Joan McCracken (December 31, 1917 – November 1, 1961) was an American dancer, actress, and comedian who became famous for her role as Sylvie ("The Girl Who Falls Down") in the original 1943 production of Oklahoma!. By age 11, she was studying dance with Catherine Littlefield. She dropped out of high school to join Littlefield's ballet company. She was a student of George Balanchine in the first year of the School of American Ballet (SAB).
The Philadelphia-born McCracken toured Europe and danced at Radio City Music Hall as a Rockette before creating the role of Sylvie. By 1947, she was studying acting with Bobby Lewis, Group Theatre alumnus and soon-to-be Actors Studio co-founder (along with fellow alumni Elia Kazan and Cheryl Crawford). That fall, at Lewis' invitation, McCracken would became one of the Studio's charter members.
Earlier that year, she made a strong impression in the remake of Good News, with her portrayal of vivacious Babe Doolittle. Her number, "Pass That Peace Pipe", was a standout, but her movie career never took off. According to her biographer, she told Truman Capote about her reactions to her brother's death, and he "used her violent tantrum in the Bloomer Girl dressing room as the model for a scene in his popular novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.
McCracken was diagnosed in her teens with Type-1 diabetes. Reliable treatment for the disease was not yet available, and her career was severely hampered as a result, despite her conscientiousness with regard to her condition. Through luck and determination, she persevered [tenaciously] better than most; but long-term complications inevitably set in, and inherited heart problems (both of her parents died of heart attacks in their early 40s) damaged her health further, forcing her to turn down numerous offers of work. She died in her sleep, of a heart attack, in 1961 on Fire Island, New York, age 43.
- Oklahoma!, 1943–44
- Bloomer Girl, 1944–45
- Billion Dollar Baby, 1945–46
- The Big Knife, 1949
- Dance Me a Song, 1950
- Angel in the Pawnshop, 1951
- Me and Juliet, 1953–54
- Sagolla, Lisa Jo p. 234
- Sagolla, p. 110
- Sagolla, pp. 192, 204
- RETROspective - "Dancing at the Canteen" by Chris Bamberger
- Joan McCracken at the Internet Movie Database
- Joan McCracken at the Internet Broadway Database
- Joan McCracken at the Internet Off-Broadway Database