“Shall we dance and walk on air?”
On this day in 1952 Gertrude Lawrence (July 4, 1898 – September 6, 1952) died of undiagnosed liver cancer at the height of her Broadway career. She was starring in The King and I with Yul Brynner and so was buried in her ballgown from the “Shall We Dance?” number. I remember as a child hearing about Gertrude and the dress and thinking it was creepy and sad. Now, however, I think it was a pretty great idea.
Another fun fact: while bedridden in New York-Presbyterian Hospital, on Friday afternoon, 5 September 1952, less than 24 hours before her death, she instructed her business manager to arrange for her co-star Yul Brynner’s name to be added to the marquee of the St. James Theatre, which included only Lawrence’s name at the time.
According to the New York Times, 5,000 people crowded the intersection of East 55th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, while 1,800 others filled Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for Lawrence’s funeral.
Well, let’s toast tonight to the great Gertrude Lawrence! I won’t suggest we watch Star! (1968), which is a movie musical about Gertrude Lawrence starring Julie Andrews, because it is unbearably bad. Unfortunately, Gertrude only made a handful of films herself, most notably The Glass Menagerie (1950). She was first and foremost a theatrical actress and so her star was transitory.
*Photos of G.L.’s funeral from Life Magazine.