Celebrating Judy Holiday

Today would have been the 100th birthday of July Holiday (Judy Tuvin, 1921-1965) had she not died so tragically shy of that benchmark. Holiday only lived to be 43, although she achieved major success at such an early age, half of that time was lived as a major star!

Today, folks who remember her at all know her best (some, almost exclusively) for her Oscar winning turn as the dumb blonde character in the 1950 film version of Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday, having played the part to great acclaim on Broadway in 1946. The inside joke about her association with the role is that she actually had an IQ of 172; she was a literal genius. (For one additional twist, she famously subverted her Congressional testimony for alleged Communist sympathies by pretending to be dumb as her stage and screen character. In reality, her father was a committed socialist politician, as it happens. She herself was a Democrat).

Originally from Sunnyside, Queens, Holiday had worked as a phone operator for the Mercury Theatre, and been an extra in the early Orson Welles film Too Much Johnson. She was in a cabaret and nightclub act called The Revuers with Comden and Green and others, and the success of that act in New York and Hollywood led to the act doing a turn in the 1944 Carmen Miranda vehicle Greenwich Village (one of the Revuers’ frequent venues was the Village Vanguard). Their turn wound up on the cutting room floor, but Holiday also got a small role in Something for the Boys (1944), also with Miranda. Holiday also had roles in the film of Moss Hart’s Winged Victory (1944) and George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib (1949) with Tracy and Hepburn.

After the success of Born Yesterday, Holiday went on to other notable successes. She starred in the original Broadway production of Elmer Rice’s Dream Girl (1951), and in both the Broadway (1956) and Hollywood (1960) versions of Bells Are Ringing, winning a Tony for the former. Her other movies were Cukor’s The Marrying Kind (1952), It Should Happen to You and Phffft! (both 1954 with Jack Lemmon), the screen version of George S. Kaufman’s The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), and Richard Quine’s Full of Life (1956). In 1960 she played Laurette Taylor in a touring one woman show. Her last credit was the early Steven Sondheim musical Hot Spot (1963), which ran for about a month on Broadway.

Additionally, Holiday released two record albums, and appeared on the TV variety shows of Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, Max Liebman, Perry Como, Arthur Murray, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and others. She was married to classical clarinettist David Oppenheim from 1948 to 1957, and later dated and later was involved with jazz sax player Gerry “Jeru” Mulligan. She is also said to have had a fling with Sydney Chaplin during the Broadway run of Bells Are Ringing. She was not yet 44 when cancer took her in June, 1965.

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.