Quick Note on Penny Singleton

By | Thursday, June 13, 2024 Leave a Comment
I've heard a number of actors over the years speak to roles that they became so associated with that it completely overshadowed not only their other work, but their very identity. Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy spoke to this, as has Barry "Greg Brady" Williams, I believe. In many cases, to my understanding, actors initially try to disassociate themselves with the role as much as they can, but not infrequently later come to accept that actors rarely are able to touch audience in such a deep and profound way, and they re-embrace the role. Nimoy's 1975 autobiography, for example, was titled I Am Not Spock while his 1995 autobiography was called I Am Spock. Actors in these positions often acknowledge that being able to step into a role like that is indeed a rare gift and that there are hundreds and thousands of talented actors who never are afforde that opportunity.

Even more rare, though, is when an actor is able to do that multiple times. Harrison Ford is Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Patrick Stewart is Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier.

There is one actress that isn't recognized that way any more, but mostly by virtue of her famous roles being largely done over a half century ago. I'm talking about Penny Singleton. While not her first acting role, Singleton gained notoriety in 1938 by playing the title character in Blondie, a film based of Chic Young's comic strip of the same name. She had excellent chemistry with Arthur Lake, who portrayed her husband Dagwood. The two became so beloved in those roles, they made 28 Blondie movies together over the next twelve years as well as a weekly Blondie radio show during much of the same period. And even though both stopped production in 1950, the movies were kept in circulation for most of the next decade. For many, Penny Singleton actively was Blondie Bumstead for twenty years.

Singleton herself worked mostly behind the scenes during much of the 1950s, working on behalf of labor rights. She was even elected president of the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1958. And if she never did any acting work beyond that, she still would have had an impressive and memorable career.

But do you know what she did in 1962? She took a voice acting role at the age of 54 for a low-budget cartoon that was, for all intents and purposes, a knock-off of another cartoon. Penny Singleton became Jane Jetson.

The Jetsons. "Jane, his wife."

And while the original show only lasted a single season, Hanna-Barbera brought Singleton back every time they needed Jane's voice. The show was revived with new episodes in 1985. There were Jetsons made-for-TV movies in 1988, 1989, and 1990 plus a theatrically released film also in 1990. There was a Hanna-Barebera themed ride at Universal Studios where Singleton came in to do voice work at age 82! She got brought in for TV commercials that licensed The Jetsons. She essentially did not get replaced until her death in 2003. If you watched virtually anything with the Jetsons speaking, you've almost certainly heard Singleton's voice.

If you're a fan of voice acting work, you probably knew this already. But this is a blog about comics so, while there's certainly some overlap, it is a different audience and I just wanted to take a moment to highlight that one of the earliest super-popular live-action adaptations of a comic character was done by a woman spent the last half of her life being iconic as a completely different character. Something to think about the next time you read a Blondie comic strip.
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