How someone is remembered — as an actress who also sang or a singer who also acted — is a question that has occurred to me more than once. It’s not always easy to answer when considering the many ladies who have dipped a toe in both ponds. And just to muddy that pond water a little more, let’s say that to qualify as an actress requires acting fame, rather than skill — otherwise we’d be here all day. Just to be fair, we’ll also judge singers by their performing success rather than by the quality of their voices.
Some ladies were clearly one or the other. Rosemary Clooney made a number of movies, but is probably most remembered as a singer, and a good one. The same could probably be said of Liza Minelli, who did win a best-actress Oscar but had a sporadic acting career. But her mother was a flawless singer and a huge movie star whose first starring role in The Wizard Of Oz made her a household name. (And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, shame on you.)
There have been others who have been two-way stars, including Barbra Streisand, Doris Day, and a few others I’m probably overlooking. But there have also been many like Connie Stevens, who is probably remembered most for her movie and TV work.
And that brings us to Julie London. A native Californian, she certainly began as an actress, appearing in a number of films as she began building a career in the post-war years. But her thespian activities were put on the back burner in 1951 when she married actor Jack Webb, who was at that time probably a lesser name. That soon changed when he became the iconic Joe Friday in Dragnet, and Julie happily settled down as a wife and mother, soon giving birth to two daughters.
Unfortunately, the couple broke up within a few years and Julie entered a new phase in her life, teaming up with (and later marrying) musician/composer Bobby Troup to develop a singing career. She didn’t have the strongest voice around, and once admitted, “It’s only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone,” but she had a voluptuous style and a sultry sound that fit certain songs perfectly. Tunes like Troup’s “Daddy,” (video at bottom) and her all-time top seller, “Cry Me A River,” helped fuel her popularity, and for several years she was one of the top-selling female vocalists around.
She also had begun to act again, mostly small featured parts in TV shows or the occasional movie, and by the early 1970s was in a perfect spot to take advantage of an offer from her ex-husband Jack Webb. He was putting together a new TV program called Emergency, and Julie soon found herself on a hit show, playing nurse Dixie McCall. (Ironically, her current husband, Bobby — who acted from time to time — was also given a role on her ex’s show.) After Emergency’s long run was over, Julie pretty much moved toward a quiet private life. She’d had three children with Bobby, so as the mother of five she had lots to enjoy and plenty to do. The years passed and by the late 1990s, she and Bobby were both in failing health. After 40 years together, he died in 1999 and she followed a year later.
So back to the original question. Was Julie London an actress who sang or a singer who acted? I think it comes down to an individual choice. Speaking for myself, I most remember Julie as a singer who could cast a spell over a listener — she certainly did that with me.
3 thoughts on “Pondering Julie London”
Let’s hear it for Polly Bergen, in my opinion the one singer/actress who stands head and shoulders above others of her class, with a beautiful, expressive singing voice and acting skills that lent (and still lends–witness recent “Despeerate Housewives” and “Sopranos” episodes) weight to the characters she plays. I first heard of her as a singer back in the 50s, and actually never knew and still don’t if she had acted before.
My first consciousness of Julie London was in “Cry Me A River.” I learned just now from you that she had been better known as an actress before. I never watched her TV shows so to me she has remained mostly a singer, with acting on the side.
Oh man, BG, you are writing about a woman I have loved since I was a little kid. When Ed Sullivan announced that Julie London was appearing on next week’s show I made plans to be there, no matter what. Julie had it all. Tall, beautiful, a lusty smokey voice. Wow!
Thanks for the comments, guys.
PS Ralph, I hadn’t thought of gorgeous Polly and your comment spurred me into looking up some info on her. It appears that she started as an actress in the 1940s (and is still acting over 60 years later). She burst out as a singer in the late 1950s when she portrayed Helen Morgan in a movie, and also had several good selling albums after that.