Julie Gibson, Singer in 'The Feminine Touch' and 'Hail the Conquering Hero,' Dies at 106

Courtesy of Schulyer Prail
Julie Gibson

She worked with Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, John Huston, Ida Lupino and The Three Stooges.

Julie Gibson, a singer, actress, studio rep and dialogue coach who collaborated with Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, Ida Lupino, John Huston, Edgar Bergen and The Bowery Boys during a fascinating career, has died. She was 106.

Gibson died in her sleep Oct. 2 in North Hollywood, her cousin, James Rogers, told The Hollywood Reporter.

A onetime contract player and "Sweater Girl" at Paramount, the petite Gibson had small roles in such notable films as Bing Crosby's Going My Way (1944) and Judy Garland's The Clock (1945). She sang in a nightclub scene at the start of The Feminine Touch (1941), and Sturges picked her to perform the opening number in Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), where she wore a gown designed for her by Edith Head. (Watch Gibson sing in the movies here.)

Later, she ran an acting studio with Agnes Moorehead, and two of their students were Sidney Poitier and Maya Angelou, her cousin said.

Born Gladys Camille Sorey on Sept. 9, 1913, in Lewiston, Idaho, she began her career as a singer and dancer in vaudeville.

In Salt Lake City, she won a nationwide radio contest hosted by bandleader Eddy Duchin that landed her a two-week engagement at the famed Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. (It was Duchin that suggested she change her name to something more "all American.") She was then hired by Jimmie Grier, leader of the house band at the Biltmore in downtown L.A.

She married Grier and sang with his orchestra for the next four years, performing six nights a week, four shows a night, two of which were broadcast live nationwide on Friday and Saturday evenings. The band also released multiple records on Decca featuring her as lead singer.

Later, she sang on The Joe Penner Show on nationwide radio broadcasts on Sunday afternoons, performed at the 10th Academy Awards held in 1938 inside the Biltmore ballroom and led her own live weekly CBS radio program on Saturday nights.

Gibson signed a seven-year contract with Paramount, which loaned her out for MGM's The Feminine Touch, starring Rosalind Russell, and for RKO's Here We Go Again (1942), starring Bergen. She then toured with the ventriloquist, singing and appearing in sketches with the puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.

In 1942, she appeared in a couple of Three Stooges shorts and in 1947 sang in The Bowery Boys movie Bowery Buckaroos.

Dissatisfied with the roles she was getting, Gibson broke her contract with Paramount and departed for Paris, where she replaced Faye Emerson in a filmed weekly series, Paris Cavalcade of Fashions, for U.S. movie chains.

In the French capital, Gibson became a press representative for Fox and was assigned to the Huston films Moulin Rouge (1952) and Beat the Devil (1953). For the latter, she and Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Truman Capote were on location for the tumultuous shoot in Ravello, Italy.

Along the way, Welles cast her as Helen of Troy in a filmed scene for his theatrical stage production The Unthinking Lobster.

Gibson returned to L.A., and Paramount, and after accepting her back, named her "Sweater Girl of 1954" and loaned her out for a Columbia mystery/detective serial featuring kid crime-fighter Chick Carter.

In the '60s, Gibson served as dialect advisor on Martin Ritt's The Outrage (1964), starring Paul Newman, and she met up with Russell again when she worked as the dialogue coach on Lupino's The Trouble With Angels (1966).

In 1969, she joined the Brian Keith CBS series Family Affair as dialogue coach and stayed with that show until its 1971 conclusion.

After divorcing Grier years earlier, she married Charles Barton, who directed more than 100 episodes of Family Affair. He died in 1981.

Though bedridden the last three years of her life, Gibson "kept on singing until a month before she passed," her cousin said. Survivors also include her niece, Juno Ellis, a longtime ADR editor who worked on several Clint Eastwood films.