Today we’ve decided to come clean and, in the words of the late Howard Cosell, tell it like it is. Ok, we admit it.
THERE IS MORE THAN ONE JUDY IN OUR LIVES.
Of course there is the former Frances Gumm of Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis and A Star Is Born.
But today’s Judy (pictured above in a rarely seen photo from private collection of our late friend, Donald Gordon) is known as the star of Scatterbrain, Joan of Ozark, Singing in the Corn and The Wac From Walla Walla.
We’re referring to Judy Canova. Judy who, you ask?
We can’t blame you. This Judy was not remotely in Garland’s league, not even close. But she was an interesting figure at the margins of Hollywood movie making from the late 1930’s into the 1950’s, as well as a national radio and TV star right into the 1970’s. At least give this Judy credit for professional longevity. (She died of cancer in Hollywood in 1983, just shy of 70.)
Like Garland, she came from a show biz family. Her singing mother pushed the young Juliette Canova into a family act with siblings Anne and Zeke (and later, brother Pete). The act was known initially as The Three Georgia Crackers (no matter that Judy was born in Florida).
The ensemble played various vaudeville circuits in the southeast, and wound up doing radio shows in New York, eventually making their Broadway debut in 1934’s Calling All Stars, a musical revue that last all of 36 performances.
But the exposure was invaluable and Canova — always the comic standout of the family act — landed a solo berth on Rudy Valee’s radio show. This in turn led to a 10-year stint as the house hayseed comedienne on bandleader Paul Whiteman’s radio series.
Of course, the public wanted to “see” their radio personalities. Warner Brothers therefore hired her as a “specialty singer” to clown around in her first feature film, 1934’s In Caliente, a tuneful ditty directed by Busby Berkeley and costarring one of Hollywood’s more improbable romantic duos, Delores De Rio and Pat O’Brien.
In 1940, Canova downshifted to Republic Pictures, which churned out countless low-budget programmers, and began to receive above the title billing as a star. She was teamed with the likes of Joe E. Brown (1942’s Joan of the Ozark and 1943’s Chatterbox), and comedian Jerry Colonna and Ann Miller (in 1942’s True To The Army.)
Endowed with a large mouth, rubbery face and an agile figure, Canova, mugged, yodeled, played guitar, joked and sang. Like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, Canova was a female performer with no compunctions about making herself look ridiculous to get a laugh.
Judy began her CBS radio program, The Judy Canova Show, in 1943. Highly successful, the radio vehicle (later aired by NBC) gave her national exposure for the next 12 years. Also, Judy made recordings as a solo while she made movies.
By the time her film career ended in 1955, Canova had appeared in about 25 pictures. After the mid-Fifties, when her radio show also ended, Judy made numerous guest shots on radio and TV shows pretty much playing herself.
Like Garland, Canova had multiple marriages (the former went through five; Canova stopped at four).
A product of her final marriage — to singer-radio personality Filberto Rivero from 1950 to 1964 — is Judy’s daughter Diana Canova, notable as an actress in her own right (although distinctly not of the hillbilly variety) in films (The First Nudie Musical) and on TV (including Happy Days, Love Boat, Soap and Fantasy Island, among other programs.”)