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Monica Lewis

( b. May 22, 1922 Chicago, Illinois, USA - d. Jun 12, 2015 Los Angeles, California, USA ) Female
Also known as: May Lewis [Birthname]
Monica Lewis was a dimpled, diminutive chanteuse who made her Broadway debut as a teenager, taught Americans how to ripen their newly imported bananas as the ubiquitous voice of Miss Chiquita, appeared on the inaugural episode of Ed Sullivan's television variety show in 1948 and durably continued to perform jazz and pop hits for decades.

She overcame early poverty, capitalized on lucky breaks, was discovered by Benny Goodman, crooned "Put the Blame on Mame" and "Autumn Leaves" as "America's Singing Sweetheart," performed with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, was wooed by Ronald Reagan (she said she rejected his marriage proposal), appeared in films and on television, and resumed her singing career in her 60s.

She was born May Lewis in Chicago. Her father, Leon, was a pianist, composer and symphonic conductor. Her mother, Jessie, was an opera singer. Miss Lewis studied voice with her. Squeezed by the Depression, the family moved to New York when she was 11.

Miss Lewis was studying at Hunter College when she was hired as a $25-a-week vocalist on a radio wake-up program called "Gloom Dodgers" to help support the family. She soon had her own radio show, "Monica Makes Music," and won the part of a singing cigarette girl in the short-lived Broadway show Johnny 2x4. (Among the other cast members was a young Lauren Bacall.)

That led to an engagement at the Stork Club, where she could perform but was not old enough to buy a drink. She left school and changed her name to Monica, which she considered sexier. ("I feel much more like Monica and I look much more like Monica, too," she told the newspaper PM in 1946.)

She sang with Goodman's orchestra on the Astor Hotel roof, but her parents balked at an out-of-town tour because they said she was too young. She pitched products ranging from Burlington Mills hosiery (as Miss Leg-O-Genic) to Camel cigarettes and in 1947 became the lilting voice behind the Chiquita brand's animated banana commercials (following Patty Clayton and Elsa Miranda).

Also in 1947, she introduced Ed Sullivan, a columnist for The Daily News, to her brother, Marlo Lewis, and suggested they produce a variety show on CBS to rival Milton Berle's on NBC. When the show, later known as "The Ed Sullivan Show" but originally called "Toast of the Town," premiered on June 20, 1948, Miss Lewis was among the first guests, along with Martin and Mr. Lewis.

She later signed a contract with MGM (she danced with Gower Champion in the film "Everything I Have Is Yours"), but the studio's strategy of positioning her as a potential substitute for Lana Turner went nowhere.

In 2014, Miss Lewis appeared in a documentary short Showfolk by the filmmaker Ned McNeilage. It was first shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, when she was 92.

Source: The New York Times obituary 

ProductionsDate of Productions
Johnny 2 X 4
[Play, Melodrama, Original]
  • Performer: Monica Lewis [Cigarette Girl]
Mar 16, 1942 - May 09, 1942
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