From the Archives: Judy Holliday, Winner of Oscar, Dies of Cancer


Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar and a niche in theatrical history for her performance as the junk dealer’s squeaky-voiced girl friend in “Born Yesterday,” died Monday of cancer. She was 43.

The blonde actress had been ill for several years and underwent surgery for cancer in 1961.

She entered Mr. Sinai Hospital on May 26.

Arnold R. Krakower, her attorney, who announced the death, said “To the very end she put up a gallant fight to live . . . In her passing the world has lost a great, a beautiful talent, and those who knew her have lost and irreplaceable friend.”


Tall and Bright

The acclaim she won by playing Billie Dawn both in Broadway and movie productions of “Born Yesterday” was a tribute to her acting ability. While Miss Holliday was a tall (5 foot 7) girl with a high IQ (172), she made Billie Dawn appear small and stupid.

“Born Yesterday,” was her first major role and she got it in the classical manner. Jean Arthur, picked for the part became sick three days before the show opened in Philadelphia. Miss Holliday learned the part in three days and rode with it to stardom.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her the Oscar in 1951 as top actress.

Born in 1921

Born June 21, 1921, she was the daughter of Abraham and Helen Tuvim. “Holliday” is a free translation of the Hebrew word Tuvium. Her father was a fund raiser.


At 4 Judy was taking ballet lessons, and upon graduation from high school she studied at Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.

Fame came slowly. She played farces on the Eastern Seaboard’s borscht circuit and then more of the same at the Village Vanguard, a New York night club.

After night club dates at Spivy’s Roof and the Blue Angel, both in New York, and at the Trocadero in Hollywood, she won small parts in two motion pictures – “Winged Victory” and “Something for the Boys.”

On Broadway, she had appeared in “Kiss Them for Me” before doing “Born Yesterday.”

During the run of her biggest hit she was married to musician David Oppenheim on Jan. 4, 1948. In 1957 they obtained a Mexican divorce after one child, Jonathan.

Appears at Hearing

At the time of her divorce she was playing in the “Bells Are Ringing,” another success on both Broadway and in the movies.


In 1952 she appeared before the Senate internal security subcommittee, denying she was a Communist or ever had been one.

She had lent her name and made contributions to leftist causes. She said then: “I have awakened to a realization that I have been irresponsible and slightly — more than slightly – stupid. When I was solicited, I always said: ‘Oh, isn’t that too bad. Sure, use my name’.”


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June 6, 2016: The original version of this obituary, published June 8, 1965, erred in stating that Judy Holliday was born in 1923 and was 41 when she died. In fact, she was born in 1921 and was 43 when she died.