Judy Holliday

Judy Holliday

Judy Holliday in 1950.
Born Judith Tuvim
(1921-06-21)June 21, 1921
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died June 7, 1965(1965-06-07) (aged 43)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death breast cancer
Occupation Actress
Years active 1938–63
Spouse(s) Dave Oppenheim (1948–58; divorced; one child)
Children Jonathan Oppenheim
Holliday in her dressing room, Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, 1959

Judy Holliday (June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1965) was an American actress, comedian, and singer.[1]

She began her career as part of a nightclub act before working in Broadway plays and musicals. Her success in the 1946 stage production of Born Yesterday as "Billie Dawn" led to her being cast in the 1950 film version for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She appeared regularly in films 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 she was associated with communism.

Early life

Holliday was born Judith Tuvim (Hebrew: tovim means good, Yiddish: yomtoyvim means holidays, lit. "good days") in New York City, she was the only child of Abe Tuvim and Helen (née Gollomb) Tuvim,[2] who were both of Russian Jewish descent.[3] Her father was the Executive Director of the Foundation for the Jewish National Fund of America (1951-1958, his death from cancer).[4]

She grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York and graduated from Julia Richman High School. Her mother was previously divorced.[2]

Holliday's first job was as an assistant switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre run by Orson Welles and John Houseman.[5][6]


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.[6][7] The Revuers played engagements at various New York night clubs including the Village Vanguard, Spivy's Roof, Blue Angel, Rainbow Room, and Trocadero in Hollywood, California. The group disbanded in early 1944.[5][8]

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 play Winged 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 the Clarence Derwent Award.[9]

In 1946, she returned to Broadway as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin wrote the play for Jean Arthur, who played the role of Billie out-of-town but left the role for personal reasons. Kanin then selected Holliday, two decades Arthur's junior, as her replacement.[5][8][10]

In his book Tracy and Hepburn (1971), Kanin mentions that when Columbia bought the rights to the film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn would not consider casting the Hollywood-unknown.

Kanin, along 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 received rave reviews for her performance in Born Yesterday on Broadway, and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version,[6] 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).[11] 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, defeating Gloria Swanson, nominated for Sunset Boulevard, Eleanor Parker, for Caged, and Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, both for All About Eve.[7][12]

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![13][14]

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."[15]

George Cukor said Holliday had, "In common with the great comedians ...that depth of emotion, that unexpectedly touching emotion, that thing which would unexpectedly touch your heart."[16]

Investigated for Communism

In 1950, Holliday was the subject of an FBI investigation looking into allegations 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. 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. She was advised to play dumb (like some of her film characters), which she did very well.[17][18]

Later career

In November 1956, Holliday 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. In 1957, she won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.[19] In 1960 she starred in the film version of Bells Are Ringing.[20] 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.[21]

In 1956 she starred in the film version of The Solid Gold Cadillac.[22] In October 1960, Holliday 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 Bernstein and 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.[23][24][25][26]

Her last role was in the stage musical Hot Spot, co-starring newcomers such as Joseph Campanella and Mary Louise Wilson, which closed after 43 performances on May 25, 1963.[27]

Personal life

The grave of Holliday in Westchester Hills Cemetery
The footstone at Judy Holliday's grave

In 1948 Holliday married clarinetist, and later classical music and television producer and academic David Oppenheim, with whom she had a son, film editor Jonathan Oppenheim, before the couple divorced in 1958. She had a long-term relationship with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan, but the two never married.[5][7]

She died from breast cancer on June 7, 1965 at age 43.[5] She was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.[6]

Holliday has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.



Year Film Role Other notes
1938 Too Much Johnson Extra short subject
1944 Greenwich Village Revuer uncredited
Something for the Boys Defense plant welder uncredited
Winged Victory Ruth Miller
1949 Adam's Rib Doris Attinger Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
On the Town Daisy (Simpkins' MGM date) uncredited, voice only
1950 Born Yesterday Emma 'Billie' Dawn Academy Award for Best Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Jussi Award Diploma of Merit for Best Foreign Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (2nd place)
1952 The Marrying Kind 'Florrie' Keefer Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1954 It Should Happen to You Gladys Glover
Phffft! Nina Tracey née Chapman Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1956 The Solid Gold Cadillac Laura Partridge Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1957 Full of Life Emily Rocco
1960 Bells Are Ringing Ella Peterson Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy



Year Production Role Other notes
1942 My Dear Public with The Revuers
1945 Kiss Them for Me Alice
1946 Born Yesterday Billie Dawn
1951 Dream Girl Georgina Allerton
1956 Bells Are Ringing Ella Peterson Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
1960 Laurette Laurette Taylor Closed out-of-town
1963 Hot Spot Sally Hopwinder


Holliday recorded two studio albums (not including her film and Broadway soundtracks) during her lifetime.


  1. Obituary Variety, June 9, 1965, page 71.
  2. 1 2 "Helen Tuvim - United States Census, 1940". FamilySearch. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  3. Dash, Irene G. "Judy Holliday (1921-1965)". Jewish Women's Archive - Encyclopedia. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  4. "Abe Tuvim; Zionist Official,. Dies at 64; Executive Director of Fund Foundation" (PDF). The New York Times. 16 January 1958. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "Judy Holiday, 42, Is Dead of Cancer", The New York Times, June 8, 1965, p. 1
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Judy Holliday (1921–1965) Biography", Jewish Women's Archive (jwa.org), retrieved February 21, 2010
  7. 1 2 3 "Judy Holliday Biography", Turner Classic Movies (tcm.com), retrieved February 21, 2010
  8. 1 2 Sargeant, Winthrop."Judy Holliday", Life Magazine, April 2, 1951.
  9. "Kiss Them For Me Internet Broadway Database listing" ibdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010; accessed 10 June 2014.
  10. "Born Yesterday Internet Broadway Database listing", ibdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010
  11. Bill Crow. From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life (Oxford University Press, 1992), p 185.
  12. "Top winners from 1950", Chicago Tribune, retrieved February 21, 2010; accessed June 10, 2014.
  13. "It Should Happen to You Internet Movie Database listing", imdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010; accessed June 10, 2014.
  14. "Phffft! Internet Movie Database listing", imdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010; accessed June 10, 2014.
  15. Dick, Bernard F. Columbia Pictures: Portrait of A Studio (1992). University Press of Kentucky; ISBN 0-8131-1769-0, pp. 135-136.
  16. Sicherman, Barbara and Green, Carol Hurd. Notable American Women: The Modern Period (1980). Harvard University Press; ISBN 0-674-62733-4, pg. 349
  17. Profile, thesmartset.com; accessed June 10, 2014.
  18. Stephen R. Duncan, "Judy Holliday, the Red Scare, and the (Miss-) Uses of Hollywood’s Dumb Blonde Image." in Laura Mattoon D'Amor, ed. Smart Chicks on Screen: Representing Women's Intellect in Film and Television (2014) pp: 9-28 online
  19. Bells Are Ringing listing, ibdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010.
  20. Bells Are Ringing listing, imdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010.
  21. Atkinson, Brooks. "Theater: 'Bells Are Ringing' for Judy Holliday", The New York Times, November 30, 1956, p. 18
  22. The Solid Gold Cadillac listing, imdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010.
  23. (no author). "Star in Hospital, 'Laurette' is Off", The New York Times, October 8, 1960, p. 14
  24. "Judy Holliday Faces Surgery", The New York Times, October 12, 1960, p. 44
  25. (no author). "Judy Holliday Resting", The New York Times, October 19, 1960, p. 53.
  26. "LAURETTE Music from the play", kritzerland.com, retrieved February 22, 2010.
  27. Hot Spot listing, Internet Broadway Database; retrieved February 22, 2010.
  28. "Judy Holliday credits", imdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010
  29. "Judy Holliday Broadway credits", ibdb.com, retrieved February 21, 2010
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