A talented singer/actor and superb comedian, Vivienne Segal enjoyed a lengthy career. She was best known for her role as Vera Simpson, the older woman in love with the “heel,” Joey (played by Gene Kelly), in the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey. It was in this musical that Segal introduced her showstopping number, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” a song that described her love for the younger man. The show catapulted Kelly to fame and gave Segal the chance to get away from the sweet ingenue roles that she had been playing.
Vivenne Segal was born on April 19, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of prominent physician Bernard Segal and Paula (Hahn) Segal. Vivienne and her younger sister Louise were encouraged by their mother to pursue show business careers. Segal went to school at the Sisters of Mercy Academy, where she studied music and drama. After singing in several amateur productions for the Philadelphia Opera Society, she appeared on Broadway in 1915 at the Casino Theater in the Schubert production of The Blue Paradise, which established her in New York. It was rumored that her well-to-do father underwrote the cost of the production; however, Segal had the looks and talent to continue on her own. After touring with this show for two years, she returned to New York and appeared in many reviews, musicals, and operettas, including Tangerine (1921), The Yankee Princess (1922), Adrienne (1923), the 1924 Ziegfeld Follies, The Desert Song (1926), and The Three Musketeers (1928).
In the 1930s and 1940s, Segal’s most notable roles were as Nanette in No, No, Nanette (1938), the countess in I Married an Angel (1938), and Queen Morgan Le Fay in A Connecticut Yankee (1943). Then in 1952, she appeared in the revival of Pal Joey, for which she won the Donaldson Award and the New York Drama Critics Award for “best actress.” Segal performed in early sound shorts and feature films from 1929 to 1934, on the radio in the 1930s, and on television in the 1950s. Her last public performance was in Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1961. Her long career demonstrated her staying power in show business and her ability to adapt to different media.
Segal married twice. In 1923, she eloped with twice-divorced actor Robert D. Ames. Their marriage ended in 1926. In 1950, Segal married Hubbell Robinson, Jr., a television executive who died in 1974.
Vivenne Segal lived in Beverly Hills until December 29, 1992, when she died of heart failure at age ninety-five.
AJYB 24:201; Boardman, Gerald. Oxford Companion to American Theater (1992); Folkart, Burt A. “Vivienne Segal: Veteran of Musical Theater Roles.” Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1992, B6; Grimes, William. “Vivienne Segal, 95, a Stage Star in Roles, Sweet to Cynical, Is Dead.” NYTimes, December 30, 1992, A13:1; Harris, Dale. “Unbothered and Bewitching.” Guardian 2, January 2, 1993, 24:2; Hewitt, Pamela. Notable Women in the American Theatre (1989); Parker, John. Who’s Who in the Theatre (1961), and Who Was Who in the Theatre. Vol. 4 (1978); Rigdon, Walter. The Biographical Encyclopaedia and Who’s Who of the American Theatre (1966), and Notable Names in the American Theatre (1976); Segal, Vivienne. Scrapbook. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, NYC; WWIAJ (1926, 1928).
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Stark, Bonnie Rothbart. "Vivienne Segal." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 17, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/segal-vivienne>.