Isabel Bigley

Isabel Bigley
Isabel Bigley

Isabel Bigley was born in 1926 in the Bronx, New York.   She originated the part of the Salvation Army member Sarah Brown in the 1951 production of the Broadway hit “Guys and Dolls”.   She retired to rear her family in 1958 and lived for a time in London with her husband and six children.   She died aged 80 in 2006.

Michael Freedland’s obituary in “The Guardian”:

The American singer and actor Isabel Bigley, who has died aged 78, will be remembered by British and US theatregoers for singing People Will Say We’re in Love in Oklahoma! and If I Were a Bell in Guys And Dolls.

Bigley was born in New York, the daughter of a salesman, and was educated at Walton high school in the Bronx before going to the Juilliard School of Music in 1944. Her Broadway debut was in the chorus of Oklahoma! in 1946. She followed the show to Drury Lane, where a brief period in the chorus led to the small part of Armina in 1947. She was so good that by the time the show closed in 1949, she was playing the female lead, Laurey, serenaded in The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.

News of her success got her a recommendation to Feuer and his partner, Ernie Martin, for Guys and Dolls. Bigley went on to be a sensation in the show, winning a Tony award in 1951. This was followed by a Theatre World award for the most promising newcomer. When she sang Sarah’s other hit, If I Were a Bell, critics remarked that that was how her voice sounded – like a bell. That same year, Bigley took part in the first television spectacular in colour. The show, Premiere, starred some of the most important American entertainment figures of the day.

When the Broadway production of Guys and Dolls ended in 1953, Rodgers and Hammerstein cast Bigley in the lead role of Jeannie in Me and Juliet, a show that ran for 358 performances. From then on, she concentrated on television, hosting the US version of the TV cabaret show Café Continental and appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. She was a regular, too, on the Paul Whiteman, Eddie Fisher and Abbott and Costello shows, and was on the team of the American What’s My Line? She yearned to go back to the stage, but somehow the right part never cropped up at the right time.

In July 1953, Bigley married Lawrence Barnett, an important theatrical agency boss. Together, they endowed scholarships at Ohio State University and funded a biennial public policy symposium. Lawrence survives his wife, as do her four sons and two daughters.

· Isabel Bigley Barnett, actor and singer, born February 23 1928; died September 30 2006

The above article can be accessed online at the Guardian” here.

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