b. 26 May 1884, Athens, Wisconsin, USA, d. 27 January 1969, Palm Springs, California, USA. After appearing in vaudeville as a child member of his family’s act, Winninger trained on the road with various companies before making his Broadway musical comedy debut in The Yankee Girl (1910). He swiftly became a popular figure and appeared in various shows, mainly revues, and including those produced by George M. Cohan, the Shubert Brothers and Florenz Ziegfeld. Winninger was a member of the original cast for No, No, Nanette (1925), in which he sang ‘I Want To Be Happy’. By now a star, if not a lead player, Winninger took the role of Cap’n Andy Hawks in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat (1927). He was so successful in this that he later reprised the role in a 1932 Broadway revival and in the 1936 film version, which also starred Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel. Winninger also played Cap’n Andy on radio.
Winninger had made some silent films in his earlier days but now his mature physical appearance of rugged good nature brought him success in Hollywood where he appeared in Three Smart Girls (1936, which was Deanna Durbin’s first major film), Babes In Arms (1939, with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney), Little Nellie Kelly (1940, with Garland and George Murphy), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Coney Island (1943, with Betty Grable and Phil Silvers), the 1945 remake of State Fair (with songs by Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein, and also starring Jeanne Crain and Dick Haymes), and Give My Regards To Broadway (1948). Winninger appeared once more on Broadway, in a 1951 revival of Kern and Hammerstein’s Music In The Air, but continued to make films, including playing the lead in The Sun Shines Bright (1953), which was directed by John Ford who declared it to be his favourite film. Winninger was married for a long time to volatile musical comedy actress Blanche Ring.