Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Julie Wilson Supperclub Chanteuse

Supperclub Diva Julie Wilson was the first chanteuse I had the pleasure of enjoying in person. These were the days in the mid to late '50's when nite clubs with live entertainment consisting of bands and singers were prevalent. Everyone dressed up, guys in suits or tuxedos and women in what were considered classic sophisticated sexy cocktail dresses or longer floor length gowns with fancy high heel shoes. Women usually had a "little black dress" sometimes low cut in the front, sleeveless, body clinging, to wear in the evening for just such a glamorous occasion. A pearl necklace or maybe some rhinestone jewelery would suffice in place of diamonds for those of us with lesser means.

Here's a look at what one such dress of that era looked like, referred to here as a "Marilyn-dress." I don't recall any of us thinking of Marilyn Monroe in conjunction with wearing this dress as this name implies so think it's likely a recent name concoction. I didn't know anyone who aspired to be that Marilyn as most of us thought she wasn't too bright and a little shallow if all she had to offer was a sexy appearance. Some men may have thought differently. This dress would have fit me just fine except the waist and hip sizes are each two inches too large. Inevitably seems my girl pals were small and petite so while I knew I looked good, I actually thought I was too big. Well ..... I couldn't fit into that dress today and it wouldn't be too big anywhere.

In those late '50's I was living in a midwest Great Lakes state small town to which I had moved earlier from a southern state further west so I welcomed learning all I could about this new area. A new friend told me about a supperclub called Danny Deeds Maramor that her older boyfriend had often described to her. She said she thought it would be fun to go there. He was a traveling sales manager for whom she had once worked but was out of town again as he often seemed to be, returning only on occasional weekends. This was "the club" where name entertainers from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles were booked to perform, but was located in a metropolitan city a distant two hours away.

The times were such that respectable young single women in this part of our country did not usually go out to clubs, or other venues where both genders might be unless they had a male escort. The women who did go without a male were often assumed to be of questionable character, especially in our little town, even by people who knew the young women from very respectable daytime settings. We discovered my friend who had often been in some local settings with her boyfriend was even presumed to have some nefarious purpose in mind if she showed up when he was out of town to mix with friends they both had. We concluded we could overcome that view when I expressed a willingness to join her for occasional nights out anyway. I had long since concluded I knew what I was about and believed I could easily handle any undesirable situation that came my way and did, as needed.

Then there was the day I always remember when I was tapped on the shoulder one lunch time as I gazed at a department store window display. I turned to see what appeared to be a middle-aged woman I had never seen before and did not know. She smiled and kindly shared with me that "You are such a nice girl, but your friend is not good company and I wouldn't want to see you corrupted," or words to that effect. I was so startled but she was quickly gone, having scurried back to a man I assume must have been her husband. I was only bemused by this poor well-meaning creature once I recovered from her intrusion. I trust her conscience was relieved that she had done her utmost to protect me from exploitation.

Despite all this my friend and I decided we would make the two hour drive to "the big city." Though her boyfriend wouldn't be there, she thought we could stay in the respectable downtown hotel where he stayed when in town on business. She also knew of the nearby equally respectable club that had excellent food and live musical entertainment. At that time in that part of the country people generally considered having to drive an hour or more, or even less, hardly a drive to undertake just for entertainment. But we were young and adventurous so we drove to the city one Saturday, checked into our hotel, dressed ourselves in our evening attire after applying our obligatory makeup, carried our evening wrap and gloves (the well-dressed woman didn't go anywhere without gloves even in the daytime) and sauntered purposefully over to this supperclub for dinner and entertainment.

Years later when I worked at the Columbus, Ohio television station after moving to this city, the live program I helped produce booked entertainers from the Maramor club to entertain our audience and viewers while promoting their local appearance. My husband sometimes accompanied name entertainers there who needed what are known as pickup musicians to augment their own instrumentation, including Betty Hutton
of "Annie Get Your Gun" fame. Some of those entertainers, Gordon and Sheila MacRae I recall, used to come to a nearby hotel after their show ended to unwind and listen to the piano player who was accompanied on acoustic bass by my husband, a duo.

I recall returning to that club when my husband and I were dating for an evening of dinner and listening to Mel Torme's perfect pitch singing voice. Our table was ringside, a far cry from the table practically behind a post my girlfriend and I were given my first night ever in that club.

That night my girlfriend and I did not sense that we were welcomed by the club's owner, probably for two reasons. We didn't have a reservation and two young women unescorted by a male might well be there for questionable reasons. Two males unescorted by females would have been fine, because they clearly would come only for the food and entertainment to see this provocative sexy singer.

I don't remember the dinner, though I'm sure the food was quite good. The bill, and I assume we left a tip (though tipping protocol would have been new to us,) coupled with any cover charge probably was quite expensive for us considering our working girl salaries. I don't recall my friend's reaction to the evening as she didn't share my enthusiasms for many experiences, but I thoroughly enjoyed the night. I was ever so pleased we were actually going to be entertained by one of the most sought after supperclub divas who performed in the top New York City supperclubs and other similar classy venues and in London.

Julie Wilson, a Broadway star and cabaret singer was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1924 as described in the msn.com biography. In New York she performed at the Latin Quarter and Copacabana. Here's the young Julie who appeared in an American television production of Kiss Me, Kate in 1958 singing "Always True to You (Darlin' In My Fashion")

"She starred in the London musical Bet Your Life (February 18, 1952), which ran for 361 performances and produced a cast album on the English Columbia label, and she replaced Mary Martin in the starring role in the London production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. While remaining based in London, but commuting back to New York, she resumed her career as a nightclub singer, appearing in the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel" according to the MSN biography.

She sings from her 1957 album "My Old Flame:"
"You Don't Know What Love Is"

This is the Julie Wilson cabaret singer I recall seeing as she sings
"I Refuse to Rock and Roll" on her 1958 live album "At the St. Regis."

Here's Julie at the open mic at the Gardenia:


Julie performing at age 85 with her trademark boas sexy as ever singing
"I'm a Bad Woman" "but I'm good company" she says.

This is Julie "...performing at the Mabel Mercer Foundation's NYC Cabaret Convention ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love", "The Man I Love"), introduced by Donald Smith, with musical director Christopher Denny at the piano" the YouTube information provides.

Producer/Director: Richard Currier (excerpt from "Put Your Hands Together") with "Bravo" from writer columnist Liz Smith as noted on YouTube:

"JULIE HAS THE LAST LAUGH!!! At 85, the "kid from Omaha" Nebraska and actor (Holt McCallany)'s mom, still tosses her famed "Red Boa" around like "nobody's business". This clip, from her Cabaret Sh..."

I really love when these now older performers, men and women, but especially women revered as sex symbols demonstrate they're still vibrant and alive.

I don't know if Julie Wilson has had any more recent appearances, but I wouldn't be surprised if she's still swinging her trademark red boa somewhere.


  1. Ah yes, the little black dress. No single girl would be without one. I had two of them and I only remember what one looked like because I loved it so much. It had a V neck and a small pleated apron effect that went around to the back and ended with a small bustle with the ends hanging down. I am not describing it well, but I felt like a million dollars in that dress and wore it with the necessary pearls and black suede pumps.

  2. I believe Ms Wilson is STILL performing in the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Concert Series in New York--it happens every year....!
    What a pleasure to see these clips Joarad....I have followed Juile Wilson's career since back in the early 1950's---Growing up in New York and singing in clubs myself--She Was The BEST! Many years later....sometime in the late 80's or early 1990's she played The Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and my dear friend Betty Garrett and I went...Betty knew Julie from Betty's early days on Broadway. And the night we went,I brought that very Album in the picture from YouTube and she signed it for me....! It was thrilling to meet her and get to talk with her. I noticed in those last two clips that she is wearing gloves--She didn't use to---But I'm sure it is because she has terrible Arthritus in her fingers and she doesn't want that to distract from her performance.....I LOVED all the material she chose to sing 'back in the day'...."I'M TRAVELIN' LIGHT"...She was the first performer I ever heard sing that song. She was and still is, the consumate caberet performer of all time....! Unrequited Love, and all that....MARVELOUS!
    Thanks for sharing your memories of her and of the times back then. It surely was a very different time....And you and your friend were quite brave to go it alone in that club!

  3. I wish I still had my little black dresses - they would bring back such good memories. I didn't live where we could go and see singers like this - and more's the pity. She was wonderful and I enjoyed all the clips, especially the last one!

  4. Darlene: Ah, those little black dresses! They still have them I note on the Internet, but the styles are different -- often much more revealing and shorter in length than ours were, I think.

    OldoldladyoftheHills: Thanks so very much for adding such fascinating information about Ms. Wilson and those years. Oh, I wish you had performed at that Columbus Club. What fun it would have been to see you then, and encounter you serendipitously through blogging these many years later.

    Maybe sometime you could write a piece at your place about Ms Wilson and/or expand on some of what you've said here, including your own club experiences -- or maybe you have and I just haven't seen it in some of your earlier posts.

    I'm delighted to learn that Ms Wilson continues to perform, but not surprised -- expect the pleasures of doing so do not quell with age, especially when there are those who appreciate the talent.

    Kenju: Yes, I kept my "little black dress" for many years, long after it ceased fitting me. I fully expected to be able to get back into it, but being even ten pounds heavier made that an impossibility, especially after having my children.

    I hadn't had much opportunity to enjoy such entertainment for many years, so tried to make the most of it once I had the opportunity to do so.

  5. I heard of Julie Wilson, but never really listened to her. I think she was a little before me...but I really enjoyed these videos Joared. But...I did have a little black dress that I just loved.

  6. Joy: I was young and she really was a decade or more older than me, but had the sophistication, sexy demeanor (in her nightclub act) that at my age I thought was so classy. I figured I could never aspire to that sort of seductive behavior, but I wondered if that was what I should try to become when I became "an older woman." Funny to think about now!

  7. Joared--There were some of us who, in the era, were not sophisticated enough to think in terms of "little black dresses". My first black dress was shantung...and something that would have been right at home being worn in church. I wore it to my college graduation ceremony, accompanied by my Hunky Husband and parents, leaving our two children at home with a sitter.

    Come to think of it, I've never become sophisticated enough to wear a "little black dress". I do, now, wear a lot of black, but it is in pants and shells and great shirts!

    Loved your memories. Thanks for sharing!
    Cop Car

  8. Cop Car: I've sure never thought of myself as sophisticated and don't know that my friends would have that word come to their minds if asked to describe me.

    I never heard of the concept of "little black dress" until years later. I just knew what I saw others wear when they went out. I concluded I should have something of that sort, plus I really liked the idea that with a black dress I could wear all kinds of jewelery (not that I ever wore that much since I come from the "less is more" school of thought.)

    My dress was straight, sleeveless, slightly scoop neck but not at all revealing. I can't recall what material, but it was broadcloth or something like that -- not shiny, taffeta or whatever. My dress was appropriate for daytime wear or to wear to a funeral. I believed in multi-function items, preferred a few versatile well-made clothes along the classic lines, always. What I really liked about the dress was it had a long mid-thigh length jacket with three-quarter length sleeves I could comfortably wear in day or evening cool weather year 'round, if need be under a heavy winter coat in snow country. I was and still am a very practical person as a result of necessity.

  9. Great story! Loved it!

    Small slice of Americana and wonderful.