Judy Holliday (June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1965) was an American actress.
Holliday began her career as part of a night-club act, before working in Broadway plays and musicals. Her success in the 1946 stage production ofBorn Yesterday as "Billie Dawn" led to her being cast in the 1950 film version, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She appeared regularly in film during the 1950s. She was noted for her performance on Broadway in the musical Bells Are Ringing, winning a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and reprising her role in the 1960 film.
In 1952, Holliday was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to answer claims that she was associated with communism. Although not blacklisted from films, she was blacklisted from radio and television for almost three years.
Born Judith Tuvim (Hebrew: tovim means good, Yiddish: yontoyvim means holidays, lit. "good days") in New York City, she was the only child of Abe and Helen (Gollomb) Tuvim, who were both of Russian Jewish descent. She grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York and graduated from Julia Richman High School. Her first job was as an assistant switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre run by Orson Welles and John Houseman.
As a child, Holliday exhibited a profoundly high intelligence, having a measured IQ score of 172, placing her above the 99.999th percentile.
Holliday began her show business career in 1938 as part of a night-club act called "The Revuers." The other four members of the group were Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alvin Hammer and John Frank. The Revuers played engagements at various New York night clubs, including the Village Vanguard, Spivy's Roof, the Blue Angel and the Rainbow Room, and also the Trocadero in Hollywood, California. They disbanded in early 1944.
In 1944, she played a small but noticeable role as an airman's wife in the Twentieth Century Fox film version of the U.S. Army Air Forces' hit playWinged Victory. She did not appear in the stage version, which toured the U.S. both before and after production of the film.
Holliday made her Broadway debut on March 20, 1945, at the Belasco Theatre in Kiss Them for Me and was one of the recipients that year of theClarence Derwent Award.
In 1946, she returned to Broadway as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin had written the play for his friend Jean Arthur. Arthur played the role of Billie out-of-town, but after illnesses she resigned. Kanin chose Holliday as her replacement.
In his book Tracy and Hepburn (1971), Kanin mentions that, when Columbia bought the rights to film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn wouldn't consider casting the Hollywood-unknown Holliday. Kanin, together with George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn, conspired to promote Holliday by offering her a key part in the 1949 film Adam's Rib. She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version, but only after she did a screen test (which at first was used only as a "benchmark against which to evaluate" other actresses being considered for the role). She won the first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and at the 23rd Academy Awards, Holliday won the Academy Award for Best Actress, over Gloria Swanson, nominated for Sunset Boulevard, Eleanor Parker, for Caged, andBette Davis and Anne Baxter, both for All About Eve.
In 1954, she starred opposite then-newcomer Jack Lemmon in his first two feature films, the popular comedies It Should Happen to You and Phffft!
Bernard Dick summed up Holliday's acting: "Perhaps the most important aspect of the Judy Holliday persona, both in variations of Billie Dawn and in her roles as housewife, is her vulnerability...Her ability to shift her mood quickly from comic to serious is one of her greatest technical gifts." George Cukor said that she had "in common with the great comedians...that depth of emotion, that unexpectedly touching emotion, that thing which would unexpectedly touch your heart."
Investigated for Communism
In 1950 Holliday was the subject of an FBI investigation looking into allegations that she was a Communist. The investigation "did not reveal positive evidence of any membership in the Communist Party", and was concluded after three months. Unlike many others tainted by the Communist investigation, she was not blacklisted from movies, but she was blacklisted from performing on radio and television for almost three years.
In 1952 she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to "explain" why her name had been linked to Communist front organizations. In spite of her high IQ, she was advised to play dumb (like some of her film characters) and did so. She acknowledged that she "had been taken advantage of".
In November 1956 she returned to Broadway starring in the musical Bells Are Ringing with book and lyrics by her Revuers friends, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and directed by Jerome Robbins, for which she won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. In 1960 she starred in the film version of Bells Are Ringing. Of her performance in the stage musical, Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times: "Nothing has happened to the shrill little moll whom the town loved in Born Yesterday. The squeaky voice, the embarrassed giggle, the brassy naivete, the dimples, the teeter-totter walk fortunately remain unimpaired...Miss Holliday now adds a trunk-full of song-and-dance routines...Without losing any of that doll-like personality, she is now singing music by Jule Styne and dancing numbers composed by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. She has gusto enough to triumph in every kind of music hall antic." In 1956 she starred in the film The Solid Gold Cadillac.
In October 1960 she had started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette, based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero, with background music by Elmer Bernsteinand produced by Alan Pakula. When Holliday became ill and had to leave the show, it closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production, in October 1960.
Holliday's last role was in the stage musical Hot Spot, which closed after 43 performances on May 25, 1963.
The grave of Holliday in
Westchester Hills Cemetery
The footstone at Judy Holliday's grave
Holliday died from breast cancer on June 7, 1965, two weeks before her 44th birthday. She was survived by her young son, Jonathan Oppenheim, and by her ex-husband, clarinetist, conductor and educator, David Oppenheim, whom she had married in 1948 and divorced in 1958. She also had a long-term relationship with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan who stayed and supported Judy until her death, but they were never married. Holliday was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Jonathan Oppenheim grew up to become a documentary film editor of note, editing Paris Is Burning, Children Underground, and Arguing the World.
Holliday has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.