The life and career of stage, film, and TV star Dolores Gray, who died on June 26 at age 78, were celebrated today at a memorial service at The Lamb's Theatre in New York City.
Gray made her first big splash in musical theater as the star of the original London production of Annie Get Your Gun in 1947. She won a Tony Award in 1954 for her performance in the short-lived Carnival in Flanders but her biggest Broadway hit was Destry Rides Again (1959), in which she co-starred with Andy Griffith.
She was recently joined in the afterlife by Adolph Green, co-author with Betty Comden of two of Gray's most notable vehicles, the Broadway show Two on the Aisle (which co-starred Bert Lahr) and the M-G-M film It's Always Fair Weather. She also starred in M-G-M's movie version of the musical Kismet in 1955 and in the flop Broadway tuner Sherry! (based on The Man Who Came to Dinner) in 1967. In later years, she returned to the London stage in Gypsy and Follies, and appeared on Broadway in 42nd Street and Off-Broadway in Money Talks.
The wonderfully well-produced service today included warm reminiscences from old friend and colleague Julie Wilson, one of whose first jobs in New York was as a chorus girl in a show at the Copacabana in which Gray was featured. John Epperson -- a.k.a. Lypsinka, whose stage persona is largely based on Gray's -- told of her warmth and humor. Howard Kissel of the Daily News entertainingly recapped the famous story of Gray courageously going on with the show, and thereby preventing audience panic, when a fire broke out backstage during a performance of Destry Rides Again.
Among the others on hand to speak about Gray were her friend and attorney Martin Newman and writer Ellis Nassour. In addition, messages were read from Elaine Stritch, Lee Roy Reams, Ann Miller (who co-starred with Gray in The Opposite Sex, an M-G-M musical remake of The Women), Joe Benincasa (executive director of The Actors' Fund), and Evan Pappas (who appeared with Gray in Follies and who shared a story of her moral and financial support of him).
A medley of songs associated with Gray -- including "Here's That Rainy Day" (which she introduced in Carnival in Flanders), "I'm Still Here," and "There's No Business Like Show Business" -- was offered by Broadway performers Gavin Creel, Jeff McCarthy, and Casey Nicholaw. The service ended with some terrific clips of the inimitable Gray doing her stuff, including the big numbers from her movies as well as performances of songs from Annie Get Your Gun and Destry that were done for television and a TV interview with her. Although no video of Gray's "Here's That Rainy Day" exists (or, at least, was available), an audio recording of her singing the song was played at the end of the clips segment as moving images of her in performance were sampled. To read TheaterMania's June 2002 obit of Gray, click here.