Julie Wilson
JULIE WILSON

     Julie is a pioneer who could have become a prima donna. Except that the strong family roots and values from back home in Omaha, Nebraska sustained her through over seventy years of winning and losing, of heights and the deepest of depths.

     Long before she tackled Sondheim, Julie was the little girl who loved a 1920's pop song, "Mary Lou". She was a tomboy with secret dreams of stardom. Barely enrolled at Omaha University, Julie grabbed at a chance to join Earl Carroll's Vanities. This eventually led her to the chorus line of the Latin Quarter, and finally the Copacabana. It was wartime, and she was making $75. a week and feeling pretty good. After a Copa USO tour in Europe, she was promoted to a singing spot in the lavish Copacabana production numbers, where she introduced, "There's An Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil", ("The Coffee Song").

     Miami and Hollywood clubs dates followed, including the famous Mocambo. But New York lured her back. There she fine-tuned her stagecraft in musical comedies like Kiss Me Kate, replacing Lisa Kirk as Bianca. When the play moved to London in 1951, Julie went along. She remained in London for four years, appearing in shows such as South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing, and enrolling in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. To study there, she had to give up the chance to open on Broadway as Babe in what would become a long-running hit, The Pajama Game. (Ironically, several years later, she replaced Janis Paige's replacement in the very role she had rejected.)

     Julie returned to Broadway in 1955, appearing in Kismet, and then touring in shows such as Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, and Hi Fidelity. During the 1950's, Julie made several recordings, and she also made some of those wonderful black-and-white movies, like, The Strange One, and This Could be The Night, where she played "Rosebud", a blonde nightclub chanteuse. 

     But her niche, and her reputation, was in the clubs -- the glamorous, romantic rooms of the 'Fifties'. There she reigned in the finest rooms in the finest hotels. And there she sang the naughty, torchy, gutsy songs she loved.

     Julie is aware that real life is not upon the stage. She married twice, first very briefly. Her second marriage produced her two sons, Holt and Michael, but the marriage ended, and the boys went to live with Julie's parents in Omaha so she could work and support them.

     Much like a marriage, the aura of a New York nightclub can burst like a bubble, as it did in the '60's, when rock stadiums replaced plush supper clubs and the active nightlife dissipated. In the years that followed, Julie's performances were in the small "unpretentious" clubs that opened around New York City, a world away from the Maisonette. She had stage roles in Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music, where she grew to love the music of Stephen Sondheim. In 1967, she appeared in a short lived musical, Jimmy. Despite the show's short run, Julie says, "I had great songs."

     But as her sons reached their teen years, she retired to Omaha to raise them. She also cared for her dying brother, and after that, her elderly, ailing parents.

     By late, 1983, her brother and both parents had died, and her sons were grown. Julie was ready to once again begin carving a career. She got a phone call asking if she could be ready to do a Cole Porter show at Michael's Pub in New York.

     "Ready! Were they kidding? After all those Cole Porter shows I had done? On January 3, I was back in New York at Michael's Pub."

     Julie Wilson's legendary shows of the 'Fifties' were remembered. Cabarets were reviving. The Russian Tea Room, The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, and Rainbow and Stars, nightspots in California and Chicago all opened up to her. Peter Allen wrote a part for her in his musical, Legs Diamond, for which she was nominated for a Tony. In 1992, PBS ran a special of her cabaret show.

      Julie's understanding of life now deeply influences her music. The vampy, flirtatious Porter classics are still a staple, but today, there is a depth to everything she sings, so that her life, her views, her grasp of what the lyrics and music are all about, this is all conveyed to her audience. If the tone is not so clear and pure -- and she'll be the first to admit that -- she can still sustain those notes and the voice is dramatically strong. And most of all, Julie Wilson's down-to-earth attitude toward life, her outspoken views of inequities, her high personal standards, have brought her universal love and respect throughout the industry.

 


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