Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Star of Stage, Screen and Richmond

Posted by Bruce Miller
Today we’re pleased to wish Betty Ann Grove a very happy 81st birthday. Betty Ann is Richmond’s own Broadway Baby—and she’s such a good friend and familiar face that it’s way too easy to forget what an amazing national career she had before moving to Richmond with her late husband Roger twenty or so years ago.

How big a deal is our friend Betty Ann? Consider these brief anecdotes from the wealth of articles that pop up when you type her name into Google.

When she was only 21 years old, Betty Ann began her seven year stint as co-star of Stop the Music, a mega-hit musical quiz show that began on radio in 1949 and soon transferred to the up-and-coming medium of television. When Cole Porter saw adorable Betty Ann on TV for the first time, his people immediately called her people and offered her the chance to replace Lisa Kirk as Lois Lane / Bianca in the original Broadway production of Kiss Me Kate—Betty Ann’s Broadway debut.

And it wasn’t just Cole Porter who loved her. Betty Ann was so popular and appeared in so many TV shows in the early 50s that her beautiful face wound up on the cover of Look Magazine over a caption that read “America’s Most Televised Women.” And what are the TV credits that earn her recognition as one of the great women pioneers of the new medium? Stop the Music, The Bert Parks Show, The Big Payoff, All in Fun, Ozark Jubilee, The Red Buttons Show, Summer Holiday, The Merv Griffin / Betty Ann Grove Show, The Arthur Murray Party, and many others.

At the peak of her success as a television singer/actress and recording artist, Betty Ann was dating her manager, Peter Dean. Peter Dean took Betty Ann with him on frequent visits to see his niece, a little girl named Carly Simon. Betty Ann had such a strong influence on young Carly that to this day Ms Simon credits Betty Ann as the singer she wanted to be when she grew up.

When Betty Ann returned to Broadway in George M! in 1968 (the second of her four Broadway shows), she was so well known in the entertainment industry that she received second billing after Joel Grey. All the advertising materials for the original production list Betty Ann’s name on its own line, just below the title, in type about twice the size of the names that immediately follow beneath her name, names like Broadway stars Jill O’Hara and Bernadette Peters.

If you decide today that you'd like to buy on an Internet auction site the autographed photo of Betty Ann you see at the top of this post, you can! And if you Buy It Now, you can pick it up for only … oh ... $399!

“Betty Ann Grove is an American actress,” Wikipedia states. “A petite redhead with a powerful voice, she recorded in the 1950s and debuted on Broadway in Kiss Me Kate.”

Even though the Wiki article goes on, it tells such a small part of her story.

Richmonders love Betty Ann for her star turns in The Music Man and Da at Theatre IV, and Driving Miss Daisy and Smoke on the Mountain at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, among others. But as we celebrate with her the joy of turning 81 years young, let’s not forget that Betty Ann Grove is not just our sweetheart, but America's sweetheart as well.

We love you, Betty Ann. Happy Birthday!!!

--Bruce Miller

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