Broadway Performer Paula Laurence Is Dead at 89

Obituaries   Broadway Performer Paula Laurence Is Dead at 89
 
Paula Laurence, who worked with the likes of Orson Welles, Moss Hart, Ethel Merman and Cole Porter during a career that lasted nearly 70 years, died Oct. 29 at St Luke's following a brief decline in health after breaking a hip earlier in October, according to her friend, theatre critic Michael Sommers.
Paula Laurence
Paula Laurence

According to the most sources, she was 89, though some thought her slightly older.

Ms. Laurence made an auspicious New York debut, acting in Orson Welles' Federal Theatre Project production of Horse Eats Hats in 1937, and following it up with a turn as Helen of Troy in Welles' famously trim, spectacularly lit version of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus (with Welles as the doctor). The casting was a testimony to Ms. Laurence's dark, sultry, almond eyed beauty.

In 1939, she shifted to decidedly lighter fare, performing in the Broadway revue Sing for Your Supper. Two years later, she played Hilda, the wiseacre maid in the big Jerome Chodorov-Joseph Fields hit Junior Miss, based on the stories of Sally Benson. Moss Hart directed the production and the two were briefly engaged. Two musicals followed. In Cole Porter's Something for the Boys, she played Ethel Merman's stripper cousin Chiquita Hart, performing the duet "By the Mississiniwah" with the star. In Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus, she got to sing the title tune as secretary Molly Grant.

During this time, she also put in time at the wartime Stage Door Canteen. Reminiscing about the experience years later, she said, "Those of us who could entertain the troops, did; those who couldn't, danced with the servicemen, waited on tables or washed dishes with considerably more skill than the high-priced help which served us at home. We were all performing a needed service and vice-versa, for all these activities were wondrously therapeutic in relieving the guilts we all suffered because our lives were comparatively undisturbed; we weren't flying bombers or being shipped to crematoriums."

She also acted in the 1946 Jose Ferrer Cyrano de Bergerac; understudied Beatrice Lillie in the 1948 revue Inside USA; was directed by Alfred Drake in the short-lived 1950 musical The Liar; and appeared in Season in the Sun, a 1950 play by New Yorker theatre critic Wolcott Gibbs. Her appearances on Broadway in the 1960s were fewer, including Have I Got a Girl for You and Ivanov, starring John Gielgud in the title role. Off-Broadway, she performed at City Center and the Phoenix Theatre Company. Regionally, she acted at the Westport Country Playhouse, which was run for many years by her husband, producer and director Charles Bowden. At the Royale Theatre in New York and the Blackstone in Chicago, she understudied Bette Davis in Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana. Bowden produced the play. He went on to produce Williams' Slapstick Tragedy in 1966. After Tennessee Williams' death, the Bowdens became the guardians of the playwright's institutionalized sister, Rose Williams.

In later years, Ms. Laurence had a second career as a journalist, contributing articles to Mademoiselle, Vogue, Cue, Harpers Bazaar and Playbill. She leaves no survivors. There will be a mass at St. Malachy's Church on Nov. 10. Those wishing to make donations in her honor, should direct them to New Dramatists, where she was very active.

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