Another Hollywood legend passes - "Blondie"

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Paul Drake, Nov 13, 2003.

  1. Paul Drake

    Paul Drake Stunt Coordinator

    Jan 5, 2003
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    Well, these things do happen close together. First Art Carney, now Penny Singleton. Classic film fans will remember her from the long running "Blondie" films of the 40's. Those are great films (AMC used to run them quite often). In the 60's she became the voice of Jane Jetson. I've seen her in quite

    She was 95 years old.

    Penny Singleton, best remembered as Blondie, the scatterbrained yet often
    sensible character she played in 28 movies from 1938 to 1950, died Wednesday at
    Sherman Oaks Hospital. She was 95.

    She had suffered a stroke two weeks ago, according to her longtime friend, Dick

    Singleton was also known to later generations as the voice of Jane Jetson in
    the cartoon movies and TV shows about the futuristic family. But she was most
    identified with her role as the wife of the bumbling Dagwood Bumstead in the
    movies based on the popular comic strip created by Chic Young.

    The family life of the Bumsteads and their children, Alexander (Baby Dumpling)
    and Cookie, along with their dog Daisy, centered around humorous and numerous
    misunderstandings and mishaps concerning everything from Blondie's efforts to
    get Dagwood's job back (he was always getting fired, it seemed) to Blondie's
    efforts to start a bakery business.

    As Mrs. Bumstead, Singleton was constantly on call to her husband's
    high-pitched and plaintive cry of "Blon-deeeeeee!"

    Like the Andy Hardy and Charlie Chan movies of about the same era, the
    "Blondie" episodes brought audiences to movie houses two or more times a year.

    "For a while there, Blondie was apt to turn up on the bottom half of the bill
    about every other time you went to the movies," John Springer and Jack Hamilton
    wrote in "They Had Faces Then."

    Besides her movie role as Blondie, Singleton played the character on a popular
    radio program from 1939 to 1950. But by the time Blondie came to television for
    the first time in 1957, Singleton was almost 50 years old, and the role was
    given to the younger Pamela Britton.

    Born Dorothy McNulty on Sept. 15, 1908, in Philadelphia, Singleton was the
    daughter of a newspaper typesetter. She began her career at age 7 singing songs
    at movie houses and performed in vaudeville.
    understand, but
    vaudeville was the most marvelous school for a child imaginable," she told the
    Cincinnati Post in 1997.

    She also was a talented gymnast whose coach thought she should try out for the
    Olympics, but by then she had already earned money professionally and was not
    considered an amateur.

    By the time she was a teenager, she was getting chorus girl and other small
    roles on Broadway, including doing a number with Jack Benny in a revue called
    "The Great Temptations." By 1928, she had joined a road company of "Good News,"
    starring opposite Jack Haley. Back on Broadway, she also sang two numbers with
    Haley-"Button Up Your Overcoat" and "I Could Give Up Anything But You"-in
    "Follow Thru."

    While still in her 20s, she moved to Hollywood, appearing in a series of minor
    roles in better movies - or sometimes better roles in minor movies - and
    changing her name to Penny Singleton. She chose her first name because she had
    always saved pennies; Singleton was the name of her first husband, to whom she
    was married briefly.

    Singleton had a role in the 1930 film version of "Good
    "I suppose it would be difficult for many people today to News" and in "After the
    Thin Man" (1936), one of the William Powell/Myrna Loy Nick-and-Nora movies. In
    the latter, Singleton, playing saucy nightclub singer Polly Byrnes, delivers
    this line: "Hey, don't call me illiterate - my parents were married right here
    at City Hall!"

    Singleton also had a role in "Boy Meets Girl" (1938) and many other films.

    By the time she was 30, she landed the role of Blondie."I was thrilled, but
    also surprised," she told the Cincinnati Post in 1997. "I had been a brunette
    all my life."

    She quickly bleached her hair and went on to star opposite Arthur Lake, who
    played Dagwood, for the next dozen years for Columbia Studios.

    This remarkable run of movies began with "Blondie" and included "Blondie on a
    Budget" (1940), in which budding actress Rita Hayworth had a role; "Blondie for
    Victory" (1942), "Blondie Hits the Jackpot" and the final film in the series,
    "Beware of Blondie" (1950). Only in 1944, a war year, was no "Blondie" movie
    released. None were shorter than 64 minutes or longer than 75.

    Besides Hayworth, many actors who later became well known appeared with
    Singleton and Lake in supporting roles, including Robert Sterling, Bruce
    Bennett, William Frawley, Jimmy Durante, ZaSu Pitts, Lloyd Bridges, Glenn Ford,
    Hans Conreid and Anita Louise.

    The regular characters besides the Bumsteads were Dagwood's boss, JC Dithers,
    played by Jonathan Hale; the beleaguered mailman, Mr. Crumb, played by Irving
    Bacon (later mailmen were Eddie Acuff and Dick Wessel); and Daisy the dog,
    played by a series of cute canines. The Bumstead children were played by Larry
    Simms and Marjorie Kent (also known as Marjorie Ann Mutchie).

    Robert Sparks, who became Singleton's second husband and to whom she was
    married for 22 years until his death in 1963, produced some of the Blondie

    In his movie guide, critic Leonard Maltin said the first Blondies "were the
    best - fresh and original, with many clever touches belying the fact that they
    were low-budget films." He said that by the mid-1940s, however, the movies had
    become formulaic.

    After the Blondie franchise died out, Singleton went on the road with a
    nightclub act but became mostly inactive in Hollywood. She appeared in the film
    "The Best Man" in 1964 and, briefly in 1971, she replaced her old friend Ruby
    Keeler in "No No Nanette" on Broadway. (As children, Singleton and Keeler had
    gone to professional children's school together in New York, where their
    classmates were Milton Berle and Gene Raymond).

    Almost 20 years later, Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson in the 1990 movie
    about the futuristic family. She also did Jetson projects on TV, including
    three movies and the series, as well as a few guest appearances on other
    television programs.

    After "Blondie," Singleton became active in labor unions, particularly the
    American Guild of Variety Artists, to which she was elected president in 1969.
    In 1966, she was a leader in the strike to get better working conditions for
    Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes.

    At the age of 88, Singleton said of her career, "I loved everything I did, big
    or small, it didn't matter as long as it was fun and was pleasing to people."

    Singleton, who had lived in Sherman Oaks for many years, is survived by her
    daughters, Dorothy Henry of Sherman Oaks and Susan Sparks of Paris; two
    grandchildren and a great-grandson.

    Services will be Tuesday at St. Francis de Sales Church, 13370 Valleyheart
    Drive, Sherman Oaks. Information: (818) 784-0105.
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    That is a very funny line! When I was a kid, I used to watch those Blondie movies on television. They were pretty funny to me and I used to read the comics the series of movies were based on too. I was surprised to learn she was still alive. RIP!

  3. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

    Feb 9, 1999
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  4. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

    Jul 14, 2002
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    I saw that joke about "illiterate" on another TV show just last night. The old jokes still work.

    I looked up Blondie movies on Amazon, and there's nothing available on DVD now except for Debbie Harry [​IMG]

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