“The Spirit of Hope Award” Medallion
Presented by General John H. Tilelli, Jr.
Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War
USO “Salute to Heroes”
June 26, 2000
In June of 2000 the USO continued its “Operation Starlift” tradition with a handshake tour returning Johnny Grant, the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood, and 50’s stars Piper Laurie, Terry Moore, and Penny Singleton to visit service members stationed in Korea.
The tour greeted service members at the USO Centers at Seoul and Camp Casey, and was a part of the USO of Korea’s “Salute to Heroes”, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War. Penny Singleton entertained troops on a USO tour in December 1953. During the “Operation Starlift” tour in 2000, Penny Singleton was awarded the “Spirit of Hope Award” bronze medallion by the USO.
Penny Singleton was born Mariana Dorothy Agnes Letitia McNulty on September 15, 1908, in Philadelphia. She was the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Benny McNulty, and sister of June McNulty and Barney McNulty. Barney is credited with producing the first cue cards for a national TV show, and formed AD-Libs, a company that produced cue cards for such performers as Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, and Fred Astaire to name a few.
She began her career at age 7, singing songs at movie houses and performing in vaudeville. “I suppose it would be difficult for many people today to understand, but vaudeville was the most marvelous school for a child imaginable”, she told the Cincinnati Post in 1997.
She was also a talented gymnast. Her coach thought she should try out for the Olympics, but since she had already earned money professionally, she was ineligible.
By the time Mariana was a teenager, she was getting chorus girl and other small roles on Broadway, including doing a number with Jack Benny in a revue called “The Great Temptations.” By 1928, she had joined a road company of “Good News,” starring opposite Jack Haley. Back on Broadway, she also sang two numbers with Haley; “Button Up Your Overcoat” and “I Could Give Up Anything But You” in “Follow Thru.”
While still in her 20s, she moved to Hollywood, appearing in a series of minor roles in better movies (or sometimes better roles in minor movies). In 1937 she married Dr. Lawrence Singleton, and gave up her previous name Dorothy McNulty, changing it to Penny (she liked to save pennies in a jar) and Singleton, which became her name both on screen and in her private life. They divorced in 1939, but Penny retained his name, which was now quite well known .
Singleton had a role in the 1930 film version of “Good News” and in “After the Thin Man” (1936), one of the William Powell/Myrna Loy Nick-and-Nora movies. In the latter, Singleton, playing saucy nightclub singer Polly Byrnes, delivers this line: “Hey, don’t call me illiterate – my parents were married right here at City Hall!”
Singleton also had a role in “Boy Meets Girl” (1938) and many other films. In 1938
she landed the role of Blondie. “I was thrilled, but also surprised,” she told the Cincinnati Post in 1997. “I had been a brunette all my life.” She quickly bleached her hair and went on to star opposite Arthur Lake, who played Dagwood, for Columbia Studios. Blondie was also a radio series for CBS until it ended in 1952.
This remarkable run of movies began with “Blondie” and included “Blondie on a Budget” (1940), in which budding actress Rita Hayworth had a role; “Blondie Hits the Jackpot” and the final film in the series, “Beware of Blondie” (1950). Only in 1944, a war year, was no “Blondie” movie released. None were shorter than 64 minutes or longer than 75.Besides Hayworth, many actors who later became well known appeared with Singleton and Lake in supporting roles, including Robert Sterling, Bruce Bennett, William Frawley, Jimmy Durante, ZaSu Pitts, Lloyd Bridges, Glenn Ford, Hans Conreid and Anita Louise. Penny mainly resigned herself to playing Blondie, which had a remarkable run of 28 feature films, one of the longest movie series in history. Penny’s first effort on behalf of our armed forces was in “Blondie for Victory” in 1942, wherein Blondie joins the Housewives of America for the war effort.
In 1941 Penny married Robert Sparks, producer of some of the Blondie movies. They were married until his death in 1963. Penny had two daughters, Dorothy Grace (DeeGee), and Robin.
In his movie guide, critic Leonard Maltin said the first “ Blondies “were the best –“ fresh and original, with many clever touches belying the fact that they were low-budget films.” He said that by the mid-1940s, however, the movies had become formulaic.
In 1953, Singleton entertained troops in Korea on a USO tour. Later she went on the road with a nightclub act . She returned to Hollywood in the film “The Best Man” in 1964 and, briefly in 1971, she replaced her old friend Ruby Keeler in “No No Nanette” on Broadway. (As children, Singleton and Keeler had gone to professional children’s school together in New York, where their classmates were Milton Berle and Gene Raymond).
In the post-Blondie era, Penny was a salaried officer for the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), which negotiated contracts for actors. Legend has it that Singleton was a tough negotiator who turned any number of management negotiators into “dithering Dagwoods” while working for her Union. In 1966 she led the strike to get better working conditions for Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes. She became president of the AGVA in 1969.
More than 20 years later, Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson in the 1990 movie about the futuristic family. She also did Jetson projects on TV, including three movies and the series, as well as a few guest appearances on other television programs.
In her later years, Penny was very active in her Church, St. Francis DeSales in Sherman Oaks, Ca., enjoying friends and family well into her 90’s. She lived happily in the care of her daughter Dorothy at her home in Sherman Oaks.
At the age of 88, Singleton said of here career, “I loved everything I did, big or small, it didn’t matter as long as it was fun and was pleasing to people.”
Suffering from a stroke, October 2003, Penny McNulty Singleton passed away the 12th of November 2003 at the age of 95.