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Singers Who Found Success As Straight Actors


Palmerin
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Cary Grant and Walter Pidgeon both had some success in stage operettas, but seldom sang onscreen.

 

William Frawley ("Carolina In The Morning"), Sterling Holloway ("Mountain Greenery", "Manhattan"), Clifton Webb ("Easter Parade") and Jerry Orbach ("Try to Remember") all introduced song standards on stage, but aren't remembered for singing in films.

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Irene Dunne was a wonderful soprano, but also a terrific actress who could do drama or comedy. I think she was probably one of the most underrated actresses of the classic Hollywood era. Compare her performance in Showboat to Kathryn Grayson's in the prettified MGM version.

 

There are also a few actors who were singers, but not known for singing -- Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon for example, as well as George Sanders, who did sing in Call Me Madam.

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Don't forget Diane Keaton. She used to sing on "The Tonight Show" well before she was in "The Godfather" films. She also sang in a couple of Woody Allen movies. Did you know that Rosemary and Priscilla Lane were singers with Fred Waring And The Pennsylvanians before getting into movies with big sister Lola? Marilyn Maxwell and Mary Lee sang with Ted Weems and his orchestra in the 30's, along with a fellow named Perry Como. Marilyn Maxwell was known as Marvel Maxwell in those days. Dick Haymes had sung with Tommy Dorsey before getting into movies, and Betty Hutton had also been a big band singer. Of course, both Haymes and Hutton did mostly musical films, but they occasionally worked in non-musical roles. Carol Bruce, who played Mama Carlson on "WKRP In Cincinnati" had been a big band singer with Larry Clinton's orchestra. She played Julie LaVerne in a 1946 Broadway revival of "Show Boat". In that same show, playing Magnolia, was original "Carousel" star Jan Clayton. Besides the movie "The Snake Pit", she would go on to play Tommy Rettig's mother in the original "Lassie" TV series.

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I guess Elvis Presley wasn't a "straight actor" until he made 'Charro!' in 1969? By that I mean that it's the only movie in which his character does no singing, which is what I've interpreted "straight" to signify in the topic title.

 

But, I'm not sure about the "success" part.

 

I don't think anyone has mentioned Madonna. Did she sing in all her movies? I don't remember her doing so in 'A League of Their Own' or 'Body of Evidence'. Not sure about 'Desperately Seeking Susan'. Here again, I'm not certain how much "success" is attributable. Arguable, perhaps?

 

And there's Cyndi Lauper - who's acting I quite like - what little there's been.

 

Teen idol types Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte had a number of non-singing roles in movies of the sixties.

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Petula Clark gained fame first as a child actress, then moved on later to a singing career.

 

Nope. Other way round. I'm positive about this. She and Julie Andrews were child singing stars in Music Hall and on radio. They traveled the country, and entertained the troops during the war. Petula went into films because of her radio and stage success, and appeared in many films during the 40s and 50s. Julie tested for Joe Pasternak, for MGM, which was planning a full-scale musical version of THE SECRET GARDEN. Pasternak declared Andrews, non-photogenic, and MGM passed. They made the film with Margaret O'Brien and one song, dubbed by Marni Nixon. Andrews first possible film was Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM, but he decided she was too famous. Ironically, in 1962, MGM (Arthur Freed and Vincent Minnelli) signed her to star in IRVING BERLIN'S SAY IT WITH MUSIC, which stayed on their schedule for years, but never got made.

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SansFin mentioned Pat Boone, so I gotta concur with the example of GOODBYE CHARLIE -- he's pretty good in that one.

 

I find singers often make really good actors. I suppose it's because the skills of being a great singer transfer over to non-musical acting. Best example is of course Sinatra (mentioned in the original post) in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

 

Wanted to mention Florence Henderson (sorry if that's a repeat) who was a Broadway soprano before she was Mama Brady on the Brady Bunch.

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Many of the responses in this thread confuse me. Of course, the question is rather confusing. "Straight actor" means without singing? Is there some iimplication that actors who appear and sing in musical aren't acting?! Florence Henderson was an acting soprano on Broadway. She didn't just hold concerts. Elvis made lots of films, and acted in every single one of them. Even the ones he sang in. If the question was, name musical actors who found success in non-singing roles, then that would make more sense. At least to me.

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