Penny Singleton

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Penny Singleton
Publicity photo of Penny Singleton
Penny Singleton in 1938
Mariana Dorothy McNulty

(1908-09-15)September 15, 1908
DiedNovember 12, 2003(2003-11-12) (aged 95)
  • Actress
  • labor leader
Years active1925–1990
Laurence Scroggs Singleton
(m. 1937; div. 1939)
Robert Sparks
(m. 1941; died 1963)

Penny Singleton (born Mariana Dorothy McNulty, September 15, 1908[1] – November 12, 2003) was an American actress and labor leader. During her 6 decade career on stage, screen, radio and television, Singleton appeared as the comic-strip heroine Blondie Bumstead in a series of 28 motion pictures from 1938 until 1950 and the popular Blondie radio program from 1939 until 1950. Singleton also provided the voice of Jane Jetson in the animated series The Jetsons from 1962 to 1963.

Behind the scenes, Singleton was the first woman to serve as president of an AFL-CIO union,[2] and served two terms as president of the American Guild of Variety Artists. She testified before a Senate subcommittee in 1962 on the union's treatment of women variety workers, and led a strike of the Radio City Rockettes in 1967.

Early life[edit]

Singleton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[3] She began performing professionally as a child, and only completed sixth grade in her schooling.[4]


Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as Dagwood Bumstead, from a 1944 publicity photograph: A smiling white woman with blonde curls and a striped pinafore apron; a smiling white man wearing a bow tie; a small dog posed between their shoulders; and a microphone in front of them, labeled "Blue"
Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as Dagwood Bumstead, from a 1944 publicity photograph

Singleton sang at a silent movie theater, and toured in vaudeville as part of an act called "The Kiddie Kabaret". She sang and danced with Milton Berle, whom she had known since childhood, and actor Gene Raymond, and appeared on Broadway in Jack Benny's The Great Temptations. She also toured nightclubs and in roadshows of plays and musicals.[3]

Singleton appeared as a brunette nightclub singer in After the Thin Man, credited as Dorothy McNulty. She was cast opposite Arthur Lake (as Dagwood) in the feature film Blondie in 1938, based on the comic strip by Chic Young. They repeated their roles on a radio comedy beginning in 1939 and in guest appearances on other radio shows. As Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead, they proved so popular that a succession of 27 sequels was made from 1938 until 1950, with the radio show ending the same year. Singleton's husband Robert Sparks produced 12 of these sequels. Also in 1950, she had her own program, The Penny Singleton Show, on NBC radio.[5][6][7]

Singleton held top billing in Go West, Young Lady (1941), over her male co-star, Glenn Ford. Only two other female stars (Dorothy Page and Jane Frazee) were top-billed singing cowgirls at the time.[8] She provided the voice of Jane Jetson in the 1962–63 animated series, The Jetsons.[9]

Labor activism[edit]

Singleton was active in union affairs as a vocal member of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).[10] She was elected president of the AGVA in 1958–1959,[11] and again in 1969–1970.[3] Her union membership was suspended in 1962,[12] when she was accused of slandering some of the union's officers, and she countersued.[13] Singleton was reinstated as a union member in 1963, after the dispute reached a legal settlement.[11][14]

She testified on the exploitation of women in variety work, and the union's shortcomings in representing those workers, before a United States Senate subcommittee in 1962.[15] "I charge here and now that the exotic and strip artists have been abandoned and made outcasts by the very union to which they pay dues for representation and protection," she announced to the subcommittee.[16]

In 1967, she led a successful month-long strike by the Radio City Rockettes for better working conditions.[3] During her presidency, she led negotiations with the Disney on Parade show (NAWAL Productions) during a variety artists' strike in the 1970 Disney on Parade (DOP) show – a joint venture between Walt Disney and NBC, and one of the most successful touring arena shows ever, with tours all over the world. With over 100 cast members, she led a slowdown in the performance in Hershey, Pennsylvania, followed by a walkout in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and a settlement the next week in Houston, Texas. The issue was purportedly that the 16" support stage used by the dancers was cut from the show to reduce trucking costs. The stage, which was laid down on the arena floor without the support, caused the dancers to reportedly get shin splints. The strike was settled and the show went on in Houston.[17][18]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Singleton married Laurence Scroggs Singleton, a dentist, in 1937; they divorced in 1939, although she kept his surname. She remarried, to Robert C. Sparks, a Marine Corps officer and film producer, in 1941. They remained wed until his death in 1963.[19][20] Singleton had two daughters, Dorothy and Susan.[9] She was a lifelong Catholic.[21]

Singleton was a charter member of the Hollywood Republican Committee[22] and campaigned for Republicans Thomas E. Dewey in 1948[23] and Richard Nixon in 1960.[24]

For her contributions to both radio and the motion-picture industry, in 1960, Singleton was honored with two stars during her induction to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[25] Her star for radio is located at 6811 Hollywood Boulevard, and her film star is at 6547 Hollywood Boulevard.[25]


On November 12, 2003, Singleton died at the age of 95 of respiratory failure in Sherman Oaks, California.[26] She was buried at San Fernando Cemetery.[9][3]



Credited as Dorothy McNulty 1930–1937

Sourced, to 1964, from TV Guide[27]

Short subjects[edit]

  • Belle of the Night (1930)[28]
  • Campus Cinderella (1938)[29]
  • Screen Snapshots Series 19, No. 1 (1939)[citation needed]

Television credits[edit]

Stage work[edit]

Theme parks[edit]


  1. ^ Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 685. ISBN 9781557835512.
  2. ^ "Penny Singleton". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 15, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e Luther, Claudia (November 14, 2003). "Penny Singleton, 95; Actress Played Blondie in 28 Movies, on Radio". Los Angeles Times. p. 106. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  4. ^ Coons, Robbin (October 16, 1937). "In Hollywood: Luck of Penny Singleton Does Not Hold in Movies". Chillicothe Gazette. p. 11. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  5. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 267–268. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  6. ^ "Radio and Television: Joel McCrea and Penny Singleton to Star on N.B.C. Summer-Evening Shows". The New York Times. May 9, 1950. p. 58 – via ProQuest.
  7. ^ "Radio Television for Week Ending June 26". Altoona Tribune. June 20, 1950. p. 13. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  8. ^ Douglas B. Green, Singing In The Saddle, 2002/Vanderbilt Univ. Press & Country Music Foundation Press. Pg. 210.
  9. ^ a b c "Penny Singleton Dies at 95; Played Blondie in Film Series". The New York Times. The Associated Press. November 15, 2003. p. C16.
  10. ^ Wilson, Earl (December 31, 1968). "It Happened Last Night". Courier-Post. p. 21. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  11. ^ a b c Thomas, Bob (March 16, 1964). "Penny Singleton -- AGVA Racket Buster". The Evening Times. p. 6. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  12. ^ "Vaudeville: 5 Year Suspension for Penny". Variety. Vol. 227. June 6, 1962. pp. 49, 52 – via ProQuest.
  13. ^ "Penny Singleton Files Suit In Reply to A.G.V.A. Aide". The New York Times. August 30, 1962. p. 28.
  14. ^ "Suit of Penny Singleton Against A.G.V.A. Dismissed". The New York Times. November 13, 1963. p. 38.
  15. ^ Phillips, Cabell (June 13, 1962). "Senators Hear of B-Girls' Role; Witness Accuses Artists' Guild: Penny Singleton Says Union Ignores Members' Interests 'Degradation' Charged". The New York Times. p. 27 – via ProQuest.
  16. ^ "Required to be B-Girls, Phila. Singer Testifies". Philadelphia Daily News. June 12, 1962. p. 1. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  17. ^ Wong, Herman (August 19, 1970). "No Progress Reported in Disneyland Strike". Los Angeles Times. p. 5. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  18. ^ "Artists Guild Puts Pickets at Disneyland". The South Bend Tribune. August 10, 1970. p. 3. Retrieved August 29, 2019 – via
  19. ^ "Penny Singleton a Mother". The New York Times. October 10, 1942. p. 11 – via ProQuest.
  20. ^ Vallance, Tom (November 15, 2003). "Penny Singleton". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 25, 2022. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  21. ^ Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2)
  22. ^ "Film Notables Open Drive for G.O.P. President". Los Angeles Times. October 20, 1947. p. 8.
  23. ^ "SF Republican Will Stage Big Rally Tonight". The Sacramento Bee. October 29, 1948. p. 1.
  24. ^ "Toluca Nixon Rally". Valley Times Today. October 20, 1960. p. 21.
  25. ^ a b "Penny Singleton". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on August 29, 2019. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  26. ^ The Associated Press (November 15, 2003). "Penny Singleton Dies at 95; Played Blondie in Film Series". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  27. ^ "Penny Singleton: Credits". TV Guide. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  28. ^ Bradley, Edwin M. (June 14, 2015). The First Hollywood Sound Shorts, 1926–1931. McFarland. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-4766-0684-2.
  29. ^ Lentz, Harris M. III (October 24, 2008). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2003: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland. p. 372. ISBN 978-0-7864-5208-8.
  30. ^ "Murder, She Wrote : Perfect Foil (1986): Cast and Crew". AllMovie. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  31. ^ a b Dietz, Dan (April 10, 2019). The Complete Book of 1920s Broadway Musicals. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 249, 304. ISBN 978-1-5381-1282-3.
  32. ^ Dietz, Dan (March 29, 2018). The Complete Book of 1930s Broadway Musicals. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-5381-0277-0.
  33. ^ "Call Me Madam Will Open Tonight". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. August 10, 1959. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  34. ^ Scherling, Carol Lynn. Blonde Goes to Hollywood: The Blondie Comic Strip in Films, Radio & Television. BearManor Media. p. 325.
  35. ^ Gilbert, Ruth (August 23, 1971). "In and Around Town: Theater". New York Magazine.
  36. ^ Green, Kay (1996). Broadway Musicals, Show by Show. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 47. ISBN 9780793577507.

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