Friday, November 14, 2003

Penny Singleton is dead at 95

LOS ANGELES - Penny Singleton, who brought the comic strip character Blondie to life in a popular series of films and was the voice of the mother on The Jetsons has died. She was 95.

Singleton died Wednesday at Sherman Oaks Hospital, two weeks after suffering a stroke, said longtime friend Dick Sheehan.

The Blondie series, which had 28 films from 1938 to 1950, was based on the cartoon strip about the misadventures of a small town family created by Chic Young in 1930. Arthur Lake played Blondie's husband, the bumbling Dagwood Bumstead.

Among the films: Blondie Meets the Boss (1939), Blondie Plays Cupid (1940), and Blondie Knows Best (1946).

"I'm proud and grateful I was Blondie," Singleton said in a 1973 book on film serials, Saturday Afternoon at the Bijou.

"She was dumb and shrewish sometimes," she said. "But she was real and sympathetic and warm, a real woman, a human being. And that's how I tried to play her."

In his "Movie and Video Guide," critic Leonard Maltin wrote that the early entries in the series were "fresh and original — with many clever touches belying the fact that they were low-budget films." "Halliwell's Film Guide" calls Singleton and Lake "perfect screen incarnations."

No one else ever played Blondie and Dagwood on the big screen. Two later Blondie TV series were short-lived.

After her stint as Blondie, Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson in The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbera's 21st century counterpart to their highly successful Flintstones cartoon family. The show ran in prime time for just one season, 1962-63, but has been widely seen in reruns.

Singleton also appeared in the 1964 film The Best Man but spent most of her time touring in nightclubs and roadshows of plays and musicals such as Call Me Madam.

She became active in the American Guild of Variety Artists, the union representing touring performers, chorus girls and other entertainers. As union vice president in the 1960s, she helped lead a strike by the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

Singleton was born in 1908 — some references say 1909 — daughter of a Philadelphia newspaperman. She got her start in show business by winning an amateur contest and was touring in vaudeville by her early teens.

After debuting on Broadway in the late '20s, she began appearing in films, at first under her real name, Dorothy McNulty. She took the name Singleton after marrying dentist Lawrence Singleton in 1937.

In the mid-'30s, she played several roles as shady characters, and got worried she would be typecast.

"I just didn't want to be typed," she once said. "It goes to show you how you can eat your words. I became probably the most typed actress in the world. But, at least (Blondie) had some dignity."

Singleton is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren and a great-grandson.

A friend of mine e-mailed the above to me, but didn't send me a link--so I went ahead and posted the whole thing. Bill Hillman, who has a Penny Singleton website, reports that his hit count has been going through the roof since her passing on Wednesday.

I have a copy of that Saturday Afternoon at the Bijou mentioned in the article, by the way. I bought it online from a used book website, so it's one you have to search for--but if you like old B-pictures and the series films (Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, Andy Hardy, etc.) it's well worth the hunt.

Of course, the article leaves out that the Blondie series also had a successful stint on radio beginning July 3, 1939 and running on all three networks (CBS/NBC/ABC) until July 6, 1950. Singleton (who had left the series by that time) also starred in her own self-titled show over NBC from May 30 to September 26, 1950 as a summer replacement for Fibber McGee & Molly.

R.I.P, Penny.

UPDATE: I have seen practically next to nothing mentioned on any of the news sites of Singleton's passing—leave it to London's The Independent to give this wonderful actress a proper send-off.

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