Ray Middleton

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Singer and actor with a rich, powerful baritone voice; popular on stage and screen during the 1930s and '40s.
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b. 8 February 1907, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 10 April 1984, Panorama City, California, USA. A good looking singer and actor with a rich, powerful, baritone voice, Middleton seemed destined for a career in opera, before being diverted into musical comedy. He gained a degree in music from the University of Illinois, and also studied at the Juilliard School of Music. After venturing on to the professional stage for the first time at the Detroit Civic Opera House, he made his first appearance in New York in December 1931 as the Giant in Jack And The Beanstalk, off-Broadway at the 44th Street Theatre. His Broadway musical debut came with Roberta (1933, John Kent), followed by Knickerbocker Holiday (1938, Washington Irving), and, very briefly, George White’s Scandals (1939). During this period Middleton also sang leading roles with the Chicago Opera. He moved to Hollywood in 1940, and over the next three years made several movies, mostly with murder or adventure themes, although he received excellent reviews for his performance as minstrel man E.P. Christy in I Dream Of Jeannie (1952), the third movie biopic of composer Stephen Foster. During World War II, he served with the US Armed Forces, and appeared in Moss Hart’s morale-boosting play, Winged Victory. In 1946, already nearly 40 years of age, he enjoyed the greatest success of his career when cast as Frank Butler opposite Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, one of the all-time great stage musicals. Middleton introduced such memorable Irving Berlin numbers as ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ and ‘Anything You Can Do’ (both with Merman), ‘The Girl That I Marry’, and ‘My Defences Are Down’. Following the razzmatazz of Annie Get Your Gun, in 1948 Middleton co-starred with Nanette Fabray in the unconventional Love Life (‘Here I’ll Stay’, with Fabray), took over from Ezio Pinza as Emile de Becque in South Pacific (1950), and toured with America In Song And Story. He was cast as the Governor when the musical Man Of La Mancha tried out at the Goodspeed Opera House, Connecticut, in June 1965, but by the time the show reached Broadway in November, he had become the Innkeeper. Middleton played the part continuously, so it is said, until the play’s closing in June 1971. In the following year he was in the movie version of the hit Broadway musical 1776, portraying Colonel Thomas McKean, but subsequently worked infrequently.