Ethel Shutta, c. 1936
|Born||December 1, 1896|
|Died||February 5, 1976
New York, New York
|Associated acts||George Olsen, The Three Shuttas|
Ethel Shutta (pronounced "shoo-TAY"; December 1, 1896 — February 5, 1976) was an American actress and singer, who came to prominence through her performances on Jack Benny's radio show, her role in the early Eddie Cantor musical Whoopee!, and her Broadway comeback in Follies at the age of 74. In a 1934 vote held by Radio Stars, she came in second place, behind Annette Hanshaw, as the best "female popular singer."
By age 7, she was known as "the little girl with the big voice". Together with her mother, Augusta, and her brother, Jack, she and her family toured as the Pee Wee Minstrels. Their family name was originally Schutte. The father, Charles, was the manager. They also played in vaudeville as The Three Shuttas. She debuted on Broadway in The Passing Show of 1922, and then in a series of Florenz Ziegfeld productions including Louie the 14th and Whoopee!.
In 1926 she married band-leader George Olsen, with whom she had two children (her son George attended school with Hal Prince, who was later to cast her in Follies). The couple appeared in clubs across the country, and were regulars on Jack Benny Canada Dry Radio Show. She signed off with the song Rock-a-Bye Moon. They divorced in 1936. She continued to work on her own as a singer, while her ex-husband opened a restaurant in New Jersey that used his own recordings as background music.
Shutta returned to Broadway in 1963 in the musical Jennie, which starred Mary Martin. The show ran only 84 performances, and was generally considered unsuccessful. Subsequent work was difficult to find, and Shutta used alcohol to get herself through the rough spots. Her final comeback was at the age of 73 in the original Broadway production Follies (1971-1972) with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. She brought down the house each evening with the song "Broadway Baby" in which her character, veteran actress Hattie Walker, reminisces about her younger days as chorus girl in the Follies. Follies was staged at the Winter Garden Theater where Shutta made her first Broadway appearance for the Shuberts in 1922.
Ethel Shutta died in 1976 in New York City in St. Clare's Hospital at the age of 79. She resided in Greenwich Village.
- The Passing Show of 1922 – 1922
- Marjorie - 1924
- Ziegfeld Follies - 1924-1925
- Louie the 14th - 1925
- Whoopee! - 1928
- Jennie – 1963
- Follies - 1971
- Sondheim: A Musical Tribute – 1973
- The Canada Dry Ginger Ale Program, a forerunner of The Jack Benny Show - 1932
- "They Win!". Radio Stars (New York: Dell Publishing, Co.). June 1934. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
- Ted Chapin, Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003 (ISBN 0-375-41328-6).
- The New York Times, Ethel Shutta, Singer, Dies at 79; Had a 70-Year Stage Career, February 7, 1976, Page 24.
- The New York Times, GEORGE OLSEN IS MARRIED.; Orchestra Leader Weds Ethel Shutta, Dancer, in New Haven, April 8, 1926, Page 22.