Miss Jill Corey
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Was this the person who first inspired the young Norma Jean?   

Her first performances were not memorable, consisting of Carmen Miranda imitations rendered with gusto at family gatherings . . .  

Jill enjoys a "Roman Holiday" in New York City as part of a contrived date arranged for publicity purposes.  TeleVision Life magazine featured a seven-page spread in their May 1954 issue with many pictures of Jill and her escort for the day, Byron Sanders, taking in many of the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.  Their day together concluded with a visit to the theater, where they saw one of the most popular movies of the day, Roman HolidayClick here or on the thumbnail at left to view the entire article. 

  During her career Jill acted as spokesperson for a number well- known products in both print and other advertising media.  Click here or on her image at left to see Jill in one such ad that appeared in the June 1954 issue of Motion Picture and Television Magazine.
  McCall's Needlework & Crafts, Spring - Summer 1958 issue  featured Jill in a full-page advertisement for the American Thread Company.  Click here or on Jill's image at left to discover just what a Jill Corey Cuddlie is.
  Jill appeared on the  Steve Allen Sunday evening variety show four times.  After one of her performances Steve walked over to the young singer to compliment her, but as he approached he was distracted by the fragrance Jill was wearing.  He asked her what perfume she used, and Jill replied, "Arpege by Lanvin, my favorite."   Several weeks later Jill received a letter from Lanvin thanking her.  Her impromptu endorsement of their product had resulted in a million dollar increase in sales.  
  Jill's sister Alice, ten years her senior, was very influential in Jill's early life.  In fact, it was Alice, a fan of thirties movie star Norma Shearer, who picked the name for the newest addition to the Speranza family in 1935.  After the death of their mother in 1939, Alice served for a time as the young Norma Jean's surrogate mother.  Even in the late Fifties, when Jill's career was soaring, it was Alice who suggested that Jill record My Reverie, perhaps the most beautiful of Jill's Columbia releases.   
  At the Academy Awards ceremonies every year it is customary for each winner, as well as each presenter, to receive a complimentary bag full of gifts contributed by the various movie studios.  In that assortment of gifts presented to all those participating in the 2004 gala in Hollywood was a copy of Jill's Sometimes I'm Happy, Sometimes I'm Blue, which was remastered and issued on CD by Collectable Records late in 2003.  Columbia Records had released the original LP version in 1958.    
   Jill became a nationally known television personality just two days after her eighteenth birthday, when she debuted as lead singer on the Dave Garroway Show on October 2, 1953.  Yet it was not until 1957 that Jill actually purchased a television set of her own!
. In 1953, Dimitri Tiomkin, famed composer of film scores, wrote a modern-day Christmas carol called the First Christmas for Woman's Home Companion, a leading homemaker's magazine of the day.   As a special promotion for the December 1953 Christmas issue of the magazine, the publishers announced the pairing of  "a brand-new song with a brand-new star and a special treat for your Christmas."  That brand-new star, of course, was our Jill, and you can read the entire story of just how the magazine offered a limited-edition recording of the song by Jill  to its readers for a mere fifty cents.  Click here or on the image at left. 
Jill concedes that the agency which represented her served her very well in the publicity department.  Photographers always seemed to be waiting at the airport when she returned from an out-of-town engagement, and she was featured in literally dozens of contemporary magazines.  Early in January 1954, just three months after Jill's eighteenth birthday and her debut on national television on the Dave Garroway Show, TV Guide featured Jill in one of a series of articles the magazine was running on  television's make-up secretsClick here or on the image at left to read the article.
New York City's leading all-music radio station during the 1950's was WNEW, owned at the time by the New York Daily News.  The station would run various promotional contests from time to time, including this one in conjunction with Good Humor Ice Cream company.  As part of the contest cards were distributed featuring the images of popular singers on one side and various members of the WNEW disc jockey staff on the other.  Click here or on the image at left to view a typical set of cards.
  Jill was very popular from the time she first came to New York in 1953, and throughout the years she dated many well-known personalities, including Richard Hayes, Eddie Fisher, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme.  For a time she had a serious relationship with Jack Haley, Jr., as reported in the Hollywood's Younger Set column of Movie World in January 1959.  Click here or on the image at left for more.  
In 1953, network television was still in its infancy.  Even then, however,  it had its superstars, and one was a grinning, freckled-faced marionette called Howdy Doody, who presided daily over a cast of characters and an audience of moppets in the mythical domain of Doodyville.  When Mitch Miller brought the young Norma Jean Speranza to New York for an audition for Columbia Records, he also arranged for her to audition for a role on the new Dave Garroway Show, which was to debut that October.  For that audition Jill went to the NBC studios at Rockefeller Plaza and there to Doodyville, the set for the Howdy Doody Show, which happened to be free at the time.  Click on Howdy's image for a little more of the story.
By the election year of 1960, Jill had graced American TV screens for seven years, and as a consequence her face was well known even to a future president.  One day while crossing Manhattan in a taxi, Jill noticed that a limousine had pulled along side her cab at a red light and further, that another familiar face was peering at her from the back seat of that vehicle.  It was JFK, and he quickly turned his head when he realized that Jill had caught his stolen glance.  Of course, Jill's interest was also piqued, and the two continued to steal brief glances at one another at every stop light as they crossed Manhattan - at least until the little game had become so obvious to both that they exchanged acknowledging smiles.  About two weeks later Jill, who was then dating Oleg Cassini, couturier to Jacqueline Kennedy, found herself at a gala where the Kennedys were the guests of honor.  JFK, who had arrived a bit ahead of his wife, took the opportunity to ask Jill to dance.  At first Jill was obviously very nervous, and when Mr. Kennedy asked her why, Jill replied, "Because I know that I'm dancing with the next president of the United States."  While the two continued on the dance floor, they then giggled about the little game of peek-a-boo the two had engaged in just a few days earlier.
   On May 19, 1991, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City Jill Corey was presented an award by the Puccini Foundation.  Jill was cited by legendary Italian diva Lisia Albenese for her " . . . voice and stage presence."   Jill was also chosen to sing the national anthem at the event. She was in very good company.  The great Italian tenor Franco Corelli was guest of honor that evening, and opera stars Robert Merrill and April Millo were also in attendance.  Click here or on the image at left for much more on the event.
   In Tune International, which bills itself as the only monthly magazine in the world for lovers of the golden age of popular music, featured Jill on its cover for February 2004.  Inside there was a comprehensive interview with Jill conducted by the magazine's editor Gerry Stonestreet.  On our Reflections page you can read excerpts from the article, as well as the glowing reviews magazine contributors Allen Pollock and Dan Singer give Jill for her incomparable interpretations of soulful ballads and torch songs on her classic album Sometimes I'm Happy, Sometimes I'm Blue. 
During the Koch administration of the 1980's, Jill gave a New Yorker's version of a command performance for Mayor Ed Koch, assembled dignitaries and guests at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor of New York City.  As Jill recalls, the mayor gave every indication that he was thoroughly pleased with her program that evening.
When Jill starred in Columbia Pictures Senior Prom in 1958, her naturally brown hair was dyed red by the studio makeup department in an effort to have her appear less ethnic on the screen. We wonder if the folks in makeup knew that the movie was being filmed in black and white.  Click on the image at left to go to a full page of photos and more interesting sidelights on Jill's starring role in Senior Prom.
  Jill debuted on NBC's Your Hit Parade on Saturday, September 7, 1957, replacing Gizelle McKenzie as a lead singer.  In the entertainment section of the Sunday New York Times that week there was a full column story about Jill by Richard F. Shepard, along with a photo of Jill at rehearsal on the Hit Parade set.  The photo could not be reproduced effectively, but clicking here or on Jill's image will take you to the text of the article.
Jill Corey starred in the 1960 production of Meet Me in St. Louis at the New Music Fair in Toronto.  Robert Smith, a teenage apprentice working behind the scenes, was lucky enough to snag the part of Pee Wee, a minor character in the musical.  In that role he got the opportunity to dance with Jill, and he has treasured not only that memory all these years, but also the program from the production and autographed pictures of Jill and co-star Roddy McDowall.  We thank Mr. Smith for contributing both pieces of memorabilia, which you can view by clicking on the image at the left. 
    When Jill was interviewed on Person to Person in 1957, she confessed to host Edward R. Murrow that she had in her words    ". . . an absolutely terrible memory."  Yet when we told Jill recently that loyal fan Betty Racine had contributed this picture of Jill with Eddie Fisher, Jill described the dress she wore in the 1954 photo without hesitation and in considerable detail!  Click here or on the image at left to read much more about Eddie and Jill.  Click here to see the original black and white publicity stills taken on the set of It's Coke Time with Eddie Fisher.   
m Jill's dress and hair style in this photo dating from 1954 suggest that it too could have been taken on the set of Coke Time with Eddie Fisher.   
   In that same 1957 Person to Person interview host Ed Murrow remarked, "I've heard it said that you sing as if you believe every word of the lyric."  Anyone who has heard Sometimes I'm Blue, the collection  of ballads and torch songs on her original 1958 LP, can testify to the power of the 23-year-old Jill to breathe pure emotion into a lyric while never resorting to needless theatrics.  Some forty years later in the late 90's, appearing at a venue on Staten Island, New York, Jill and her version of the old standard It Had to Be You left her audience in stunned silence for nearly ten seconds before breaking into applause and giving her a standing ovation. 
   Jill introduced her biggest hit single, Love Me to Pieces, on the Westinghouse Studio One Summer Theatre in 1957 in a play by the same name.  The song would eventually reach number eleven on the charts and sell in excess of 750,000 copies.  In the September 9, 1957 issue of The Billboard, a trade publication, Columbia Records ran a promotional ad for the recording.  You can read the ad as it appeared by clicking on the image. 
During one summer early in her career Jill, as part of a touring company of  young performers, appeared at various county fairs in the northeast.  Jill did not drive, and she had the misfortune to be assigned to the back seat of the car owned by the couple who were the handlers of Zippy the Chimp, who was also part of the company.  Zippy was supposed to be confined to the front seat with his handlers, but from time to time he would manage to escape to the back, where he would inevitably begin grooming Jill's eyebrows and hair in a manner typical of the species.  But Jill recalls that she had an even more annoying problem during that tour.  Singing outside in the evening, bathe in floodlights on stage, she drew not only the attention of the audience but also incredible numbers of insects. Jill would wind up swallowing some during the course of a song, and once, after swallowing at least a dozen, she actually threw up!  Click here or on Zippy for more of the story.   
The passing of Johnny Carson early in 2005 has resulted in renewed interest in his long career in television.  During the 1955-56 season he hosted a half-hour comedy show for CBS.  Jill was featured singer on the program.  The DVD shown at left, which can be purchased at Amazon.com at nominal cost, contains the very first show in the series.   Jill, just one month short of her twentieth birthday, appears in a brief comedy skit with Johnny, but she does not sing.
Jill is currently featured in two books devoted to the entertainment industry.  In fact, Jill makes the cover of the World Who's Who of Jazz , Cabaret, Music and Entertainment, which was published in February 2007.  Inside is another nearly full-page photo, a list of her reviews and a detailed biography contributed by your editor.  In December 2006, The Copacabana, a history of that venerable New York City institution by Kristin Baggelaar was released.  It too includes a picture and brief story about Jill, when she was one of the youngest performers to headline there.   Click here for more.
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