Vivienne Segal

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A star of the early-20th century musical theater, making her name in operetta before moving on to Rodgers and Hart.
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b. 19 April 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 29 December 1992, Los Angeles, California, USA. One of the brightest stars of the American musical theatre - an actress and singer who made her name in operetta, before moving on to the sophisticated world of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. She studied voice, and sang the title role in Carmen at the local opera house, before making her Broadway debut in 1915 in The Blue Paradise. Her father was one of the backers for this operetta, and when the original leading soprano failed to impress at rehearsal, 18 year old Segal took over at short notice. She gave a memorable performance, and introduced Sigmund Romberg and Herbert Reynolds’ delightful waltz, ‘Auf Wiedersehn’. After the success of The Blue Paradise, which she also toured, Segal’s next two shows, My Lady’s Glove (1917) and the Charles B. Dillingham / Florenz Ziegfeld revue Miss 1917, were rather unsatisfactory, but Segal had excellent roles in Jerome Kern’s Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918), Rudolph Friml’s The Little Whopper (1919), and an adaptation of Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta Die Bajadere, entitled The Yankee Princess (1922). Subsequent projects such as Adrienne (1923), Ziegfeld Follies (1924), Florida Girl (1925), and Castles In The Air (1926), were followed by the triumphant The Desert Song (1926), in which she introduced the gorgeous ‘Romance’ and the title song (with Robert Halliday). Two years later, she played Lady Constance opposite Dennis King as D’Artagnan in Friml’s The Three Musketeers, and from then on was absent from Broadway for about 10 years.

During that period she starred in several provincial productions of musicals, including No, No, Nanette and Music In The Air, as well as appearing frequently on radio. She also made a number of films - all operettas - the best of which was probably the two-colour Technicolor Viennese Nights (1930), in which she co-starred with Alexander Gray and Walter Pidgeon. Its sumptuous score, by Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, contained several impressive numbers, including ‘I Bring A Love Song’, ‘You Will Remember Vienna’, and ‘Here We Are’. While she was in Hollywood Segal met Rodgers and Hart, and they were responsible for her Broadway renaissance in 1938. In their witty musical comedy, I Married An Angel, she excelled with numbers such as ‘A Twinkle In Your Eye’, ‘Did You Ever Get Stung?’ (with Dennis King and Charles Walters), ‘I’ll Tell The Man In The Street’ (with Walter Slezak), and the bleak but beautiful ‘Spring Is Here’ (with King). Two years later, Segal took the role of Vera Simpson, the ‘mature’ socialite, who is tempted - and even ‘Bewitched’ (bothered and bewildered) - for a while, by the charms of a smooth-talking heel, played by Gene Kelly, in Rodgers and Hart’s controversial masterpiece, Pal Joey. Segal’s involvement in the revival of that team’s 1927 production, A Connecticut Yankee, is particularly interesting in that one of the new songs, the ingenious ‘To Keep My Love Alive’ (‘When I’m ill at ease/I kill at ease’), was written especially for her, and is said to be Hart’s last work. He died just five days after the show’s opening on 17 November 1943. As for Segal, there followed the ‘Tchaikovsky-style’ operetta Music In My Heart (1947) and the ghostly Great To Be Alive! (1950), before she returned to New York in great style with the 1952 revival of Pal Joey, in which her portrayal of Vera received even more acclaim than before. Harold Lang played Joey (his understudy was Bob Fosse), in a production which ran for longer than the original - 542 performances - and is preserved on a fine cast album. Pal Joey was Vivienne Segal’s Broadway swan song, although she continued to appear on television for some time, notably in prestige drama presentations such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Studio One.