Last Updated: 10:28pm BST 23/08/2001
Lift girl who was discovered by Alan Ladd's wife, made a career in films and had a smash hit with Cry Me a River
JULIE LONDON, who has died aged 74, was a lift attendant before making a career as a film actress and singer, being best known for Cry Me a River.
This song, composed for her by an old schoolfriend Arthur Hamilton, was first released as part of an album, Julie is Her Name in 1955. With her husky, intimate voice accompanied by Barney Kessel's guitar and Ray Leatherwood on bass, Julie London conveyed a smouldering and risque metropolitan chic, an impression enhanced by the sleeve photograph on which she posed bare-shouldered and pouting. Cry Me a River proved so popular that Liberty issued it as a single. It sold three million copies around the world.
She was born Julie Peck on September 26 1926 in Santa Rosa, California. Her parents worked as a song-and-dance team in vaudeville and were sometimes joined by their daughter. In 1941 the family moved to Los Angeles.
Julie began working as a lift girl in a department store where she was discovered by the film agent Sue Carol, the wife of Alan Ladd. Renamed Julie London, she obtained small parts in inferior movies. In Nabonga (1944), she played a plane crash survivor who makes friends with a gorilla. Things improved slightly when she featured in The Red House (1947) with Edward G Robinson. This was followed by Tap Roots (1948) with Van Heflin and Boris Karloff, Task Force (1949) with Gary Cooper and The Fat Man (1951) with Rock Hudson.
She had meanwhile begun to sing with the Matty Malnech Orchestra and become a popular pin-up among American servicemen. One of these, a Marine, was the actor Jack Webb - who would later play Sgt Joe Friday in the television series Dragnet. They married in 1947 and Julie London abandoned her singing career to look after their two daughters. But it was a turbulent relationship and they were divorced in 1953. Her film career, meanwhile, had ground to a halt.
At about this time she met Bobby Troup, a songwriter and the composer of Route 66, which had been a hit for Nat King Cole. She sang at a party and Troup was impressed: "I couldn't believe it. Beautiful girls are supposed to have no talent, and great singers aren't good looking". They were married in 1959.
Despite her initial reluctance, Troup persuaded her to perform in public and to record. He set about getting her an engagement at the 881 Club in Los Angeles, backed only by the jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. Her sultry mezzo and somewhat overblown sex appeal proved attractive to night club audiences. When Troup eventually got her a contract with Liberty Records, he insisted that she record as she had performed, with no orchestral augmentation. The result was Julie is Her Name.
Her marriage to Troup was happy and productive and her success as a singer helped to revive her flagging film career. In 1955 she made three movies including The Girl Can't Help It, a low budget rock'n'roll showcase co-starring Jayne Mansfield. Julie London sang Cry Me a River in a memorable dream sequence.
She was good in The Great Man (1956), a sharp account of the television industry, directed by its star Jose Ferrer. Man of the West (1958), for which Troup supplied a song, reunited her with Gary Cooper. Another Western, The Wonderful Country (1959) found her in the arms of Robert Mitchum.
Saddle of The Wind (1958) was less successful than The Third Voice (1960), a brisk thriller, and Voice in The Mirror (1958), in which she is married to an alcoholic played by Richard Egan and for which she wrote the title song. The films dried up again in the Sixties when she made only The George Raft Story (1961) with Jayne Mansfield and The Helicopter Spies (1967), a Man From Uncle spin-off.
Troup continued to guide her musical career. The covers of LPs such as Make Love To Me, Your Number Please, London By Night, Lonely Girl (with just Al Viola on guitar) and About The Blues made the most of Julie London's impressive embonpoint. On the album Whatever Julie Wants, she is depicted lolling on a bed wrapped in furs.
But she also brought considerable vocal artistry to such songs as Gone with the Wind, Laura and I'm In the Mood For Love and her discs were of a consistently high standard. Her version of Fly Me to the Moon recently had another outing as the soundtrack to a television car advertisement.
Julie London was always most at ease performing in small clubs, although she did tour the concert halls of Japan and Brazil. "She is not a Julie London fan", Bobby Troup once observed. "She's never really been a performer, she doesn't have that need to go out and please an audience."
Her final LP, in 1969, was an uncharacteristic medley of contemporary songs such as Quinn the Eskimo, Louie, Louie and the title track, Yummy Yummy Yummy. To her fans' disappointment she then stopped recording. During the 1970s she moved to television as head nurse at Rampart General Hospital in the long-running series Emergency! Bobby Troup played a neurosurgeon in the programme which, oddly enough, was produced by Jack Webb. Her last film was Survival on Charter 220 (1978). In 1981 she resurfaced to record a version of My Funny Valentine for the jazz soundtrack of Burt Reynolds's dismal movie Sharky's Machine.
Bobby Troup died last year. Julie London is survived by a daughter of her marriage to Jack Webb, and by three children of her marriage to Bobby Troup.