Norma Terris

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Terris, circa 1929

Norma Terris (November 13, 1904, Columbus, Kansas – November 15, 1989, Lyme, Connecticut) was an American musical theatre star. Her mother, a singer, named her after the heroine of Bellini's opera, Norma.

Born Norma Allison Cook,[1] she was acclaimed for her adroit impersonations of popular public figures, which she had performed in Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies, but may be best known for having originated the roles of Magnolia Hawks and her daughter Kim (as an adult) in the original Broadway production of Show Boat in 1927. She reprised her role in the first New York revival of the show in 1932. However, she was not selected to reprise her role in the 1929 part-talkie film, nor in the 1936 film version.

Irene Dunne, who was discovered for Hollywood in the first touring company of Show Boat, would make her film debut in 1929, and go on to become one of the greatest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. It was Dunne who eventually eclipsed Terris as Magnolia, playing the role in the 1936 film. Rather than have Dunne also play the role of Kim in the movie, the producers chose musical comedy star Sunnie O'Dea for the role. [1]

Terris was originally chosen to play the dual roles of Moonyean Clare and her niece Kathleen in Through the Years, Vincent Youmans's 1932 musical version of Jane Cowl's once-popular play, Smilin' Through, but she was replaced at the last minute. The musical was a failure, but in 2001, it was given a highly acclaimed studio cast recording. She made two films during the early days of talking pictures - Married In Hollywood, and the 1930 version of Cameo Kirby, which was, like Show Boat, a riverboat musical involving a gambler. [2] Cameo Kirby appears to be lost, and only twelve minutes of Married in Hollywood apparently survive. [3][4]


Terris married a doctor and retired to Connecticut, where she was an avid supporter of the Goodspeed Opera House and what eventually became the Norma Terris Theatre. She was later married to Albert D. Firestone, son of the late William McKinley and Gladys Bigam Firestone of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The couple spent winters at their Palm Beach, Florida residence, where they acted as major donors to the Ballet Florida, and summered at their Lyme, Connecticut. Mr. Firestone, who was very dedicated to her remembrance, died in 1997 at their summer residence in Lyme.

Last years[edit]

In 1961 she appeared at a performance of the American Light Opera Company production of Show Boat in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of its director, Donn B. Murphy. On the stage at the Trinity Theatre, she reminisced about the original production. Climbing atop a piano at a cast party after the show, she did a devastating impersonation of an inebriated Helen Morgan (who had created the role of Julie) singing "Bill" from the show.[citation needed]


In 1984, Goodspeed Musicals created a second performance venue in Chester, Connecticut which is named the Norma Terris Theatre.


Terris was, until her death in 1989, two days after her 85th birthday, the last surviving adult actor to have appeared in the original production of Show Boat.


  1. ^ U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 for Norma Cook Wagner

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