home at 5115 Greenbush Avenue inSherman Oaks, California so that he could be close to her while she was filming at the studios).
One of Rogers’ young cousins, Helen, had a hard time pronouncing “Virginia”, shortening it to “Ginga”; the nickname stuck. When “Ginga” was nine years old, her mother remarried, to John Logan Rogers. Ginger took the surname Rogers, although she was never legally adopted. They lived in Fort Worth, Texas. Her mother became a theater critic for a local newspaper, the Fort Worth Record. She attended but did not graduate from Fort Worth’s Central High School. As a teenager, Rogers thought of becoming a schoolteacher, but with her mother’s interest in Hollywood and the theater, her early exposure to the theater increased. Waiting for her mother in the wings of the Majestic Theatre, she began to sing and dance along with the performers on stage.
Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly (August 23, 1912 – February 2, 1996) was an American dancer, actor, singer, film director and producer, and choreographer. Kelly was known for his energetic and athletic dancing style, his good looks and the likeable characters that he played on screen.
Although he is known today for his performances in Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, he was a dominant force in Hollywood musical films from the mid 1940s until this art form fell out of fashion in the late 1950s. His many innovations transformed theHollywood musical film, and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences.
Kelly was the recipient of anAcademy Honorary Awardin 1952 for his career achievements. He later received lifetime achievement awards in theKennedy Center Honors, and from theScreen Actors GuildandAmerican Film Institute; in 1999, the American Film Institute also numbered him 15th in theirGreatest Male Stars of All Timelist.