from trailer for The Toast of New Orleans (1950)
|Born||Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick
February 9, 1922
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.
|Died||February 17, 2010 (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||John Shelton (1941–1946) divorced
From the age of twelve, Grayson trained as an opera singer. She was under contract to MGM by the early 1940s, soon establishing a career principally through her work in musicals. After several supporting roles, she was a lead performer in such films as Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, Show Boat (1951) and Kiss Me Kate (1953) with Howard Keel.
When film musical production declined, she worked in theatre, appearing in Camelot (1962-1964). Later in the decade, she performed in several operas, including La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Orpheus in the Underworld and La traviata.
She was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Hedrick family later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was discovered singing on the empty stage of the St. Louis Municipal Opera House by a janitor, who introduced her to Frances Marshall of the Chicago Civic Opera, who gave the twelve-year-old girl voice lessons.
Discovered by an MGM talent scout in 1940, her first film appearance was in Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941) as the character's secretary Kathryn Land. Though she began, in films such as Seven Sweethearts (1942) and Anchors Aweigh (1945), as MGM's response to Deanna Durbin's box-office appeal, she became a star via the films Thousands Cheer, Anchors Aweigh and Two Sisters from Boston. Howard Keel was her partner in three feature films, the remake of Show Boat (1951), Lovely to Look At (1952), which was a new version of Roberta, and the title role in Kiss Me Kate (1953), for which she is probably best remembered. Later, Grayson appeared with Keel in a highly successful cabaret act during the 1960s. She also appeared in two films with tenor Mario Lanza, That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950).
Grayson appeared on television occasionally from the 1950s, receiving an Emmy nomination in 1956 for her performance in the General Electric Theater episode Shadow on the Heart with John Ericson. In the 1980s, she guest starred in several episodes of Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury.
Grayson's film career ended with the classic MGM musical. She appeared on stage in numerous productions including Show Boat, Rosalinda, Kiss Me, Kate, Naughty Marietta, and The Merry Widow, for which she was nominated for Chicago's Sarah Siddons Award. This led to her being cast as Queen Guinevere in 1962 in Camelot, a well regarded replacement for Julie Andrews in the Broadway production, before continuing in the role for over sixteen months in the national tour of the United States, leaving the show for health reasons. Grayson had a lifelong dream of being an opera star, and she appeared in a number of operas in the 1960s, such as La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Orpheus in the Underworld and La traviata. Her dramatic and comedy stage roles included Night Watch, Noises Off, Love Letters and Something's Afoot as Dottie Otterling.
In Hollywood she married twice, first to the actor John Shelton and then to the actor/singer Johnnie Johnston. Both marriages ended in divorce. Her second marriage produced her only child, her daughter Patricia Kathryn Towers (née Johnston; born October 7, 1948).
|1941||Andy Hardy's Private Secretary||Kathryn Land|
|1942||The Vanishing Virginian||Rebecca Yancey|
|Rio Rita||Rita Winslow|
|Seven Sweethearts||Billie Van Maaster|
|1943||Thousands Cheer||Kathryn Jones|
|1945||Anchors Aweigh||Susan Abbott|
|1946||Ziegfeld Follies||Herself||in "There's Beauty Everywhere"|
|Two Sisters from Boston||Abigail Chandler|
|Till the Clouds Roll By||Magnolia in 'Show Boat' / Specialty|
|1947||It Happened in Brooklyn||Anne Fielding|
|1948||The Kissing Bandit||Teresa|
|1949||That Midnight Kiss||Prudence Budell|
|Some of the Best||Herself||uncredited|
|1950||The Toast of New Orleans||Suzette Micheline|
|1951||Grounds for Marriage||Ina Massine|
|Show Boat||Magnolia Hawks|
|1952||Lovely to Look At||Stephanie|
|1953||The Desert Song||Margot Birabeau|
|So This Is Love||Grace Moore||aka The Grace Moore Story|
|Kiss Me Kate||Lilli Vanessi / "Katharina"|
|1956||The Vagabond King||Catherine de Vaucelles|
|1977||The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena||Herself||documentary|
|1994||A Century of Cinema||Herself||documentary|
|2003||Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot||Herself, Kate/Lilli in Kiss Me Kate|
|2004||The Masters Behind the Musicals||Herself|