Penny Singleton (born this day in 1908) is best known today for playing the title role in the film and radio adaptations of Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie, and for providing the voice of Jane Jetson in the futuristic animated series The Jetsons.
But her resume dates back far earlier. Born Marianna Dorothy Agnes Letitia McNulty (simplified to Dorothy McNulty) she started out in vaudeville as a child performer in one of Gus Edwards’ “Kid Kabarets”. Success in the 1927 Broadway show Good News brought her out to Hollywood, where she broke into movies circa 1930. In the years following The Jetsons she became Vice President of the American Guild of Variety Artists and concentrated on a behind-the-scenes career. She passed away in 2003.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
Yup… ’68/’69 seasons… Great fun…
Penny Singleton stepped up, back in the day, when I called the American Guild of Variety Artists (of which I was a member and she was the President) to question the legality of a Ringling exec presenting each performer on the show with a blanket release for the use of all depictions of the performer’s act, costume, props–their entire act and identity, in essence, including their name!!!–for the sum of $1.00.
(Ringling was about to strike a deal with Mattel for a line of View-Master slides of the circus and didn’t want to pay out money for the subjects of the photos!)
Ms Singleton told me to inform the rest of the performers not to sign the release, which I, naively, perhaps, did.
The deal was scotched, natch. But I was named as the guy who complained (by Antoinette Concello, a great flyer, Captain of the showgirls, and a mean woman, sez I) and told that the highest levels of the show would see that I “never worked again…”
Scary to hear, right up until they offered me a new contract–and kept calling me into the new season, asking me to come back!!!
(I probably should have…)
Good ol’ Penny S….
Thanks, as always, for the memories, Mr. S.D…
damn, you do have the stories, Michael! were you clowning for ringling?