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Posted: Friday, November 4, 2005 12:00 am

The Cherry Blonde

by Colin Briggs

Vivian Blaine was titled &#8220The Cherry Blonde” by Darryl F. Zanuck. She was also given the name &#8220Doll Face,” when under contract there from 1942 to 1947. A very popular favorite with servicemen during World War II, she got her big break through a series of lucky circumstances. Greenwich Village was to be a big budget Technicolor musical starring Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda. When Alice became pregnant and was unable to continue with the role, Betty Grable was approached. Due to impending motherhood she also had to decline and Zanuck thought of borrowing Rita Hayworth. Rita's huge success in Blood and Sand had led to more expensive loanouts from her home studio, Columbia, for My Gal Sal and Tales of Manhattan and her price had now risen so dramatically that the studio head hit on a plan of testing five of their contracted starlets in color and letting Los Angeles theater audiences vote as to who should be star of Greenwich Village. The girls were Lois Andrews, Vivian Blaine, Faye Marlowe, Doris Merrick and Gale Robbins. When the results were tabulated, Gale Robbins proved to be the winner. But, before the casting was announced Miss Robbins confessed she was married and had been since 1941. Zanuck liked his fledgling starlets to be single, as his publicity machine was always eager to have these girls out on dates with male studio counterparts. The second place getter was Vivian Blaine and as she'd just been favorably reviewed in a Laurel & Hardy comedy Jitterbugs, Zanuck declared her the winner. Deciding she'd also need an added gimmick, and not having a red haired musical star on the lot, he ordered that her hair be dyed and she was thus crowned, &#8220The Cherry Blonde.”

The aqua blue eyed natural blonde was born Vivian Stapleton on November 21, 1921, in Newark, New Jersey. Her father, Lionel P. Stapleton, was a former baritone singer turned theatrical booking agent. Her mother, Wilma Mae (Tepley), of Viennese descent, was a non professional. Her parents divorced and Lionel took work in an auto parts business.

Vivian hit the boards at age three with her beloved mother encouraging her as Vivian sang &#8220Roll on Mississippi” and danced the Charleston and Blackbottom for an American Legion audience. Her father kept in touch and began getting Vivian occasional bookings.

By the time she was 12 she worked weekends as a singer. Reaching 14, she did occasional stints with the Helsey Mills Band. Wilma Mae would always accompany Vivian at these gigs including a six-month tour with Al Kavelin's Orchestra. Wilma also worked in a beauty shop to support her daughter. Vivian's billing was firstly as Vivian Stevens, then Vivianne Lane until she called a halt after the third change, Vivian Blaine. In 1940 she made her first recordings for the Varsity label: &#8220My Buddy,” &#8220Summertime,” &#8220The Trainride,” and &#8220The Air Battle.”

Boasting a big Broadway contralto this led to a resident job singing at the Clinton Hotel in New York, with Jay Mills Band. It was at one of these gigs in 1941 that Meyer Mishkin, an enthusiastic Fox talent scout, noticed her. Struck by the dimpled blonde's resemblance to Alice Faye he offered her a Fox screen test, subject to the condition that the 5-ft., 2-in Vivian lose 30 pounds. Again her mother's encouragement and the agent's persistence achieved the desired results, and a successful test was made. Then a somewhat reluctant Vivian, who had misgivings about a movie career, left for Hollywood on January 28, 1942, with her mother at her side.

A fleeting appearance, which Vivian described as a walk through, marked her debut in It Happened in Flatbush (1942) starring Carole Landis and Lloyd Nolan. A more prominent scene set in a nightclub cast her as a socialite in Girl Trouble (1942) starring Don Ameche and Joan Bennett. This one utilized many Fox starlets including Janis Carter, Dale Evans, Helene Reynolds and Trudy Marshall. Trudy remembered Vivian as a &#8220somewhat shy and very lady like girl who was very close to her mother. Not at all pushy, she worked hard at learning her craft and let the powers-that-be make all the decisions.”

A straight dramatic role was her next assignment in Thru Different Eyes (Fox 1942) which Vivian described as &#8220awful” and her performance as &#8220worse.” She also said, &#8220My contract paid $100 per week, of which I took home $80 and there was some, but not much, training in dramatics.” After playing the troubled love interest of George Holmes in this film she was the kid sister in He Hired the Boss, a comedy with Stuart Erwin, and for her romantic interest, William Orr.

Her mother's health was becoming a problem by this time, and Vivian was needed at home a great deal. Any spare time she had was devoted to U.S.O. shows, having signed with the Victory Committee. She began playing at the smaller military bases which were ignored by the big name entertainers.

In 1943 she signed a contract with agent Manny Frank, and he began calling the shots in her career. In February of that year she got her first lead and three songs to sing in Jitterbugs. Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, it was perhaps the best of the films they made at Fox. Vivian's role was nicely showcased and the two comedians were enthusiastic in their praise for the young newcomer. Years later a radiant Vivian would guest on their This Is Your Life show with host Ralph Edwards. This TV reunion was especially warm and full of affection, becoming one of the most fondly remembered installments of the program.

With her mother's death Vivian began to be more assertive. One day, she marched into Zanuck's office and asked for a release from her contract. He agreed, providing he did not like a final test. This was the one made after her initial Greenwich Village test in which she was a blonde. With Zanuck's approval and on the condition that she become a redhead, Vivian got the lead in Greenwich Village. I spoke to the late Gale Robbins about this film and she said, &#8220Yes, I was first choice for that role, but Zanuck lost interest in me when he found out I was married. He did give me a small role in In The Meantime Darling, but it was to be six years later before I returned to Fox. George Jessel wanted me for Oh You Beautiful Doll and his influence got me the role. Zanuck had a real hang-up on his &#8220up and comers” being married. Trudy Marshall lost her big chance when she married Phil Raffin and Linda Darnell also displeased him by marrying Pev Marley.”

The day after being cast in Greenwich Village Vivian was in Westmore's having her hair treated with pounds of henna pack. At this time her best friends were Dale Evans and Linda Darnell. She would double date with Linda, Pev Marley and Manny Frank. An excellent cook with a sweet tooth, the diminutive star had a tendency to gain weight, and during the making of the film her weight fluctuated. Performing two solos, &#8220Down the Lane” and &#8220Whispering” her singing was favorably mentioned by critics with Film Digest adding, &#8220looks well and acts competently on the few occasions that acting is requested of her.” Picture Show's Maud Hughes was more complimentary: &#8220Then there is Vivian Blaine, a very pretty girl with an excellent singing voice and who has real natural charm, such a change from the elaborately made-up artificial glamour.”

A life long friend Vivian made during the shoot was character player B.S. Pully who would later appear with her in Guys and Dolls. Walter Lang who directed the musical said, &#8220Vivian did not care for her appearance in Greenwich Village and immediately went on a strenuous diet.” She later said that it was the many carbonated soda pops she drank that bloated her. Never touching them again she attained the level of weight she thought was right for her slight frame. Walter Lang said, &#8220She completely dehydrated herself and never was able to regain any weight.”

Servicemen voted her &#8220The Sweetheart of the 144th Infantry Regiment” and she was then handed the lead in Something for the Boys (Fox 1944), based on a popular Broadway musical by Cole Porter. Vivian got to play the role created by Ethel Merman. The film retained few of the original songs, but it still gave Vivian a great chance to shine with five song spots. Carmen Miranda was again her sidekick and if Michael O'Shea seemed an odd choice for her leading man, there were Glenn Langan and Perry Como to please the ladies. Photoplay said, &#8220Instead of Grable and her legs we have Vivian Blaine and her prettiness, who also sings, dances, smiles and reads lines.”

On the home front things were happier as her business manager George (Manny) Frank became the only man in her life. Famed artist Earl Moran did a lot of sketches of Vivian making her a popular pin up girl. Then Fox gave her probably her best role to date, in Nob Hill. This Technicolor drama with songs from Vivian was a loose reworking of Hello Frisco Hello and included an almost complete duplication of the opening sequence. Billed third under George Raft and Joan Bennett she sang two lovely ballads and was featured in three production numbers. Garnering excellent notices like &#8220the only bright spot in a tiresome plot” and &#8220Blaine is luscious and lovable” there were still the negative ones such as, &#8220Blaine sings well and has more gusto than usual, but Peggy Ann Garner steals the picture.” Picture Show stated, &#8220Practically all the characters have hearts of gold whether they are high on Nob Hill or in the dives of the Barbary Coast. Raft, Bennett and Blaine give good performances, Peggy Garner is good but has been better.”

Linda Darnell and Peverell Marley were her witnesses when she wed Manny Frank, twenty years her senior, on January 10, 1945. At this time she was making State Fair, one of the best Fox musicals and a landmark film of its time. Much slimmer, she was most becomingly garbed and photographed. Cast opposite Dick Haymes, they duetted &#8220Isn't It Kinda Fun” while she sang a solo &#8220That's For Me” and led the big production number &#8220All I Owe loway.” The Rodgers and Hammerstein score was a winner all the way with &#8220It Might as Well Be Spring” collecting the best song Academy Award. Louanne Hogan sang this in the film for the non-singing Jeanne Crain who top billed with Dana Andrews. Vivian as a slightly disillusioned band singer, who snatches a few days of happiness, contributed an excellent performance. Picture Show's Maud Hughes reported: &#8220The acting all round is good and Vivian Blaine's a go-ahead redhead with looks and figure.”

Jane Nigh who worked with Vivian in both Something for the Boys and State Fair said she had fond memories of her. &#8220I thought her beautiful, kind, and extremely well mannered. She took me aside on the set of State Fair and gave me some solid advice I always remembered: ‘You're a nice girl, Jane, but this is a cut-throat business. You will probably have to do things you won't want to. If, like me, you don't have that killer instinct, get yourself an agent to do the fighting for you.'”

To keep her hand in with live audiences Vivian sang at a Chicago theater for a sellout season for which she was paid $1000 per week. She also did four to five shows a day at the Roxy performing on the first part of the bill before the feature movie. Her success was so great that the Roxy would continue to employ her again and again.

Vivian said she did not particularly like what happened behind the scenes at Fox. &#8220During the war years it was fine, there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie. After the war the competitiveness became more apparent and many of us were stabbed in the back. I was in third place after Alice Faye and Betty Grable. The Dolly Sisters was mentioned as a vehicle for Alice Faye and myself. Then she quit the studio and Betty Grable took the top spot and a sprightly newcomer, June Haver, joined her. They never really hit it off, but June was an excellent dancer and had made a strong impression in &#8220Irish Eyes are Smiling” so she was cast. Suddenly I was back in third place and when my next picture was an indifferent musical to be shot in black and white, I could see the writing on the wall.”

The movie was Doll Face, based on a Broadway play which had starred Joan Blondell. Then titled The Naked Genius it was loosely based on incidents in the life of its author, Gypsy Rose Lee. In Doll Face, also titled Come Back to Me, Vivian had three leading men, the amiable Dennis O'Keefe, Perry Como, and Michael (later Stephen) Dunne. Carmen Miranda was again in the cast and would run into censorship problems with a &#8220Navy” number in which she forgot, or chose not, to wear her panties.

The photography and lighting were unkind to the star and some of the costumes downright unflattering and totally wrong for the scene. Also, it must have been unnerving to have Martha Stewart in the cast as her understudy. Dimpled redhead Martha played Como's girlfriend in the musical and duetted the hit number &#8220Dig You Later (Ahubba, Hubba Hubba).” Michael Dunne got the best notices and Martha Stewart also got praise while &#8220beautiful but a little too refined for a strip-teaser” was Vivian's best review. Picture Show said: &#8220Vivian Blaine should only be photographed in Technicolor.”

Offered I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now she turned it down believing the role to be demeaning and an audience turnoff. Martha Stewart thought otherwise and proved to be excellent in it, getting away from the nasty side of the woman by giving the character a Mae West comedic slant. With Martha now &#8220The Champagne Blonde” Vivian relished the opportunity to put away the henna dye pot and in her next film, If I'm Lucky, she was blonde again. Coincidentally Martha Stewart, whom I met at a Hollywood costume party, told me she was to be in If I'm Lucky as well, but the script was changed at the last minute. Martha looking remarkably youthful and beautiful was even then quite a charmer.

Carmen Miranda, Perry Como, Phil Silvers and Harry James were in support of Vivian who was top billed in the black and white musical. If I'm Lucky was a remake of the successful 1930s film Thanks a Million. Dick Powell had starred as a singer turned politician and this time around it was Perry Como. Apart from the title song the music in this remake was inferior to the original. Vivian looked lovely but there was a lack of excitement throughout. Harry James once commented, &#8220For nearly all the cast it was their final job at Fox.” Perry Como who had now worked in three films with Vivian recalled, &#8220She was a lady and though my Hollywood years were not always pleasurable, my memories of working with her are all happy ones.”

Director Bruce Humberstone persuaded Vivian to accept Three Little Girls in Blue. He assured her she'd get above-the-title billing along with June Haver and George Montgomery and that her role would remain intact. Shot in especially glowing Technicolor, the film looked great, and Humberstone kept his word. In the trio songs, all three girls (Vera-Ellen was the third) get their chance at center frame. Giving a warm and tremulous performance, Vivian is wistfully lovely. Her solo ballad &#8220Somewhere in the Night” had one critic raving &#8220Devastating” while another said her vocalizing &#8220had him tingling.” When her next offer was just a supporting role, to Joan Crawford, in Daisy Kenyon, she asked for her release from Fox. Martha Stewart, who seemed to be Vivian's rival, took over the role.

Accompanied by her husband, Vivian went on a studio good will tour and this was a personal triumph. Then in June 1947 she headlined at the London Palladium and Casino. Returning to Los Angeles with all her rave notices she found Fox had terminated her contract. Being an in demand pin-up, she flew the Berlin Air Lift to entertain the US troops stationed there. Returning to New York she played the Adams Theater in her home town of Newark and returned to the Roxy. Setting her sights on Broadway, she made her legitimate stage debut in One Touch of Venus at the Starlight Theater in Dallas. This was followed by Light Up the Sky in summer stock and Bloomer Girl at the Earle Theater in Brooklyn. She also was on hand as star guest at various state fairs (1949) and appeared on television with Jack Carter and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Given a star spot by Monte Presser at the Copacabana she, in her own words, &#8220Laid an egg.” Martin and Lewis were her support act and they stole the show. As consolation, one reviewer noted, &#8220Vivian Blaine looks gorgeous in her California sun tan - she sings too!”

Cy Feuer, one of the producers of the forthcoming Broadway musical Guys and Dolls which was currently being cast, mentioned to Manny Frank that the right person for a comedy lead had not yet been found. Upon making further enquiries Frank found that the part was that of Miss Adelaide, a 45-year-old entertainer. Although he then dismissed the thought of Vivian playing this role, a chance meeting between Vivian and composer Frank Loesser led to an audition. The other casting people confused her with Vivian Vance and vetoed the idea, but armed with the music of &#8220Adelaide's Lament” she auditioned and won the role. By whittling twelve years off the character's age &#8220Miss Adelaide” now became a more glamorous figure and Vivian Blaine became an overnight Broadway sensation while Guys and Dolls became one of the most popular musicals of all time. She won both the Donaldson Award and The New York Times Theatergoers Musical Comedy Star of the Year Award.

Hollywood suddenly showed a revived interest in Vivian. Fox offered her Wabash Avenue, and Universal offered Meet Danny Wilson. Committed to her stage contract and not finding the roles as fulfilling as she would like, she declined. With her annual holiday coming up the producers granted her a three-month leave to film Skirts Ahoy! (MGM 1951). Producer Joe Pasternak had been overwhelmed with her Guys and Dolls acting and singing and wanted her for his film. Instead of three sailors, this one concerned three Waves with the other star spots going to Esther Williams and Joan Evans. The Technicolor production also had guest appearances from The DeMarco Sisters, Carleton Carpenter and Debbie Reynolds. Despite all the talent involved it garnered only lackluster reviews, but for Vivian it was a marvelous, critical success. Her reviews included: &#8220Steals everything except Esther Williams' swimsuit” and &#8220it isn't fair to expect the delightful Vivian Blaine to keep a whole cargo of players afloat.”

In 1984 Joan Evans, who worked closely alongside Vivian, said of her co-star: &#8220I found her lovely and dear when she and I worked together. Even then, as young as we all were, she was wise and witty, not to mention beautiful and talented. As I watched her on television the other night I was delighted to see that she is still all of those things. In her case maturity has only added to her gifts.” There was trouble on the set though and press reports mentioned, &#8220Esther Williams may be replaced by Vivian Blaine in the big production number.”

In 1952 Vivian was on that year's &#8220Best Dressed List” a distinction she would earn for many years. During the run of Guys and Dolls she was also the star of the TV series Those Two with Pinky Lee. Unbelievably, when Guys and Dolls and Vivian went to London, Martha Stewart again entered the picture as her TV replacement, and also playing in Guys and Dolls on stage.

Vivian's other early television credits include: The Milton Berle Show (many times), Philco, Double Jeopardy and The Jackie Gleason Show (1953). There was also a guest appearance in the film Main Street to Broadway.

London, despite some qualms about the inaudibility of some performers, took Guys and Dolls to its heart and it enjoyed a long run. Samuel Goldwyn had acquired the film rights and told Vivian she had his word that &#8220she would play Miss Adelaide on film.” Other highlights of her London stay were being presented to Queen Elizabeth after a Royal Command Performance, and recording some new songs. One of them, &#8220Lonely,” made the charts and proved her long running nasal interpretation of Adelaide had not damaged her straight singing voice.

Returning to the US she was on television in Center Stage - Heart of a Clown and the Cole Porter musical Let's Face It (1954). Hallmark starred her in Dream Girl (1955) and it was back to Damon Runyon territory for Pick the Winner (1955). She also headlined a sellout season of Panama Hattie in theater that year.

Reports in the press that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell would have the star spots in the film version of Guys and Dolls had her perturbed. Later she read that Betty Grable was being considered for her role, but Samuel Goldwyn kept his promise made to her in London and she was signed. There was a tremendous amount of publicity given her in the next year or so, which led to Mercury Records issuing three L.P.s of songs plus a couple of very popular singles. On the debit side Manny Frank and she began a series a trial separations which ended in divorce on December 10, 1956.

The film version of Guys and Dolls was a financial blockbuster with the guaranteed star power of Marlon Brando playing the romantic lead. Vivian got on fine with him and Frank Sinatra, who had wanted to play Marlon's role and was reluctant to use a Runyonesque accent for the second lead. Vivian's notices again were quite brilliant, but she began to worry about being type cast having played the role on and off for six years. There would be a Las Vegas version starring Vivian and years later she'd do a White House performance (1967) plus a Broadway revival and two more tours with the role.

Red Skelton asked for her as co-star in Public Pigeon No. 1 (RKO 1956). The role gave her two production numbers, but the character was a thin imitation of Adelaide. As RKO had ceased production after the film was completed, the film received a limited release by Universal in the US, and by MGM in some other countries.

Now desperate to lose Adelaide once and for all, she guested on The Ed Sullivan Show (1956), The Bob Hope Show, and was in The Awful Truth, and G.E. Theater's It's Sunny Again. In 1957 she guested on The Ray Bolger Show and The Jimmy Durante Show and went dramatic for Lux Theater - The Undesirable. The latter was a reworking of a Shelley Winters film South Sea Sinner and Vivian did so well in it that she became Shelley's Broadway replacement in A Hatful of Rain. Heading the national tour she got a set of respectable notices for the highly dramatic role and was signed for a new Broadway show Say Darling (1958), again as a redhead. This comedy, with songs, was supposedly based on the rehearsals and eventual opening of The Pajama Game. Vivian played the glamorous star and judging by the original cast album was in strong voice and sounding nothing like Adelaide. She got wonderful reviews too.

Television guestings that year were: The Steve Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, The Patti Page Show, and The Perry Como Show, plus she was on Person to Person. There had been film offers for The Helen Morgan Story and My Man Godfrey which she turned down. In 1959, after guest appearances on The Garry Moore Show, Your Hit Parade, and Arthur Murray's Party, she announced that she was quitting show business.

Her retirement was prompted by her marriage, on May 9, 1959, to Milton Rackmil. He was the head of Universal Pictures and Decca Records and did not want a working wife. After a year of virtual inactivity, except for her role as a social hostess, Vivian itched to return to acting. Rackmil became angry, and their divorce on July 25, 1961, was none too amiable.

Movie and television work seemed unobtainable at this point, and it was back to the theater for Born Yesterday (1961), A Streetcar Named Desire (1962), and Rain (1963). Her first television show in years was a Route 66 episode shot in New York. Things brightened considerably when Broadway welcomed her back in Enter Laughing (1964), also starring Alan Arkin and Sylvia Sidney. As a brunette Vivian scored in a comedy role. After that, Vivian settled in New York and devoted her life to being an available and reliable star of regional theater. Plays included: Dirty Work at the Crossroads, and the musicals Take Me Along, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1967). The following year saw her in One Touch of Venus, The Marriage Go-Round, and Cactus Flower, and in 1969 Never Too Late, Mr President, Any Wednesday, and Don't Drink the Water which reunited her with Sam Levene, her Guys and Dolls co-star.

Moving on to the 1970s she starred in Zorba, The Glass Menagerie, Gypsy, and was cast in Cherie the musical version of Bus Stop. A tour of Light Up The Sky (1971) brought her back into the mainstream and she was signed to star in Company (1971-2) on Broadway, being a replacement for the original star, Elaine Stritch. The subsequent publicity and interviews revealed a very vivacious and still beautiful woman. Performance wise she was &#8220a force to be reckoned with.” Also that year, she guested on The Mike Douglas Show and The Tony Awards. In one of her interviews she spoke of first husband Manny Frank, who died in 1962. Although divorced in 1956, and she was with a different agent, they remained friends with her paying him commission on all her jobs until his death.

The film Richard (1972) marked her return to motion pictures while I Do, I Do and Follies were her two big theatrical events in 1973. The latter reunited her with Guys and Dolls crony Robert Alda and a friend from her days at Fox, Lynn Bari.

Around this time a new man entered her life. This was businessman, Stuart Clark, 13 years her junior, and the Catholic-raised Vivian married him in December 1973. After touring in the dramatic Twigs (1974) and Hello Dolly, Clark began to supervise her career and suggested a return to Hollywood. Twigs finally gave Vivian the acceptance she wanted as a dramatic actress bar none. Jim Arpy's review: &#8220Unfolds the awesome talents of Miss Vivian Blaine, who successfully plays four separate roles so smoothly and effectively that a viewer forgets she is only one person.”

Soon she was again starring in Light Up The Sky with Celeste Holm and Sam Levene, and headlined at the trendy Brothers & Sisters Club in New York (1975) garnering rave reviews. Milton Berle was her co-star in The Best of Everything in a pre Broadway tour, as was Jerry Stiller in Almost on a Runway (1976). Other theater events were Bus Stop, Mame, An Act of Love, and Prisoner of Second Avenue.

Now residing in Los Angeles, the wheeler dealer, Stuart Clark, soon had her in demand for television and movies. Hereafter (1975) led to a semi-regular appearance on Norman Lear's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1977-8) and she also shot a TV pilot, A Year at the Top.

The Fury starring Kirk Douglas and made at Fox cast Donald O'Connor and Vivian as a song and dance movie team, similar to Marge and Gower Champion. With a very gory horror plot, it was based on the best selling novel of the same name. When the film was previewed it was way too long and as their parts were expendable (they both meet an extremely gory end) their scenes were excised. Vivian's comments: &#8220My fans were disappointed but have them know, the pay was tops.” Soon after, she accepted another horror movie, The Dark. This time she escaped a bloody end and her role was uncut. Playing a chic society woman, Vivian looked great and delivered a polished performance. In the 1978 television season she guested on Fantasy Island, and was most impressive as a nosy parishioner of clergyman Peter Graves on The Love Boat. Between stage engagements of How the Other Half Loves and The Boy Friend (1979) she was in several TV movies of the week. Katie - Portrait of a Centerfold gave Kim Basinger her first big break, and Dorothy Malone and Vivian were cast as sisters who run a modeling agency. A charming musical Sooner or Later starring Rex Smith and Denise Miller had her play a make-up artist. Then there was Fast Friends with David Letterman and Dick Shawn and The Cracker Factory (1979) with Shelley Long and starring Natalie Wood as her daughter. She also guested on Vega$ that year.

Once again part of the Hollywood social scene, she was often photographed attending various functions. At one of these awards nights she caught up with co-star George Raft, and at others there were reunions with Jean Simmons and Esther Williams. Her annual stage tour routine still survived and she did Hello Dolly in 1981. Yet another horror flick Parasite (1981) cast her with Demi Moore. This Canadian shocker had one reviewer say: &#8220billed as Miss Vivian Blaine, she seems to be the only professional in the cast.” Particularly lurid was her death scene, with the parasite bursting out of her face. Much better was I'm Going to Be Famous (1982), which had a multi-layered script with some novel touches. Vivian played a glamorous &#8220Angel” who may back a new Broadway play, providing the young leading man becomes her stud for the season. She gave the part considerable pathos and stood out in a cast who provided some generally fine acting. Meredith MacRae was endearing in her role of the star with a gay, director husband and Roslyn Kind (Streisand's sister) sang and acted with finesse in a very downbeat role. This films climax packed a real wallop and is always worth another look.

Keeping her work load more or less on the West Coast she did several theatrical revues: Legendary Ladies (1982-3), What Are You Doing in My Life?, and Star Time. Betty Kean knew Vivian during these years and she told me that it was always distressing to see Stuart Clark in the wings chatting up one of the stage crew while Vivian was performing. However, Kathryn Grayson told me that when she and Vivian were honored at an &#8220Artistry in Cinema” awards night, she was grateful that Stuart Clark was able to extricate them from the proceedings at a respectable hour.

On television Vivian did a couple of cable specials, Sentimental Journeys and Christmas with Vivian Blaine (Old Fashioned Christmas) (1984). There were also many AIDS benefit concerts including an engagement at a gay club The Gardenia. Her performance there was recorded and an LP record Vivian Blaine Sings for You issued, with proceeds going to AIDS research. Vivian was honored with the Maggie - International Entertainer Award at the 18th Annual Gay Academy Awards.

She also tried out a new play The Family Joke and was on several TV documentaries including Going Hollywood and Hollywood at War. Broadway beckoned once again and she returned to New York to play in a revival of the musical Zorba. This time around it starred Anthony Quinn recreating his movie role and Vivian was imported to boost business for the final weeks. In 1985 she got a showcase guest role on Murder She Wrote. Cast as a legendary singer-actress who's had her share of troubles, it evoked memories of Judy Garland. Heightening this comparison was the casting of Lorna Luft as her daughter. Vivian delivered with gut-wrenching intensity the foibles of this once alcoholic and desperately surviving super star.

Now permanently residing in New York City, she became a regular on the serial One Life to Live (1987). Coming around full circle now she joined Jean Stapleton in a long season of Arsenic and Old Lace. Portraying the two eccentric and murderous sisters, the pair combined their years of stage craft and talent to provide a riotous night at the theater.

There were turbulent times ahead for her, for Stuart Clark became ill. A club they had heavily invested in became a financial loss, and the death of her lifelong fan and supporter, James Hill-Neyhardt, dealt her a real blow. He had helped organize her original fan club, The Blaine Boosters in 1944. In the early 1970s he ran the Vivian Blaine International Fan Club.

Friends and co-workers of the popular star, whose career had begun in 1924, were surprised to read of her death on December 9, 1995. Keeping private her illness, she'd been in Beth Israel Hospital where she had been treated for pneumonia. Her amazing 70 years in show business had finally come to an end. But even today, The Cherry Blonde lives on in the hearts of all those lucky enough to have seen her perform.