Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1957, Judy Tyler and her husband are killed in a car accident.
There have been a lot of careers cut short just as they were starting: from Clarine Seymour to James Dean to the recent demise of Anton Yelchin. But I can’t think of a more frustrating example than Judy Tyler, who died in a car accident in 1957, aged only 24. Oh, and her husband, puppy and kitten were killed, too! And someone stole the cash, furs and jewels from her wrecked car—depressed yet?
Judy not only had beauty and talent, but she had an almost frightening drive and ambition, so if there is an afterlife, she is really pissed-off. She started her career as a Copa Girl (“to call it dancing was entirely ridiculous. It was hardly walking,” she recalled). She branched out to nightclub singing and developed one of the best, clearest belt voices—kind of like Ethel Merman filtered down through velvet.
In 1952 she was, bizarrely, cast as Princess Summerfall Winterspring on The Howdy Doody Show, a role she played for three years, while freelancing on variety shows and in clubs. Is it my imagination, or is her mile-wide smile just a little strained, as if she is about to snap and beat Buffalo Bob to death with Howdy Doody?
Judy’s big break seemed to come with a starring role in the 1955-56 Broadway musical Pipe Dream, but it failed to take off or make her a star (I saw the 2012 revival, with Laura Osnes in Judy’s role, and . . . well, it just was not a very good show).
But then she got two starring roles in movies! One with Elvis! And they were disasters! In the smash-hit Jailhouse Rock, Judy played a record producer who encourages ex-con Elvis in his singing career—Elvis got to rock out six numbers, but Judy sang not one note. Now, she had to have been cast because she was a singer, so what happened? Did the studio decide her Broadway belt did not mesh with Elvis’ rockabilly style? Or was not one musical moment to be given to anyone but the star? Whatever, Judy’s talents were wasted.
But then she starred, and sang, in another film! Unfortunately, it was the low-budget and cringingly awful Bop Girl Goes Calypso. I don’t think I will be spoiling the plot for you when I tell you that Judy played a Bop Girl who Goes Calypso. Here is a compilation of her four numbers in the film, and I beg you to fast-forward through the second and fourth ones, as they might very well actually kill you. But get a load of Judy just shining with numbers one and three, “Roving Gal” and “Shady Lady.”
Of course Judy’s career might still have fizzled if she’d lived, but it would not be for lack of steely confidence. She told reporter Earl Wilson, “If anybody’s responsible for me, it’s me! I’ve broken down more doors in New York City than anybody in this room, I’m here to bet. I have the distinction in my agency of getting any job I auditioned for.”