Judy Holliday (1921-1965)

Judy Holliday
Judy Holliday
Search Amazon for Judy Holliday

Judy Holliday was an American actress who died from cancer at a tragically young age but who achieved major movie stardom, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1951 for her performance in 'Born Yesterday', as well as achieving great respect and popularity as a performer on stage, radio and television.

It is ironic that although she achieved fame by brilliantly playing classic dumb blonde characters, she was in reality a highly intelligent woman with an IQ of 172 - well above the level of genius (Einstein was 160!).


Judy Holliday was born Judith Tuvim into a Russian Jewish family on June 21, 1921 in New York City. Her parents separated when she was six years old and she was brought up by her mother, who was a music teacher. The separation affected Judy deeply and she suffered from depression.

She had early ambitions for a career in the theater and appeared in several school plays at Julia Richman High School in Queens. After graduation, she chose not to go on to college and after applying, unsuccessfully, to join the Yale Drama School, she went to work as an assistant switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre recently opened by Orson Welles and John Houseman.

Stage Actress

In 1938, under her own name of Judith Tuvim, she began her stage career performing satirical comedy in a Greenwich nightclub as part of an act called "The Revuers", along with four fellow writer-performers, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alvin Hammer and John Frank. Their material was original and witty and they gradually built up a reputation and a loyal local following. Within a year they had played the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center and they had a 9 month run on NBC radio with their own program "Fun With The Revuers".

In 1943 they became a quartet when John Frank, who had a drinking problem, left. In that year they headed for Hollywood to play the Trocadero.

In Hollywood Judy received numerous offers to appear in films but was intensely loyal to her partners and only signed eventually with Twentieth Century-Fox on the understanding that all four would be cast in one picture. Nevertheless it was the beginning of the end for the Revuers who disbanded in 1944 but it also gave Judy a first taste of the ups and downs of life as an Hollywood actress.

Comden and Green went on to become the successful screen and song writing team and Hammer became a movie character actor. All four appeared briefly as "The Revuers" in the movie musical 'Greenwich Village' which was released in 1944 and Judy, who by now had changed her name to Judy Holliday, had a small talking part in 'Something for the Boys' and 'Winged Victory' in the same year, but she too, then returned to New York when Fox decided not to pick up her option.

Broadway Star

For the next few years Judy concentrated on the stage and she very quickly became very well known. She was first cast in 'Kiss Them for Me', which opened in March, 1945, and ran for 111 performances and for which she earned the Clarence Derwent Award for best supporting player of the season. Success bred success and she was given a plum role, replacing Jean Arthur in Garson Kanin's comedy 'Born Yesterday', the play which was to make her a top Broadway star. It opened in February, 1946, and she stayed in it for more than three years and 1,642 performances.

During the run, in January, 1948, she married David Oppenheim, a clarinettist with the New York City Symphony Orchestra. They would divorce in March 1957.

Movie Actress

She was now a nationally known figure and was able to sign a new seven-year movie contract with Columbia Pictures. Before returning to Hollywood, Judy made her debut in the new medium of television in November, 1949 in the live drama 'She Loves Me Not' on Ford Theater.

She returned to movies in the featured supporting role of Doris Attinger in the highly successful George Cukor movie 'Adam's Rib' in December 1949, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Her success in this movie and her ability to perform on equal terms with such illustrious stars, reinforced the growing support in Hollywood for her to be cast in the movie version of 'Born Yesterday'.

FBI investigation

Just when everything was knitting into place in her movie career, Judy became the subject of an FBI investigation into allegations that she was a Communist. The investigation concluded after three months with no positive evidence revealed. Judy was not blacklisted from movies, but she was blacklisted from performing on radio and television for almost three years and in 1952 she had to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to explain why her name had been linked to "Red" organisations. She did this successfully and was able to carry on with her career, with the backing of Columbia Pictures. The era of intense anti-Communist suspicion peaked in 1954 with the so-called McCarthy hearings.

Hollywood Star

'Born Yesterday', released in December 1950, was the first film in a new seven-year contract which Judy signed with Columbia, and her superb performance reprising her stage role as 'Billie' Dawn, was recognised when in 1951 she won the first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and also the Best Actress Academy Award, an outstanding achievement in a year whose nominations included Bette Davis in 'All About Eve' and Gloria Swanson in 'Sunset Boulevard'.

Judy was now one of Hollywood's top stars and continued her successes with 'The Marrying Kind' in 1952. After a break to give birth to her son, she made two outstanding films which came out in 1954, both co-starring Jack Lemmon, 'It Should Happen to You', and 'Phffft!'.

For the next few years Judy appeared regularly in film and on television, starring in another live drama 'The Huntress' in early 1954 and part of the NBC special 'Sunday in Town' later the same year. 'The Solid Gold Cadillac' appeared in October 1956 and she won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance in the musical 'Bells Are Ringing' written by her old partners in "The Revuers", Comden and Green, by now a much respected writing team. Her last film for Columbia was 'Full of Life' in 1957.

In 1960 Judy was cast in 'Laurette', a play based on the life of the actress Laurette Taylor. After some out of town tryouts Judy became ill and the show closed without opening on Broadway. Judy had a benign tumor removed from her throat and was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a successful mastectomy on her left breast and returned to work.

She took the starring role as Sally Hopwinder, a Peace Corps volunteer, in a new musical, 'Hot Spot', which opened on Broadway in April 1963, but the show folded after only 43 performances. Her breast cancer returned and began to spread, and she was unable to work after this.

Judy Holliday died on June 7, 1965 aged 43. She was buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Judy Holliday Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actress ... Born Yesterday (1950)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:

Judy Holliday Filmography

Too Much Johnson
Greenwich Village
Something for the Boys
Winged Victory
Adam's Rib
On the Town (uncredited, voice only)