Born a Century Ago Today: Vivian Blaine

Born in Newark, New Jersey 100 years ago today: musical stage and screen star Vivian Blaine (Vivian Stapleton, 1921-1995).

Blaine started as a singer with big bands in her teenage years in the mid ’30s. She was 21 years old when agent Manny Franks landed her a five year contract at 20th Century Fox. Her most notable films at the studio were Jitterbugs (1943) with Laurel and Hardy and the original version of State Fair (1945). Her dozen films at the studio during the period also included Greenwich Village (1944), Something for the Boys (1944), Nob Hill (1945) and the title role in Doll Face (1945). She and Franks were married in 1945.

Miss Adelaide

When the contract ran out in 1946, Fox opted not to renew it, but with Franks’ help she fought her way to (arguably) greater prominence. In the later ’40s she starred in touring version of musicals, and headlined in nightclubs like New York’s Copacabana, where Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were initially HER opening act. In 1950 she originated the role of Miss Adelaide in the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls, a gig that lasted three years, making her forever associated with the songs “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Adelaide’s Lament”. She then toured with the show to London and Las Vegas. When the show was filmed in 1955, she was one of the few from the original cast retained. Throughout these years and beyond she was a frequent presence on TV variety shows like The Milton Berle Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Cavalcade of Stars, The Saturday Night Revue with Jack Carter, Paul Whiteman’s Goodyear Revue, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Red Skelton Hour, The Jimmy Durante Show, The Bob Hope Show, Kraft Music Hall, et al. In 1952 she co-starred on a show called Those Two, with Pinky Lee.

Blaine and Franks divorced in 1956, but Blaine’s career kept moving. In 1957 she co-starred with Red Skelton in Public Pigeon No. 1. In 1958 she returned to Broadway for the show Say, Darling with David Wayne, Steve Condos, and a young Elliot Gould, which played nearly ten months. She starred in touring productions of musicals throughout the ’60s, returning to Broadway in 1963 for the original production of Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing (playing the part Elaine May would play in the film). She was a replacement in the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company (1971-72, touring through 1973).

A recurring role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1976 jump started a TV acting career for Blaine at the age of 55. She was in the made-for-television movies Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold (1978), The Cracker Factory (1979, with Natalie Wood), Fast Friends (1979, with Carrie Snodgress and Dick Shawn) and did guest shots on Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote. She was also in the theatrically released horror films The Dark (1979) and Parasite (1982) and the thriller I’m Going to Be Famous (1983). In 1983 she became the first celebrity to publicly advocate on behalf of victims of AIDS and to raise money for AIDS related charities.

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