Oklahoma’s Leading Ladies

Roberts and Holm backstage at Oklahoma!

Within the past month we have lost the two leading ladies from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s landmark musical Oklahoma! This Monday, Joan Roberts, who originated the role of Laurey, died in Stamford, Conn., at age 95. She made her Broadway debut in 1941’s Sunny River, another R&H show – Romberg and Hammerstein, that is. In 1945, she starred in two brief musicals: Marinka and Are You With It? In 1947, she replaced Nanette Fabray in High Button Shoes. She made few New York appearances since then but did record songs from four of her shows on her solo album, Joan Roberts Sings Her Hit Songs (1955). Her last Broadway show was the 2001 revival of Follies. This past June, Kaufmann released her autobiography, Stage Right, and last year, University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts honored her during their replica production of the original Oklahoma!

Also present at UNC for that production was Celeste Holm, who died in New York City July 15 at age 95. Holm created the role of Ado Annie in the Pulitzer-winning 1943 musical, and the role of Mary L in William Sayoran’s 1939 Pulitzer-winning play The Time of Your Life. After starring in Arlen and Harburg’s Bloomer Girl (1944), she briefly went to Hollywood, where she won an Oscar for Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and noms for Come to the Stable (1949) and All About Eve (1950). She returned to New York to replace Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I (1951) and Angela Lansbury in Mame (1967) and worked primarily in theater, save for the films The Tender Trap (1955) and High Society (1956) with Frank Sinatra. Her last Broadway appearance was in Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet (1991).

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