Hannah Williams (actress)

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Hannah Williams
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-11196, Otto H. Kahn mit Sohn und Schwiegertochter.jpg
With her first husband Roger Wolfe Kahn and Otto Hermann Kahn 1931 in Berlin
BornJuly 16, 1911
DiedJanuary 11, 1973 (aged 61)
OccupationStage actress, Film actress, singer, comedian
Spouse(s)Roger Wolfe Kahn,
Jack Dempsey,
Thomas J. Monaghan
ChildrenJoan Dempsey, Barbara Dempsey

Hannah Williams (July 16, 1911 – January 11, 1973)[1] was an American actress, singer, and comedian and former wife of bandleader Roger Wolfe Kahn and Hall of Fame boxer Jack Dempsey.

Life and career[edit]

Hannah Williams was born in Taylor, Pennsylvania and performed as a young child with her older sister Dorothy as "The Williams Sisters", a singing and dancing vaudeville act. Hannah was aged eight and her sister Dorothy aged ten when they commenced their stage careers. The sisters performed with the Scranton Sirens Orchestra (1923), and achieved early fame on Broadway, New York, when they performed in George White's Scandals of 1924. In Chicago, they performed with the Charley Straight Orchestra in (1925), and with the Ben Pollack Orchestra from 1926 to 1927, and in various Chicago and New York nightclubs and theaters. They were known as the hippest sister act in vaudeville and cabaret.

During the 1920s the Williams Sisters recorded with various orchestras including Ben Pollack's band. In Chicago on 17 December 1926, the Williams Sisters recorded the vocals on ‘He's The Last Word[2] with Ben Pollack and his Californians starring Benny Goodman.[3] The following day, also in Chicago with Ben Pollack and his Californians, the Williams Sisters recorded ‘Nothing Else Matters Anymore’ and ‘Sam, The Old Accordion Man’ with a piano accompaniment by Wayne Allen. The tracks were released by Victor Records (No. 20452).[4][5]

In 1930, Hannah achieved feature billing, along with Fanny Brice and George Jessel in the Broadway musical revue Sweet and Low in which she sang the hit tune "Cheerful Little Earful", which in later years became the song most associated with her.

Her only known film appearance was singing "Get Happy" in the short film The Audition (1933), one of the Warner Brothers series of "Melody Masters" musical shorts.

In 1935, Hannah's husband Jack Dempsey[6] opened his famous Broadway restaurant & bar Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant, which became an institution.

In 1937, Hannah was cast in the Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg musical Hooray for What! [7] and performed in the Boston and Philadelphia tryouts, but was replaced before the show opened on Broadway by actress June Clyde.[8][9][10][11][12][13]

In 1940, Hannah planned to reignite her stage career. Reports appeared in the press acknowledging her comeback. She also confirmed she would not be using her husbands surname on stage and would go under her maiden name Williams.[14] Although she went into rehearsals, her planned comeback was temporarily halted, due to her marriage commitments. Her return to the stage did finally take place three years later, in 1943 upon her divorce from Dempsey. She opened in vaudeville and made various nightclub appearances, including at New York's chic Riobamba.[15]

In 1947, Hannah recorded with the bandleader Tommy Dorsey and his Clambake Seven, laying down the vocals on ‘But I Do Mind If Ya Don't’ and ‘That's Life; I Guess’. The songs were released by RCA Victor Records (release No. 20-2320).[16][17]

Family and marriages[edit]

Hannah's third husband was the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey

Hannah first married the bandleader and future movie actor Charles Kaley. The marriage was terminated due to her being underage.[18] She then married bandleader Roger Wolfe Kahn from 1931 through 1933. Hannah went on to have a brief relationship with actor & crooner Russ Colombo who sadly tragically died soon after in a shooting accident. A series of love-letters from Hannah written to Colombo exist and are mentioned in the book Let Me Tell You How I Really Feel: The Uncensored Book Reviews of Classic Images by Laura Wagner.[19] Hannah was married to eight-year heavyweight champion boxer Jack Dempsey from 1933 to 1943, with whom she had two children, Joan (1934) and Barbara (1936).[20] Rare film footage of Hannah and Jack filmed by British Pathé Newsreel in 1933 just after they were married is housed at the British Pathé Historical Archive.[21] In 1950, she married the Hollywood movie actor and comedian Thomas J. Monaghan.[22] Her sister Dorothy was married to Dixieland cornet player Jimmy McPartland who was occasionally hired by Roger Wolfe Kahn.

Dempsey/Williams archive sources[edit]

  • Getty Images Archive: Family arrival of boxer Jack Dempsey in Miami: Boxer Jack Dempsey, his wife actress Hannah Williams and their two daughters Joan and Barbara greet as they get off the train to attend the inauguration of a memorial pool at Tex Rickard's on January 6, 1940 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images):[23][24]
  • Getty Images Archive: Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams' 1933 marriage, and Jack and Hannah at the opening of Connie’s Inn 23 April 1935:[25]
  • Getty Images Archive: Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams at the French Casino, 30 December 1934:[26]
  • Densho Digital Repository: Jack Dempsey with Hannah Williams and their two daughters, Christmas 1937:[27]
  • Famous Fix: Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams:[28]
  • Critical Past Archive: Film footage of Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams’ marriage on 18 July 1933:[29]
  • 1936 official New York City motorcade carrying Olympic champions, Jesse Owens, and other Olympians drives along a Parkway in New York escorted by US Police officers. The film footage shows Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams waving from the open car they are being driven in:[30]


  • Williams Sisters Discography: Moanin' Low: A Discography of Female Popular Vocal Recordings, 1920–1933, by Ross Laird.[31]


  1. ^ "Keep (it) Swinging: The Williams Sisters – Hannah's Career". Keepswinging.blogspot.com. 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  2. ^ Voices of the Jazz Age: Profiles of Eight Vintage Jazzmen by Chip Deffaa, publ. University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (30 Jun. 1992) – Hannah and Dorothy Williams are discussed on pages 162–166
  3. ^ Discog: Benny Pollack and hid Orchestra: track A1 ‘He’s The Last Word’: https://www.discogs.com/Ben-Pollack-And-His-Orchestra-Starring-Benny-Goodman-1926-31/release/6464249
  4. ^ Williams Sisters – Nothing Else Matters Anymore (1926):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXyowmfSjbQ
  5. ^ Williams Sisters – Sam, The Old Accordion Man (1926):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA8zXI5KCDc
  6. ^ Hannah and Jack attending the French Casino on 30 December 1934, just prior to Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant opening:https://www.deviantart.com/william19763/art/Jack-Dempsey-with-wife-colorized-743442538
  7. ^ The New York Times, July 10, 1937, page 18 – NEWS OF THE STAGE; Hannah Williams Likely to Be in Hurray for What- (report)
  8. ^ Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues by Edward Jablonski, Northeastern University Press (31 Aug. 1996), ISBN 1555532632, page 116 – Hannah Williams' role taken over by June Clyde.
  9. ^ That’s Entertainment, 30 September 2013, Ripe For Revival – 1937 Edition (article)- Kay Thompson, Roy Roberts, and Hannah Williams, were all fired during the Philadelphia tryouts.: https://jacksonupperco.com/tag/hooray-for-what/page/4/
  10. ^ ‘Down With Love’ from Hooray For What: Sheet Music, (1937) with Ed Wynn, Kay Thompson and Hannah Williams: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-spnc/id/63032
  11. ^ ‘I've Gone Romantic On You’ by words E.Y. Harburg, music by Harold Arlen sheet music (1937) held at the National Library of Australia (Messrs Shubert present Ed Wynn in the new musical comedy Hooray For What with Kay Thompson, Hannah Williams’--Cover.): https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/5952328
  12. ^ Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin, publ. Simon & Schuster (15 Nov. 2011), page 66 – Hooray For What – mentions Hannah Williams being fired in Philadelphia: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=CW_6bTRqoxUC&pg=PA66&lpg=PA66&dq=hooray+for+what+musical+hannah+williams&source=bl&ots=GDVCV9_G2U&sig=ACfU3U3HPlUGlUggHvsIjk5EdILIJbBwqw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiOtsuuwqjiAhVCXRUIHd_sCZI4ChDoATAOegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=hooray%20for%20what%20musical%20hannah%20williams&f=false
  13. ^ Hannah Williams returning to the stage: report and picture:https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/2024904/photography_ProvidedCHO_TopFoto_co_uk_EU056277.html
  14. ^ Walter Winchell – On Broadway column: Spartanburg Herald, 20 March 1940:https://thegrandarchive.wordpress.com/man-about-town-2/
  15. ^ Hannah Williams in her dressing room at the Riobamba nightclub, New York City, 20 October 1943: Getty Images:https://www.gettyimages.fi/detail/news-photo/new-york-ny-hannah-williams-recently-divorced-from-ex-news-photo/515181066
  16. ^ Tommy Dorsey and his Clambake Seven with vocals by Hannah Williams, Discogs:https://www.discogs.com/Tommy-Dorsey-And-His-Clambake-Seven-But-I-Do-Mind-If-You-Dont-Thats-Life-I-Guess/release/3601330
  17. ^ Billboard, 31 May 1947, page 34 - advertisement for Tommy Dorsey and his Clambake Seven, laying down the vocals on ‘But I Do Mind If Ya Don't’:https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6h8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA34&lpg=PA34&dq=Tommy+Dorsey+And+His+Clambake+Seven+%E2%80%8E–+But+I+Do+Mind+If+You+Don%27t+/+That%27s+Life;+I+Guess&source=bl&ots=-CnVZBfSe3&sig=ACfU3U1bMXfCT7s3FSwoB8ReBr7gikzjNg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjzq9OA1cjjAhWOXsAKHQjiB14Q6AEwBHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Tommy%20Dorsey%20And%20His%20Clambake%20Seven%20%E2%80%8E–%20But%20I%20Do%20Mind%20If%20You%20Don't%20%2F%20That's%20Life%3B%20I%20Guess&f=false
  18. ^ Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era: 50 Overlooked Films and Their ... by Edwin M. Bradley, page 23
  19. ^ Let Me Tell You How I Really Feel: The Uncensored Book Reviews of Classic Images by Laura Wagner, published BearManor Media (April 25, 2015):https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zsB7DwAAQBAJ&pg=PT288&lpg=PT288&dq=hannah+williams+actress+broadway&source=bl&ots=lk5x1iS97T&sig=ACfU3U2dC3_y1RtntwmXLWQ6KMZvEJCVxA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_rOPCxqjiAhW-SRUIHZ33Aak4HhDoATAAegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=hannah%20williams%20actress%20broadway&f=false
  20. ^ Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams married in 1933:https://sports.jrank.org/pages/1152/Dempsey-Jack-Retirement-Beyond.html
  21. ^ British Pathe Historical Archive: Hannah Williams and Jack Dempsey in the kitchen of their home making breakfast:https://www.britishpathe.com/video/jack-dempsey-with-bride-anna-williams-sic/query/jack+dempsey
  22. ^ Hannah Williams and Thomas J. Monaghan marriage (22 March 1950) announcement – Billboard magazine, 1 April 1950, page 59: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=j_UDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=hannah+williams+actress+broadway&source=bl&ots=k8tZ5o5fKF&sig=ACfU3U24eswsGOGfXPy4bxNa2u7r22a28A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi7lPaoxajiAhUITBUIHSW5ArA4FBDoATAFegQIBhAB#v=onepage&q=hannah%20williams%20actress%20broadway&f=false
  23. ^ Family arrival of boxer Jack Dempsey in Miami: Boxer Jack Dempsey, his wife actress Hannah Williams and their two daughters Joan and Barbara https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/le-boxeur-jack-dempsey-sa-femme-lactrice-hannah-williams-et-news-photo/843277552
  24. ^ Jack Dempsey and his wife (Getty Images archive): https://www.gettyimages.dk/photos/jack-dempsey-%5B-wife%5D?mediatype=photography&phrase=jack%20dempsey%20%5B%20wife%5D&recency=anydate&sort=mostpopular&license=rf,rm&page=1&suppressfamilycorrection=true
  25. ^ https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/photos/jack-dempsey-with-his-new-wife-hannah-williams?family=editorial&phrase=Jack%20Dempsey%20With%20His%20New%20Wife%20Hannah%20Williams&recency=anydate&sort=best&page=1&suppressfamilycorrection=true#license
  26. ^ https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/jack-dempsey-the-mansassa-mauler-and-his-wife-the-former-news-photo/515422194
  27. ^ Jack Dempsey with Hannah Williams and their two daughters, Christmas 1937: http://ddr.densho.org/ddr-njpa-1-165/
  28. ^ Famous Fix: Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams: https://www.famousfix.com/topic/hannah-williams-and-jack-dempsey/photos
  29. ^ Film footage of Jack Dempsey and Hannah Williams’ marriage, Clip: 65675025706
  30. ^ Critical Past Archive Film Footage: https://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675049735_Jesse-Owens_olympians_Jack-Dempsey
  31. ^ Moanin' Low: A Discography of Female Popular Vocal Recordings, 1920–1933, by Ross Laird, publ. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996 – The Williams Sisters, page 587

External links[edit]