BELOVED CABARET/THEATER LEGEND JULIE WILSON HAS DIED AT 90

 

Julie Wilson - classic profile

Cabaret's brightest light has been dimmed. Beloved cabaret icon and Tony Award nominee Julie Wilson passed on April 6th. She died of natural causes at Lenox Hill Hospital after suffering a stroke on March 26, followed by a second cerebral incident. She was 90 years old. At the time she fell ill, she was preparing to attend the MAC Awards at B.B. King's bringing flowers to her close friends, Baby Jane Dexter and Steve Ross, who were being honored that night. Two weeks before her passing, she flew to California to celebrate with her old friend and respected actress Patricia Morrison on her 100th birthday. She was surrounded by close friends and family when she passed away peacefully. 

Julie Wilson was one of the most beloved artists and humanitarians. She was feted with special events leading up to and including on her 90th birthday. There was a special evening at Iridium Jazz Club where she was celebrated by a star-studded lineup of her peers in June 2013. That same year, she appeared as a special guest at Stage 72 at The Triad Cabaret Theatre with Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano in their show. There was a special evening devoted to her at Jazz At Lincoln Center presented by The Mabel Mercer Foundation in October 2014 on her birthday as part of the Cabaret Convention. This was a program of mostly new faces. Julie was a relentless champion of new and rising artists' in cabaret. For decades, she inspired artists' and audiences alike with her commitment to excellence, raw honesty, bravery, self depricating laughs as well as generosity and sheer brilliance at her craft. As a master teacher at the O'Neill Symposium at Yale and later the International Cabaret Conference At Yale, she graciously shared her professional experience and instinctive knowledge with countless students who were inspired by her unparalleled encouragement and performance advice. Ms. Wilson was frequently in the audience cheering new and old friends on including some of the brightest rising lights in the genre over the last six decades. Her radiant smile and occasional encouraging shout-outs from the audience became another endowment as she glowed with enthusiasm. A great beauty, for years, she performed regularly at the Oak Room at The Algonquin as well as La Maisonette at The St. Regis, Michael's Pub, Freddie's, Rainbow & Stars, and in every major club room in the country including London and Paris. She brought American cabaret to Moscow in 1989.

Her last solo show in New York was at the Metropolitan Room with her brilliant and supportive musical partner Christopher Denny in 2008. Writing in the New York Times, Stephen Holden said:This is singing as great acting. Ms. Wilson communicates in short, ferocious bursts of speech-song that hit you with directness and intensity, as if she were the Oracle at Delphi. If she didn’t draw so freely from her reservoirs of joy and humor, you might feel beaten up by her eruptions of self-lacerating honesty. But she always laughs at herself. She is every woman of every age who remembers having been a fool for love while knowing better.

Ms. Wilson also appeared in movies and starred on the London stage as well as forays in musical theate productions. Over the last 30+ years, she was widely known and respected for her work in nightclubs where she epitomized the glamorous chanteuse usually with a flowing feather boa, opera gloves and her trademark gardenia in her hair. That gardenia was a personal tribute to her friend and mentor Billie Holiday. 

Throughout her career, Julie Wilson also appeared and co-starred in several films. In 1988, she received that Tony nomination for her show-stopping performance in Legs Diamond stoppingthe show nightly singing, "The Music Went Out of My Life." She also starred in Kiss Me Kate in London's West End as well as touring in several musicals in the United States.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Julie Wilson first found a musical outlet as the girl singer with a local group called Hank's Hepcats. She moved to New York City during the World War II years and performed in two of Manhattan's leading nightclubs, Lou Walter's Latin Quarter and the fabled Copacabana. She made her official Broadway stage debut in the 1946 revue, Three to Make Ready. In 1951, she moved to London to star in the West End production of Kiss Me, Kate and remained there for four years, appearing in shows such as South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She returned to New York to replace Joan Diener in Kismet. Additional Broadway credits include: The Pajama Game (1954), Jimmy (1969), Park (1970), and Legs Diamond in 1988 (Tony nomination as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.) She toured in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Company, A Little Night Music and Follies.

In 1957, she sang with Ray Anthony and his Orchestra, contributing vocals to a number of songs on the soundtrack of the film This Could Be The Night. Ms. Wilson also had an acting role in the film, as singer Ivy Corlane. Her television credits included regular roles on the daytime soap opera The Secret Storm. She also appeared in a Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of Kiss Me, Kate and numerous episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show.

With her second husband, actor/producer Michael McAloney, Julie Wilson had two sons, Holt and Michael, Jr., who attended boarding school in Ireland while their parents worked in New York City. When her marriage ended, Ms. Wilson, who was working steadily, sent the boys to live with her parents in Omaha. When they reached their teens, she stopped performing and joined them and also cared for her ailing parents.

By 1983, her sons grown and her parents deceased, she found her niche and forged a stellar reputation as the definitive cabaret performer known primarily for her dramatic delivery on torch songs and show tunes. She balanced it all with carefully crafted risque songs showing her great flare for blue comedy through red-hot mama tunes. Her acclaimed recordings include: My Old Flame, Live From the Russian Tea Room, Julie Wilson At the St. Regis and collections devoted to the songbooks of Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, George and Ira Gershwin and Stephen Sondheim. These recordings are considered collector's items today due to her consummate interpretations, dramatic delivery and singing skills as well as a natural instinct for the songwriter's intent with a lyric. She had no peers when it came to baring her soul and casting a spell over audiences. Julie Wilson set the bar high and received a plethoroa of honors for her work in cabaret. 

Ms. Wilson beamed with pride over her son Holt McCallany's impressive accomplishments and success as a movie and television actor. Her son Michael McAloney Jr., died in 1989. Aside from Holt, she is also survived by a granddaughter. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

(Note: Some portions of the information were obtained from Wikipedia.)