Ethel Merman died on this day back in 1984. When I think of her, I see her in later years; my first exposure to Merman was probably on The Muppet Show, which I watched as a child. She contributed voice talent and guest spots in several children's TV specials, so many people my age may have been first exposed to her that way ... or even from her roles on The Love Boat or the film Airplane! In addition, Merman has been imitated by so many people that we often recall the impersonators before the real thing, like the late Michael Jeter in The Fisher King.
It's easy to forget about Merman's film career as a young, cute singer. Her first film was in 1930, and by 1936 she had starring roles in musicals such as Anything Goes. The above photo is from her 1938 movie Alexander's Ragtime Band. Shortly afterwards, she left Hollywood for a long, successful Broadway career—many of those musicals were adapted into movies that starred other actresses, such as Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun. Merman didn't return to films until the 1950s, at which time she often portrayed older comic characters in films like There's No Business Like Show Business and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Those later films are the ones we tend to recall ... but it's nice to catch a glimpse of the singer in her earlier days.