Makers of the Great Film Musicals

by roark183 | created - 02 Feb 2013 | updated - 24 May 2018 | Public

This is a list of the people who created the great era of film musicals. It mostly includes actors, but great lyricists and song writers are included as well. As I do more research, I'll include directors and story writers as well.

As long as I am writing here, I would like to give tribute to the top performers.

The top male dancers are unquestionably Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. It is their dancing that inspired this list.

The top female dancers are Cyd Charisse, Mitzi Gaynor, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen. Eleanor Powell was widely recognized as the top female dancer in the 1930s, but her career wanned in the 1940s. She was never in a color film and did not dance in film after 1944. Her performances are missed, and missing, cannot be included in the top dancers in musicals. Would that she had continued.

Singing is not a factor that I would care to compare performers. There are just too many genres of singing and comparing one to another is beyond me. That said, I would say that Barbara Streisand's voice is truly commanding, and she could carry any musical into success. I would have to say that Streisand is singular in her singing. None of the other performers I have listed here, male or female, could match her commanding voice, and carry a film musical into success as she has alone. Other singers carried musicals together with other performers, but Streisand carried her musicals herself.

There were two musical production pairs that markedly produced more major musicals than any other teams. These four men did not always work together, and there were many great musicals produced by them individually. However, the teaming of Richard Rodgers with Oscar Hammerstein II and Alan J. Lerner with Frederick Loewe virtually marked the great musical era.

1. June Allyson

Actress | Executive Suite

American leading lady whose sweet smile and sunny disposition made her the prototypical girl-next-door of American movies of the 1940s. Raised in semi-poverty in Bronx neighborhoods by her divorced mother, Allyson (nee Ella Geisman) was injured in a fall at age eight and spent four years confined ...

2. Julie Andrews

Actress | The Sound of Music

Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on October 1, 1935, in England. Her mother, Barbara Ward (Morris), and stepfather, both vaudeville performers, discovered her freakish but undeniably lovely four-octave singing voice and immediately got her a singing career. She performed in music halls throughout her...

3. Fred Astaire

Actor | The Towering Inferno

Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Johanna (Geilus) and Fritz Austerlitz, a brewer. Fred entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. ...

Fred Astaire is most famous for his dancing, as he was truly wonderful. He did establish a chain of dance schools in his name. Gene Kelly is third among male dancers in musicals.

4. James Cagney

Actor | The Roaring Twenties

One of Hollywood's preeminent male stars of all time, James Cagney was also an accomplished dancer and easily played light comedy. James Francis Cagney was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, to Carolyn (Nelson) and James Francis Cagney, Sr., who was a bartender and amateur ...

5. Cyd Charisse

Actress | Silk Stockings

Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1921 in Amarillo, Texas. Born to be a dancer, she spent her early childhood taking ballet lessons and joined the Ballet Russe at age 13. In 1939, she married Nico Charisse, her former dance teacher. In 1943, she appeared in her first film, ...

Cyd Charisse was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Mitzi Gaynor, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell and Vera-Ellen.

6. Bing Crosby

Actor | White Christmas

Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr. in Tacoma, Washington, the fourth of seven children of Catherine Helen "Kate" (Harrigan) and Harry Lowe Crosby, a brewery bookkeeper. He was of English and Irish descent. Crosby studied law at Gonzaga University in Spokane but was more interested in ...

7. Dan Dailey

Actor | You're My Everything

Born in New York City, Dan Dailey started his career in vaudeville, later making his Broadway debut in the stage version of "Babes in Arms".

When signed to MGM, the studio initially casted him as a Nazi in The Mortal Storm (1940). The studio realized their mistake and cast him in musical films, ...

8. Dorothy Dandridge

Actress | Carmen Jones

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ruby Dandridge (née Ruby Jean Butler), an entertainer, and Cyril H. Dandridge, a cabinet maker and minister. Under the prodding of her mother, Dorothy and her sister Vivian Dandridge began performing publicly, usually in ...

9. Doris Day

Soundtrack | Pillow Talk

One of America's most prolific actresses was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Alma Sophia (Welz), a housewife, and William Joseph Kappelhoff, a music teacher and choir master. Her grandparents were all German immigrants. She had two brothers, Richard, who ...

Doris Day was an outstanding singer in musicals. Along with Judy Garland, I would put her at 2 or 3 behind Barbara Streisand.

10. Judy Garland

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals.

She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in ...

Judy Garland was an outstanding singer in musicals. Along with Doris Day, I would put her at 2 or 3 behind Barbara Streisand.

11. Mitzi Gaynor

Actress | South Pacific

A leading lady of light musicals, the bright-eyed Gaynor is best remembered for "South Pacific". She also hosted a string of successful annual musical TV specials in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Mitzi Gaynor was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell and Vera-Ellen.

In addition to Gaynor's outstanding dancing, she is one of the top singers in musicals.

12. George Gershwin

Soundtrack | Manhattan

He was born Jacob Gershowitz, 26 September 1898, in Brooklyn, New York, of Russian-Jewish immigrants. As a boy he could play popular and classical works on his brother Ira's piano by ear. In 1913 he quit school to study music and began composing for Tin Pan Alley; by 1919 he had his first hit "...

13. Ira Gershwin

Music_department | An American in Paris

Legendary, prolific composer, songwriter and author, educated at Townsend Harris Hall, City College of New York, and Columbia University. He began his career as a contributor to newspaper columns, and also worked for a touring carnival. His Broadway stage scores include "Two Little Girls in Blue" (...

14. Kathryn Grayson

Actress | Kiss Me Kate

Kathryn Grayson was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, NC, on February 9, 1922. This pretty, petite brunette with a heart-shaped face was discovered by MGM talent scouts while singing on the radio. The studio quickly signed her to a contract, and she was given acting lessons ...

15. Oscar Hammerstein II

Soundtrack | State Fair

Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895 in New York City, New York, USA as Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein. He was married to Dorothy Hammerstein and Myra Finn. He died on August 23, 1960 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA.

16. Rita Hayworth

Actress | Gilda

Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on October 17, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino Reina, was a dancer as was his father before him. He emigrated from Spain in 1913. Rita's American mother, Volga Margaret (Hayworth), who was of mostly ...

Rita Hayworth was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Mitzi Gaynor, Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell and Vera-Ellen.

17. Audrey Hepburn

Actress | Breakfast at Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium. She was a blue-blood and a cosmopolitan from birth. Her mother, Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, was of a Dutch descent, and her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, and of an English and Austrian ...

18. Danny Kaye

Soundtrack | The Danny Kaye Show

Danny Kaye left school at the age of 13 to work in the so-called Borscht Belt of Jewish resorts in the Catskill Mountains. It was there he learned the basics of show biz. From there he went through a series of jobs in and out of the business. In 1939, he made his Broadway debut in "Straw Hat Revue,...

19. Howard Keel

Actor | Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Howard Keel was the Errol Flynn and Clark Gable of "golden age" movie musicals back in the 1950s. With a barrel-chested swagger and cocky, confident air, the 6'4" brawny baritone Keel had MGM's loveliest songbirds swooning helplessly for over a decade in what were some of the finest musical films ...

20. Gene Kelly

Soundtrack | Singin' in the Rain

Eugene Curran Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third son of Harriet Catherine (Curran) and James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman. His father was of Irish descent and his mother was of Irish and German ancestry.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the largest and most powerful studio in...

Gene Kelly is the third great male musical dancer after O'Connor and Astaire.

21. Alan Jay Lerner

Writer | An American in Paris

Playwright/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was born into a wealthy New York City retailing family. His professional association with Frederick Loewe started in 1942 when they teamed up to write "Life of the Party". Their first Broadway success was the 1947 musical fantasy "Brigadoon." Lerner adapted work ...

22. Frederick Loewe

Music_department | Camelot

Frederick Loewe was born on June 10, 1901 in Berlin, Germany as Fritz Loewe. He was married to Ernestine Zwerline. He died on February 14, 1988 in Palm Springs, California, USA.

23. Gordon MacRae

Actor | Oklahoma!

Albert Gordon MacRae was born on March 12, 1921, in East Orange, NJ. During his early years, he resided in Syracuse, NY, and, while in high school, spent much of his time singing and acting in the Drama Club. It was also during this time that he learned to play the piano, clarinet and the saxophone...

24. Ann Miller

Actress | Mulholland Dr.

Ann Miller was born Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier on April 12, 1923 in Chireno, Texas. She lived there until she was nine, when her mother left her philandering father and moved with Ann to Los Angeles, California. Even at that young age, she had to support her mother, who was hearing-impaired and ...

Ann Miller was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Mitzi Gaynor, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, Eleanor Powell and Vera-Ellen.

25. Donald O'Connor

Actor | Singin' in the Rain

Born into a vaudeville family, O'Connor was the youthful figure cutting a rug in several Universal musicals of the 1940s. His best-known musical work is probably Singin' in the Rain (1952), in which he did an impressive dance that culminated in a series of backflips off the wall. O'Connor was also ...

Donald O'Connor was the greatest dancer, male or female, in musicals. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly rate after O'Connor among male dancers.

26. Cole Porter

Soundtrack | At Long Last Love

Cole Porter was born June 9, 1891, at Peru, Indiana, the son of pharmacist Samuel Fenwick Porter and Kate Cole. Cole was raised on a 750-acre fruit ranch. Kate Cole married Samuel Porter in 1884 and had two children, Louis and Rachel, who both died in infancy. Porter's grandfather, J.G. Cole, was a...

27. Eleanor Powell

Soundtrack | Born to Dance

Eleanor Powell was born in 1912 in Springfield, Massachussetts, and got her professional start in Atlantic City clubs, from where she moved into in revue in New York at the Ritz Grill and Casino de Paris at the age of sixteen. She started her career on Broadway in 1929, where her machine-gun foot ...

Eleanor Powell was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Cyd Charisse, Mitzi Gaynor, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen.

28. Jane Powell

Actress | A Date with Judy

Jane Powell was singing and dancing at an early age. She sang on the radio and performed in theaters before her screen debut in 1944. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she had a successful career in movie musicals. However, in 1957, her career in films ended, as she had outgrown her innocent ...

29. Debbie Reynolds

Actress | Singin' in the Rain

Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, the second child of Maxine N. (Harmon) and Raymond Francis Reynolds, a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her film career began at MGM after she won a beauty contest at age 16 impersonating Betty Hutton. Reynolds wasn't a ...

30. Richard Rodgers

Soundtrack | The Talented Mr. Ripley

Richard Rodgers was born on June 28, 1902 in New York City, New York, USA as Richard Charles Rodgers. He was married to Dorothy Rodgers. He died on December 30, 1979 in New York City.

31. Ginger Rogers

Actress | The Major and the Minor

Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri on July 16, 1911. Her mother, known as Lelee, went to Independence to have Ginger away from her husband. She had a baby earlier in their marriage and he allowed the doctor to use forceps and the baby died. She was kidnapped ...

32. Frank Sinatra

Actor | The Manchurian Candidate

Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian immigrants Natalina Della (Garaventa), from Northern Italy, and Saverio Antonino Martino Sinatra, a Sicilian boxer, fireman, and bar owner. Growing up on the gritty streets of Hoboken made Sinatra determined to work hard to get ahead. ...

33. Barbra Streisand

Soundtrack | Funny Girl

Barbra Streisand is an American singer, actress, director and producer and one of the most successful personalities in show business. She is the only person ever to receive all of the following: Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, Cable Ace, National Endowment for the Arts, and Peabody awards,...

I believe Barbara Streisand is the greatest singer of musicals. Her politics stink, but her singing is unmatched.

34. Vera-Ellen

Actress | White Christmas

Vera-Ellen began dancing at the age of 10, and a few years later became one of the youngest Rockettes. She appeared in several Broadway musicals until she was spotted by film producer Samuel Goldwyn in 1945. She was only 24 years old when Goldwyn cast her opposite Danny Kaye in Wonder Man (1945). ...

Vera-Ellen was one of 6 great female dancers in musicals, along with Mitzi Gaynor, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell and Cyd Charisse.

35. Esther Williams

Actress | Neptune's Daughter

Esther Jane Williams was born on August 8, 1921 in Inglewood, California. Her youth was spent as a teenage swimming champion and she won three United States National championships. She eventually was spotted by a MGM talent scout while working in a Los Angeles department store. She made her film ...



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