Gotta Dance!: Stars of MGM Musicals

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Judy Garland
One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals. She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in Minnesota...
Gene Kelly
Eugene Curran Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third son of Harriet Catherine (Curran) and James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman. His father was of Irish descent and his mother was of Irish and German ancestry. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the largest and most powerful studio in Hollywood when Gene Kelly arrived in town in 1941...
Fred Astaire
Actor, Top Hat
Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Johanna (Geilus) and Fritz Austerlitz, a brewer. Fred entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. Signed to RKO...
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi, to Gladys Presley (née Gladys Love Smith) and Vernon Presley (Vernon Elvis Presley). He had a twin brother who was stillborn. In September 1948, Elvis and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he attended Humes High School...
Connie Francis
Soundtrack, The Island
Singer, composer, actress, entertainer and publisher Connie Francis was educated at Arts High School and was a music student of her father. At age 11 she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts as a singer and accordionist. She has toured the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe...
Eleanor Powell
Actress, Born to Dance
Eleanor Powell was born in 1912 in Springfield, Massachussetts, and got her professional start in Atlantic City clubs, from where she moved into in revue in New York at the Ritz Grill and Casino de Paris at the age of sixteen. She started her career on Broadway in 1929, where her machine-gun foot work gained her the title of world champion in tapping...
Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule Jr. on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York. He first took the stage as a toddler in his parents vaudeville act at 17 months old. He made his first film appearance in 1926. The following year, he played the lead character in the first Mickey McGuire short film. It was in this popular film series that he took the stage name Mickey Rooney...
Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1921 in Amarillo, Texas. Born to be a dancer, she spent her early childhood taking ballet lessons and joined the Ballet Russe at age 13. In 1939, she married Nico Charisse, her former dance teacher. In 1943, she appeared in her first film, Something to Shout About...
Debbie Reynolds
Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, the second child of Maxine N. (Harmon) and Raymond Francis Reynolds, a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her film career began at MGM after she won a beauty contest at age 16 impersonating Betty Hutton. Reynolds wasn't a dancer until she was selected to be Gene Kelly's partner in Singin' in the Rain...
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian immigrants Natalina Della (Garaventa), from Northern Italy, and Saverio Antonino Martino Sinatra, a Sicilian boxer, fireman, and bar owner. Growing up on the gritty streets of Hoboken made Sinatra determined to work hard to get ahead. Starting out as a saloon singer in musty little dives (he carried his own P.A...
Howard Keel
Actor, Dallas
He was the Errol Flynn and Clark Gable of "golden age" movie musicals back in the 1950s. With a barrel-chested swagger and cocky, confident air, not to mention his lusty handsomeness and obvious athleticism, 6'4" brawny baritone Howard Keel had MGM's loveliest songbirds swooning helplessly for over a decade in what were some of the finest musical films ever produced...
Kathryn Grayson
Actress, Show Boat
Kathryn Grayson was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, NC, on February 9, 1922. This pretty, petite brunette with a heart-shaped face was discovered by MGM talent scouts while singing on the radio. The studio quickly signed her to a contract, and she was given acting lessons along and had to pose for countless publicity photos...
Jane Powell
Actress, Royal Wedding
Jane Powell was singing and dancing at an early age. She sang on the radio and performed in theaters before her screen debut in 1944. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she had a successful career in movie musicals. However, in 1957, her career in films ended, as she had outgrown her innocent girl-next-door image...
Ginger Rogers
Actress, Top Hat
Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri on July 16, 1911. Her mother, known as Lelee, went to Independence to have Ginger away from her husband. She had a baby earlier in their marriage and he allowed the doctor to use forceps and the baby died. She was kidnapped by her father several times until her mother took him to court...
Mario Lanza
Soundtrack, Zodiac
Mario Lanza's life, sadly, has all the markings of an epic Shakespearean tragedy. The story is truly incredible: a wild, incendiary Philadelphia kid who can sing better than Enrico Caruso sets out to become the greatest dramatic opera singer who ever lived, is detoured by MGM honcho Louis B. Mayer and vixen Hollywood...
Jeanette MacDonald
Actress, San Francisco
She was the third daughter of Daniel and Anne MacDonald, younger sister to Blossom (MGM's character actress Marie Blake), whom she followed to New York and a chorus job in 1920. She was busy in a string of musical productions. In 1928 Paramount tested and rejected her, but a year later Ernst Lubitsch saw her test and picked her to play opposite Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade...
Nelson Eddy
The only career Nelson Eddy ever considered was singing. His parents were singers, his grandparents were musicians. Unable to afford a teacher, he learned by imitating opera recordings. At age 14 he worked as a telephone operator in a Philadelphia iron foundry. He sold newspaper advertising and performed in amateur musicals...
Ray Bolger
Ray Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bolger on January 10, 1907 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Anne C. (Wallace) and James Edward Bolger, both Irish-Americans. Ray began his career in vaudeville. He was half of a team called "Sanford and Bolger" and also did numerous Broadway shows on his own. Like Gene Kelly...
Ann Sothern
Ann Sothern's film career started as an extra in 1927. Originally a redhead, for the comedy roles she began to get she bleached her hair blond. After working at MGM and on Broadway, Ann was signed by Columbia Pictures for Let's Fall in Love. The next year she would work with Eddie Cantor in his hit Kid Millions...
George Murphy
After giving up college, George Murphy decided to become a dancer. Starting in 1927, he worked with his wife and partner Julie Johnson on Broadway. In 1934, after his wife retired from show business, he worked with Shirley Temple, in Hollywood, as well as Eleanor Powell, Fred Astaire, and Ronald Reagan...
Bert Lahr
Fittingly known to be a "Leo" for his horoscope, Bert Lahr is always remembered as the Cowardly Lion in (and the farmer "Zeke") The Wizard of Oz. But during his acting career, he has been known for being in burlesque, vaudeville, and Broadway. Dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen for a juvenile vaudeville act...
Van Johnson
Van Johnson was the well-mannered nice guy on screen you wanted your daughter to marry. This fair, freckled and invariably friendly-looking MGM song-and-dance star of the 40s emerged a box office favorite (1944-1946) and second only to heartthrob Frank Sinatra during what gossipmonger Hedda Hopper dubbed the "Bobby-Soxer Blitz" era...
June Allyson
American leading lady whose sweet smile and sunny disposition made her the prototypical girl-next-door of American movies of the 1940s. Raised in semi-poverty in Bronx neighborhoods by her divorced mother, Allyson (nee Ella Geisman) was injured in a fall at age eight and spent four years confined within a steel brace...
Lena Horne
Lena Calhoun Horne was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. In her biography she stated that on the day she was born, her father was in the midst of a card game trying to get money to pay the hospital costs. Her parents divorced while she was still a toddler. Her mother left later in order to find work as an actress and Lena was left in the care of her grandparents...
Ann Miller
Ann Miller was born Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier on April 12, 1923 in Chireno, Texas. She lived there until she was nine, when her mother left her philandering father and moved with Ann to Los Angeles, California. Even at that young age, she had to support her mother, who was hearing-impaired and unable to hold a job...
Betty Garrett
A sunny singer, dancer and comic actress, Betty Garrett starred in several Hollywood musicals and stage roles. She was at the top of her game when the Communist scare in the 1950s brought her career to a screeching, ugly halt. She and her husband Larry Parks, an Oscar-nominated actor, were summoned by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and questioned about their involvement...
Esther Williams
Esther Jane Williams was born on August 8, 1921 in Inglewood, California. Her youth was spent as a teenage swimming champion and she won three United States National championships. She eventually was spotted by a MGM talent scout while working in a Los Angeles department store. She made her film debut with MGM in an "Andy Hardy" picture called Andy Hardy's Double Life...
Ricardo Montalban
Handsome Ricardo Montalban was the epitome of continental elegance, charm and grace on film and television and in the late 1940s and early 1950s reinvigorated the Rudolph Valentino / Ramon Novarro "Latin Lover" style in Hollywood without achieving top screen stardom. Moreover, unlike most minority actors of his time...
Donald O'Connor
Born into a vaudeville family, O'Connor was the youthful figure cutting a rug in several Universal musicals of the 1940s. His best-known musical work is probably Singin' in the Rain, in which he did an impressive dance that culminated in a series of backflips off the wall. O'Connor was also effective in comedic lead roles, particularly as the companion to Francis the Talking Mule in that film series.
Lucille Ball
Actress, I Love Lucy
The woman who will always be remembered as the crazy, accident-prone, lovable Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Her father died before she was four, and her mother worked several jobs, so she and her younger brother were raised by their grandparents...
Peter Lawford
Born in London, England and son of a British World War I hero, Lawford had spent most of his childhood in Paris, France and began his acting career at a very young age. His parents were not married when their son was born. As a result of the scandal, The Lawfords fled to America. As a young child, the young Peter injured his arm by in his own words...
Dan Dailey
Born in New York City, Dan Dailey started his career in vaudeville, later making his Broadway debut in the stage version of "Babes in Arms". When signed to MGM, the studio initially casted him as a Nazi in The Mortal Storm. The studio realized their mistake and cast him in musical films, thereafter. Then, after serving in World War II, Dailey later returned to acting to make more musicals.
Leslie Caron
Actress, Gigi
French ballet dancer Leslie Caron was discovered by the legendary MGM star Gene Kelly during his search for a co-star in one of the finest musicals ever filmed, the Oscar-winning An American in Paris, which was inspired by and based on the music of George Gershwin. Leslie's gamine looks and pixie-like appeal would be ideal for Cinderella-type rags-to-riches stories...
Virginia O'Brien
Known to classic film fans by various nicknames--including Miss Deadpan, Frozen Face, and Miss Ice Glacier--this statuesque, dark-haired singer/actress carved a unique niche for herself on stage and screen by the hilarious Sphinx-like way she delivered a song. The daughter of the captain of detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department...
Red Skelton
The son of a former circus clown turned grocer and a cleaning woman, Red Skelton was introduced to show business at the age of seven by Ed Wynn, at a vaudeville show in Vincennes. At age 10, he left home to travel with a medicine show through the Midwest, and joined the vaudeville circuit at age 15...
One of the most vivacious and vibrant musical film talents to glide through Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the 40s and 50s was Vera-Ellen Westmeyer Rohe, better known to her fans simply by her hyphenated first name. Whether performing solo or dueting with the best male partners of her generation, including Fred Astaire...
Dolores Gray
Dabbling in practically every facet of the business during her over six-decade career -- nightclubs, cabaret, radio, recordings, TV, film and Broadway -- sultry, opulent, hard-looking singing star Dolores Gray, distinctive for her sharp, somewhat equine features, lived the high life for most of her time on earth...
Bobby Van
Triple-threat performer singer, dancer and actor Bobby Van was the epitome of the breezy, exuberant song-and-dance man who could enliven any film he was put into. Unfortunately, he caught the tail end of MGM's musical reign during the 1950s. Alas, the visions of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor come...
Tommy Rall
Tommy Rall, dynamic actor/dancer of many 1950s musicals, was born in 1929 and began his dancing career at age 14 with American Ballet Theater. He appeared on Broadway in "Miss Liberty" (1949) and "Milk and Honey" (1960), as well as in several less successful shows. After a series of great dancing roles on screen (Kiss Me Kate...
Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno has had a thriving acting career for the better part of six decades. One of the very few (and very first) performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy, she was born Rosita Dolores Alverío in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on December 11, 1931, to seamstress Rosa María (Marcano) and farmer Francisco José "Paco" Alverío...
Julie Newmar
Julia Chalene Newmeyer (Chalane was her mother's maiden name) was born on August 16, 1933 in Los Angeles, California. Her father was a one-time professional football player (LA Buccaneers, 1926), her mother was a star of the Follies of 1920. From an early age, Julie studied piano, dance and classical ballet...
Tony Martin
Born Alvin Morris, the son of immigrants from Poland, Tony Martin received a soprano saxophone on his tenth birthday. In his grammar school glee club, he became an instrumentalist and soprano pop singer. When in high school, he then formed his first band called "The Red Peppers", eventually joining a local orchestra leader...
Ann Blyth
The dark, petulant beauty of this petite American film and musical star worked to her advantage, especially in her early dramatic career. Ann Marie Blyth was born of Irish stock to Harry and Nan Blyth on August 16, 1928, in Mt. Kisco, New York. Her parents split while she was young and she, her mother and sister moved to New York City...
Vic Damone
At fourteen he worked as an usher at the NYC Paramount Theatre. His father was an electrician who played guitar and his mother taught piano. Damone attended PS 163 and sang in St. Finbar's choir and later attended the Alexander Hamilton Vocational High School and then Lafayette High School in Brooklyn...
Marge Champion
One of the great dancer and choreographers in both movies and stage, Marge Champion is best known today as the former wife of Gower Champion, when they worked together as a highly successfully dancing team in the MGM musical years. After retiring from movies, Champion now works as a dance teacher and as a choreographer in New York.
Bob Fosse
Miscellaneous Crew, All That Jazz
Nanette Fabray
A sparkling, entertaining, highly energetic presence ever since her early days (from age 4) as a singing and tap dancing child vaudevillian, Nanette Fabray (born Ruby Fabares in San Diego) was once billed as "Baby Nanette" and working with the top headliners of the era, notably Ben Turpin, in the Los Angeles area...
Janis Paige
Joyous scene-stealer Janis Paige started out playing rather bland film ingénues, but never seemed to be comfortable in those roles--she had too much snap, crackle and pop to be confined in such a formulaic way. Born Donna Mae Tjaden in 1922 in Tacoma, Washington, she was singing in public from age 5 in local amateur shows...
Jack Benny
The son of a saloonkeeper, Jack Benny (born Benny Kubelsky) began to study the violin at the age six, and his "ineptness" at it later become his trademark (in reality, he was a very accomplished player). When given the opportunity to play in live theatre professionally, Benny quit school and joined vaudeville...
Buddy Ebsen
Buddy Ebsen began his career as a dancer in the late 1920s in a Broadway chorus. He later formed a vaudeville act with his sister Vilma Ebsen, which also appeared on Broadway. In 1935 he and his sister went to Hollywood, where they were signed for the first of MGM's Eleanor Powell movies, Broadway Melody of 1936...
Jack Haley
Jack Haley was a movie and vaudeville actor who is always remembered as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. The Tin Man role was originally was going to Buddy Ebsen, but due to allergic reaction from the aluminum powder makeup, Ebsen was taken out of the casting and Haley replaced him. To avoid the same problem arising...
Louis Jourdan
Actor, Octopussy
Louis Jourdan was born Louis Robert Gendre in Marseille, France, to Yvonne (née Jourdan) and Henry Gendre, a hotel owner. He was educated in France, Britain, and Turkey. He trained as an actor with René Simon at the École Dramatique. He debuted on screen in 1939, going on to play cultivated, polished...
Maurice Chevalier
Actor, Gigi
Maurice Chevalier's first working job was as an acrobat, until a serious accident ended that career. He turned his talents to singing and acting, and made several short films in France. During World War I he enlisted in the French army. He was wounded in battle, captured and placed in a POW camp by the Germans...
Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr. in Tacoma, Washington, the fourth of seven children of Catherine Helen "Kate" (Harrigan) and Harry Lowe Crosby, a brewery bookkeeper. He was of English and Irish descent. Crosby studied law at Gonzaga University in Spokane but was more interested in playing the drums and singing with a local band...
Carmen Miranda
Soundtrack, Radio Days
Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha on February 9, 1909, near Porto, Portugal, in the town of Marco de Canavezes. Not long after her birth her family moved to Brazil, where her father was involved in the produce business. The family settled in the then-capital city of Rio de Janeiro...
Jimmy Durante
Comedian, composer, actor, singer and songwriter ("Inka Dinka Doo") Jimmy Durante was educated in New York public schools. He began his career as a Coney Island pianist, and organized a five-piece band in 1916. He opened the Club Durant with Eddie Jackson and Lou Clayton, with whom he later formed a comedy trio for vaudeville and on television...
Gloria DeHaven
Actress, Out to Sea
Vaudeville headliners Carter and Flora DeHaven made sure their daughter would be educated at the very best private schools. They also indulged her ambition to be in show business by packing her off to the Mar-Ken Professional School in Hollywood (1940-42). Diminutive of stature and dark-haired, budding musical star Gloria (her nickname then was "Glo") enjoyed collecting perfume...
Ethel Waters
Actress, Beulah
The child of a teenage rape victim, Ethel Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia and neighboring cities, seldom living anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time. "No one raised me, " she recollected, "I just ran wild." She excelled not only at looking after herself, but also at singing and dancing; she began performing at church functions...
Arlene Dahl
Elegance and femininity are fitting descriptions for Arlene Dahl. She is considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses to have graced the screen during the postwar period. Audiences were captivated by her breathtaking beauty and the way she used to it to her advantage, progressing from claimer to character roles...
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank Keaton, was born in Piqua, Kansas, October 4, 1895 to Joe Keaton and Myra Keaton. Joe and Myra were Vaudevillian comedians with a popular, ever-changing variety act, giving Keaton an eclectic and interesting upbringing. In the earliest days on stage they traveled with a medicine show that included family friend...
Bessie Love
Bessie Love was born in Texas. Her cowboy father moved the family to Hollywood, where he became a chiropractor. As the family needed money, Bessie's mother sent her to Biograph Studios, hoping she would become an actress. D.W. Griffith saw she was pretty and had some acting talent, and put her in several of his films...
Russ Tamblyn
Russ Tamblyn might as well face it...he will be a Jet "till his last dying day." Indelibly linked to the "womb to tomb" role of Riff, the knife-wielding, rocket-tempered, Edward Villella-styled gang leader of the streetwise Jets in the musical film masterpiece West Side Story, it's not a bad way to be remembered...
Marion Davies
Actress, Show People
Marion Davies, born Marion Cecilea Douras on January 3, 1897, was one of the great comedic actresses of the silent era and into the 30's. She began as a chorus girl in New York, first in the pony follies and later in the Ziegfield Follies. Her stage name came when she and her family passed the Davies Insurance Building...
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1905, in San Antonio, Texas, to Anna Belle (Johnson) and Thomas E. LeSueur, a laundry laborer. By the time she was born, her parents had separated, and by the time she was a teenager, she'd had three stepfathers. It wasn't an easy life; Crawford worked a variety of menial jobs...
Marjorie Main
Her father was a minister, and when she joined a local stock company as a youngster she changed her name to avoid embarrassing her family. She worked in vaudeville and debuted on Broadway in 1916. Her film debut was in A House Divided. She repeated her stage role in Dead End as Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart)'s mother...
Cliff Edwards
Becoming popular with playing the ukulele, his unique singing and supplying the voice of animated movies, Cliff Edwards was one of the most popular singers in America. Born in Hannibal, Missouri, Edwards left school at the age of 14, moved to St. Louis, and started to work as a singer in saloons. Edwards then taught himself to play the ukulele...
Harve Presnell
Actor, Fargo
By the time handsome, brawny baritone Harve Presnell arrived on the film scene, the "Golden Age" of musicals had long dissipated. Born in Modesto, California in 1933 and spending part of his youth on a family ranch near Yosemite Valley where he labored in the fields, it was discovered he had quite a voice at such a young age (7) and he became a soloist at his local church...
Judy Holliday
Rejected by the Yale Drama School, Judy began in the theater as a backstage operator for Orson Welles' Mercury Theater. She made her stage debut when she joined Betty Comden and Adolph Green in a cabaret group called the Revuers. Working their way up through the circuit, the group was hired by 20th Century Fox to appear in the film Greenwich Village...
Oscar Levant
Soundtrack, Eyes Wide Shut
Oscar Levant's own versatility may have helped to cloud his memory as a sort of Hollywood utility man, perhaps in the worst sense; people tended to see him as one among many personalities, but he was so much more. It is unfortunately forgotten that he was first and foremost, a brilliant musician and very competent composer...
Frank Morgan
Jovial, somewhat flamboyant Frank Morgan (born Francis Wuppermann) will forever be remembered as the title character in The Wizard of Oz, but he was a veteran and respected actor long before he played that part, and turned in outstanding performances both before and after that film. One of 11 children of a wealthy manufacturer...
The Marx Brothers
Actor, Duck Soup
The Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo are a group of actors known for Duck Soup (1933), Animal Crackers (1930) Horse Feathers (1932) A Night in Casablanca (1946) A Day at the Races (1937) and A Night at the Opera (1935). They began their careers in Vaudeville, before becoming stars in the movies.