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PENNY SINGLETON I


Penny Singleton
Born: September 15, 1908 ~ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: November 12, 2003 ~ Sherman Oaks, California

[Dorothy McNulty] Actress, Activist and Cartoon Mom


Penny Singleton played the role of Blondie in 28 films and on the radio between 1938 and 1950.  The Blondie and Dagwood movies were based on the famous comic strip by Chic Young. Later, Ms. Singleton became the first woman President of an AFL-CIO-affiliated union, AGVA, the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Mariana Dorothy Agnes Letitia McNulty was born in 1908 to an Irish-American family in Philadelphia. Her father was newspaperman, Benny McNulty who was related to Jim Farley, Roosevelt's campaign manager and later Postmaster General. She showed an interest in show business at an early age. At age eight, billed as "Baby Dorothy," she sang and danced during intermissions at a silent movie theater. After finishing grade six in elementary school she joined a touring vaudeville act called "The Kiddie Kabaret" and became an accomplished performer. Penny has said that "If I wanted something badly enough, Iíve gotten itÖ  Itís just my Irish stubbornness." At 14, while living at home and taking dancing lessons from a Mr. White, she wanted a fur collar for her coat and couldnít afford it.  So, she staged a show for the neighborhood kids and went on to put up a sign announcing "Dancing Lessons at Half the Price of Mr. Whiteís."  She earned enough to buy the fur collar.

Later in life she briefly attended Columbia University but soon left to perform on Broadway where she made her debut in the musical Good News in 1927. Dorothy reprised her stage role in the film version in 1930, and then spent the next six years playing bit parts in movies. When she went to Hollywood she took a new name after marrying dentist Lawrence Singleton; the first name derived from having saved large amounts of penny coins. Billed as Penny Singleton she sang and danced with Milton Berle and Raymond Guion (Gene Raymond). Her first speaking part was in a Jack Benny Broadway show "Great Temptations".  She played a tough nightclub dancer in "After the Thin Man" (1936) and acted/sang/danced in the movie Humphrey Bogart regarded as his worst ever "Swing Your Lady" (1938). Her big break as Penny came in 1938. Actress Shirley Deane had been cast in the title role of Blondie for the film version of the popular Chic Young comic strip. When Shirley was unable to do the film, the redheaded Penny died her hair blonde and nabbed the part. The Blondie films ó also starring Arthur Lake as Dagwood Bumstead ó would become an institution as the studio churned out 28 of them between 1938 and 1950. During this period, she married for the second time to Blondie producer Robert Sparks.

When the opportunity to play Blondie came up, she threw herself into knowing this comic strip character.  She said, "I felt a strange kinship with [Blondieís] problems and triumphs.  I thought and I lived her." Blondie has an energetic sunniness, and affection for her husband, Dagwood Bumstead, yet is constantly nagging him about getting a raise and scheming about buying things.  This infuriates Dagwood and always leads him into trouble.  Blondie also has contempt seeing Dagwood as a helpless baby.  But in many instances, she comes to see the error of her ways and is regretful.

Penny Singleton as Blondie showed the fight in a woman between honest cheerfulness and trying to take shortcuts to happiness through being superior, having her way, and managing her husband.  And she did this with a charming, at times hilarious, relation of innocence and craftiness, sweetness and acerbity. An instance of this is where her nagging has been the cause of her husbandís getting arrested for inadvertently stealing a car.  At the trial, Blondie jumps up and runs to the front of the courtroom:
Blondie:    Judge, Your Honor!  Donít, please donít!
Judge:         Order, order!  What is your connection with this case?
Blondie:      Iím his wife.
Judge:         ÖIn that case, proceed with what you have to say.
Blondie:      Itís all my fault, Your HonorÖ Mother would have loaned him her car.  Only he forgot to ask her.  Itís all my fault. Iím the one to be punishedÖ You see, it all started because I kept nagging him about a raise.
Dagwood:   No, you didnít!
Blondie:      Yes, I did, too!
Dagwood:   No, you didnít, dear!
Judge:         Now listen, make up your mind!  Did she, or didnít she?
Dagwood:   She did.

During the 12-year run of the Blondie series, Penny Singleton had little success in being hired for other roles because producers, directors and even audiences saw her as Blondie and nothing else.  Penny, however, was a shrewd businesswoman. She created the concept of residuals ó the practice of paying actors for repeat broadcasts of their shows or movies ó and had a residuals clause written into her Blondie contract. Penny even coined the term residuals.

Once the Blondie craze reached the end of its run in the early 50ís, she found herself out of work.  She was known as an All-American housewife popular comic strip character and had received thousands of letters a year from women asking her advice on everything from budgeting to cooking. She had liked this aspect of being Blondie, but clearly she was anxious to broaden her horizons as an entertainer. Rather than becoming bitter and retreating as many other typecast actors have done, she got more energetic, saying: "When the show closes, get a new act" and went on tour with her own night club show. This eventually led to USO tours in Korea military bases.

Penny Singleton took on an entirely new role in the 1960s when she was elected vice president of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), a performers' union. Entertainment workers in those days of daily live performances were exploited by the theaters, and often put in seven-day weeks with no allowed sick days. Performers' pay was docked if they missed a performance, no matter what the reason. Penny Singleton was adamant that producers and club owners making a profit from variety artistsí work be classified as employers, and pay social security and unemployment compensation, as well as contribute to pension plans -- something they had never done before. In New York, the union had been controlled by members of the organized crime families who stole the union's money and did nothing for the workers' welfare. Penny was determined to drive out the Mafia and she succeeded, but not without some personal danger. In the late 60ís, after an intense two-month strike led by Ms. Singleton against the famous New York Latin Quarter nightclub, rather than agree to these terms, it closed down altogether. In 1967, she led the Rockettes in a successful strike against Radio City Music Hall and 1969, she was instrumental in starting the first AGVA branch office in Las Vegas. In the summer of 1970, she led the first ever strike against Disneyland. At that time, Disney was recruiting college students to do the work, giving college credit and housing for the summer in lieu of higher wages.

Penny became known to subsequent generations of Americans as the voice of Jane Jetson, the space-age cartoon mother with the fabulous kitchen, the robotic maid, and the flying car.  She was married three times and had two daughters. Penny was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of which was recently re-dedicated as the original one was destroyed due to construction on the strip at that location.



SPOUSES
Robert Sparks (1941 - 22 July 1963 - his death) 1 child
Dr. Lawrence Scogga Singleton (1937 - 1939) (divorced) 1 daughter

TRIVIA

Piper Laurie, Penny Singleton and her daughter Penny 93, singing on stage El Portal Theatre. North Hollywood. Nov. 2001 ~ photo by Steve Schalchlin
June 1943 issue of MOVIE STORY MAGAZINE


Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Pacific Islands USO Tour, Army: Penny Singleton, Bell Sisters, Larry Roberts, Roscoe Ates
http://www.angelfire.com/mb/hillmans/glory.html
Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Pacific Islands 
USO Tour, Army: 
Penny Singleton, Bell Sisters
Larry Roberts, Roscoe Ates
 One of three Penny Singleton stars 
on the 
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Click for full-sized image
and Purchase Information


Penny's niece, Elizabeth (middle), on the set of Bedazzled
http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0936966/

Penny & Blondie On The Web

Blondie: The Movie Series ~ Pics & Clips
Blockbuster Bio
The Blondie Story
The Blondie Online Comic Strip
Blondie Trading Cards Checklist
Blondie TV Series
Chic Young's Blondie
http://writetools.com/women/stories/singleton_penny.html
http://www.carolmccluer.net/penny-page-2.htm
http://www.moviesunlimited.com/
http://www.bonusround.com/book2-6/book2-6part4.html
Blondie's Home of the Dagwood Sandwich
Toonopedia
Blondie Progressive Slot Machine
Index to Comic Art
The Bell Sisters: Photos ~ Memorabilia ~ Sound & Video ~ Lyrics
www.ebay.com (enter keywords such as Singleton and Blondie)





1908 - 2003
Penny's Story
Penny's Filmography
Penny's Photo Galleries I
.Penny's Family Album I
Penny's Family Album II
.Penny's eBay Watch
Memories of Penny
Penny's Memoriam
Penny's Photo Galleries II
Victory Photos
Old Mirror Site 1 ~ Site 2
.

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