Happy 95th Birthday, Judy Holliday!

The delightful Judy Holliday, born Judith Tuvim in New York City 95 years ago today, appeared in fewer than a dozen pictures and starred or was featured in fewer than that, but her impact on Hollywood was indelible. She remains one of our very favorites.

Here are 10 Judy Holliday Did-You-Knows:

  • Holliday grew up in Sunnyside, Queens and graduated from Julia Richman High School.
  • Holiday was rejected by Yale Drama School out of high school.
  • She went on to work briefly as a switchboard operator in Orson WellesMercury Theater.
  • Early in her career, Judy Holliday was a member of a cabaret group called The Revuers that was founded by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
  • She made her motion picture debut in a small role in Greenwich Village (1944). After two more bits parts that year, she returned to New York City and the theatre for five years.
  • Prior to its Broadway debut, Holliday replaced Jean Arthur as Billie Dawn in Garson Kanin‘s play Born Yesterday. Though there was talk of casting Rita Hayworth in the movie adaptation of the play, Katharine Hepburn, impressed by Holliday’s work in Adam’s Rib (1949), helped Holliday nab the screen role.
  • Though she was associated with dumb blonde roles, Judy Holliday’s IQ was said to be 172.
  • Holiday was investigated in 1950 (and eventually cleared) by the FBI due to allegations that she was a Communist. In 1952, she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee regarding those same allegations. She wasn’t blacklisted as a results of the (unfounded) rumors surrounding her, but it is thought her career was negatively impacted.
  • Holliday won the 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing. She went on to play the same role in the 1960 film version opposite Dean Martin.
  • Holliday wrote a number of songs with jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan; he wrote the melodies, she wrote the lyrics. They also recorded an album, Holliday with Mulligan, together

Judy Holliday died of cancer three weeks before her 44th birthday, on June 7, 1965.

Happy birthday, Ms. Holliday, wherever you may be; you are sorely missed!

Judy Holliday

Times Square Tintypes: Eugene O’Neill

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles playwright Eugene O’Neill.
 

THE GREAT GOD O’NEILL

EUGENE O’NEILL. He is the only Broadway playwright who was born in Times Square. He was born in the Barrett House, now the Hotel Cadillac, at Forty-third Street and Broadway. The date: October 16, 1888.
Caricature of Eugene O'NeillHe always wears dark clothes.
When writing he uses either pen and ink or a typewriter. It merely depends on which is handy. Revising a play annoys him.
His father was James O’Neill—an actor famous for his portrayal of the Count of Monte Cristo. His mother, a fine pianist, attended a convent with the mother of George Jean Nathan.
He’s a great swimmer and doesn’t mind cold water.
Night life doesn’t appeal to him. He made one tour of the night clubs. It was his last.
Never attends the openings of his plays. In fact he seldom goes to a theater. He’s rather read a play than see it performed.
While at Provincetown, a feeble-minded lad of six took a great liking to him. One day while sitting on the beach the boy asked: “What is beyond the Point? What is beyond the sea? What is beyond Europe?” O’Neill answered, “The horizon.” “But,” persisted the boy, “what is beyond the horizon?”
Could grow a beard in ten days if he didn’t shave.
His father, who said he never would be a great playwright, lived to see his son’s first success, Beyond the Horizon.
He hasn’t touched a drop of liquor in the last three years.
In his youth Jack London, Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling were his favorite authors. Today Nietzsche is his literary idol.
He can’t walk a mile without meeting an old friend who asks for money. He gives.
After the opening of Strange Interlude he chance to meet an old seafaring friend. O’Neill asked what he was doing, and the friend replied, “Oh, I’ve married and settled down. Got a nice little business and doing pretty good. And you, Gene, are you still working the boats?”
Reads all the reviews of his plays. He claims he knows the good critics from the bad ones.
He seldom talks unless he has something to say.
While writing he hates to be disturbed. When working at Provincetown he tacked this sign outside his door: “Go to hell.”
Is crazy about prize fights and the six-day bicycle races. When in town he will go to anything at Madison Square Garden. The only person he expressed a desire to meet was Tex Rickard.
His full name is Eugene Gladstone O’Neill. Lately he discarded the middle name entirely.
Once, when a mere infant, he was very ill in Chicago. George Tyler, then his father’s manager, ran about the streets of that city at three in the morning for a doctor.
Is always making notes for future plays. He wrote the notes for his first plays in the memorandum section of that grand publication, The Bartender’s Guide.
He likes to be alone.
He had three favorite haunts. One was Jimmy the Priest’s saloon, a waterfront dive. He later made use of this locale in Anna Christie. Another was “Hell’s Hole,” a Greenwich Village restaurant. The third was the Old Garden Hotel, which was situated on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street. Here he met many people of the sporting world. A former bicycle rider (now a megaphone shouter on a sightseeing bus) he met there is still a pal of his.
It took him three years to write Strange Interlude. He had only six of the nine acts completed when he sold the play to the Theatre Guild.
He is especially fond of fine linen.
When in New York he lives in a secondary hotel. A place no one would ever think of looking for him.
He has huge hands.
For every play he draws sketches suggesting designs for the sets.
Of his own work he prefers, The Hairy Ape, The Straw (this he considers the best of his naturalistic plays), Marco Millions, Strange Interlude and Lazarus Laughed. The last is to be produced next year by the Moscow Art Theatre.
He takes great delight in recounting droll stories. Tells them with feeling and skill.
While attending Professor Baker’s class at Harvard he almost ruined the college careers of John Colton and Johnny Weaver by filling them full of beer.
Is now living in France. He does not intend to return to America for some years.
His first book, Thirst and Other One-Act Plays, was published at his expense.
All of his original manuscripts are in his possession despite offers in five figures for them.
He writes important messages which are not to be breathed to a soul, on the back of a postal card.
In Shanghai, on his recent trip around the world, he was a called a faker posing as Eugene O’Neill.

Formerly Famous: Ursula Parrott

The Woman Accused (1933), starring Cary Grant and Nancy Carroll, was an unusual picture in that it was co-written, as is trumpeted in the movie’s opening credits, by “ten of the world’s greatest authors”: Rupert Hughes, Vicki Baum, Viña Delmar, Irvin S. Cobb, Gertrude Atherton, J. P. McEvoy, Zane Grey, Ursula Parrott, Polan Banks, and Sophie Kerr.

That roster of once-prominent scribes moves one to ponder the fleeting nature of fame. How many of those names are familiar to the average person today? An entirely unscientific survey we conducted found that most folks recognize exactly one: Zane Grey. The others, it seems, are all but forgotten. It’s as if Stephen King, David Sedaris, Dan Brown, Dean Koontz, J. K. Rowling and another handful of today’s most prominent authors teamed to write a serialized novel that was then made into a movie. Would movie buffs in the year 2090, while watching that picture, scratch their heads over the identities of these writers?

We did a little digging on The Woman Accused‘s ten authors and found Parrott most intriguing. She was sort of the Candace Bushnell of her day, trafficking in proto-chick lit that examined the trials and tribulations endured by the “New Woman” of the 1920s and the freshly minted morals by which she lived.

Born in Boston in 1899, Parrott graduated from Radcliffe. She moved to Greenwich Village in 1920, where she married the first of her four husbands, Lindesay Marc Parrott, in 1922. The Parrotts divorced in 1925. Parrott wrote what she knew in composing her first novel, Ex-Wife, in 1929. The book’s subject matter was so scandalous in its time that it was initially published anonymously. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), it sold more than 100,000 copies the first year. Ex-Wife tells the tale of Pat and Peter, a married couple in their twenties who are convinced they needn’t follow the old rules in the pursuit of marital bliss. But when Peter, who has strayed, learns that Pat has done the same (just once, and in a tipsy moment of emotional weakness), his attitude toward her behavior is no longer so modern.

The rest of the novel is devoted to Pat’s coming to terms with her new status as an ex-wife. From our 21st century perspective, Pat’s post-split behavior is not especially shocking—she allows herself a few dispassionate flings and submits to the abortion of a pregnancy for which Peter is responsible. Having moved out of the apartment she shared with Peter, Pat rooms with Lucia, a woman in her thirties who, having already undergone the transition from wife to ex-wife, serves as a soothing and encouraging mentor to Pat. They are two fashionable, well-read, cosmopolitan women navigating an existence that more closely resembles life in 2011 than one might expect.

Author Francine Prose, in her introduction to the 1989 reissue of Ex-Wife wrote: “It’s striking how much of Ex-Wife seems far less dated than many of [F. Scott] Fitzgerald‘s Jazz Age stories”—and it’s true. Pat’s daily life comes off as remarkably similar to those led by so many urban, urbane women today.

MGM paid the then-extravagant sum of $20,000 fro the film rights to Ex-Wife, though the resulting picture, 1930’s The Divorcee, starring Norma Shearer and Chester Morris, is at best a loose adaptation of Parrott’s novel. That didn’t keep her from answering the door when Hollywood again came knocking. Between 1930 and 1936, eight more pictures were made based on Parrott’s novel and stories.

As a writer, Parrott was at her most successful between 1929 and the early 1940s. Her son has estimated that she earned in the neighborhood of $700,000—between $8-$10 million in today’s dollars—over that span. But Parrott spent the money as quickly as she made it, and when her career began a slow but steady slide in the ’40s, there was little left to show for her successes.

Like her fiction, Parrott’s life was not without its marital disruptions and scandals. Wed and divorced four times, she found herself hauled into court in 1943 for helping a young soldier escape from military prison. What’s more, the soldier was accused of trafficking in marijuana. Parrott was also reportedly the victim of numerous attempts at blackmail, and in 1953 she was again in the news when, as Time magazine reported, “her hotel presented a $225.20 bill and refused to accept her check.” Parrott spent 30 hours in a jail in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, with her French poodle, Coco.

In 1957, Ursula Parrott died of cancer at age 58. Her final days were spent in the charity ward of a New York City hospital. Today, the once-celebrated Parrott is so little remembered that only recently was she finally given an entry at Wikipedia, that online repository for otherwise forgotten figures. When first we composed this account, in the summer of 2010, no entry for her was to be found there.

This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Zelda, the Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau.