The Woman Inside 'Blondie'

The lovely, warm lady who prayed beside me
By Ann Jillian of

I'm sure there will be others reminding us of all the professional credits of actress Penny Singleton, who died this past week at age 95. I’d like to give you my impressions and observations of Penny Singleton, the person.

I never had the opportunity to work with Penny as an actress, but I did get to pray with her very often at our Church. Being a parishioner at St. Francis De Sales Church, here in Sherman Oaks, California, is, for most of us, more like being a member of an extended family. It's a "huggy" sort of Parish, which I enjoy a lot--and that means we miss each other terribly as the years take their toll.

I first met Penny Singleton (whose birth name was Dorothy McNulty) after Mass one Sunday in the 1980s      She attended Mass regularly until the 1990’s when her fragile health no longer would permit it. Father Jerry O’Mahoney and a dear friend, Peter Thompson, took turns taking Communion to Penny at her residence each week. I've missed seeing her fabulous face. Peter Thompson told me that one of Penny's children, her daughter, Dorothy, looked after her dear Mother in her Sherman Oaks residence.

Penny was always a very friendly woman with a lovely smile and she had the most beautiful skin a woman of any age could ever want! It would be difficult to detect if she even wore make up at all.

There were times when we sat near each other at Mass and had occasion to greet each other. Penny wasn't just being friendly to me because we both held Screen Actors Guild cards. She was friendly to everyone. Many people didn't have a clue who this lovely lady was professionally, but that didn’t make any difference since they liked the person. Penny always had a smile and a cheery hello for anyone who came near. She dressed so tastefully, and her blond hair outlined her happy face “just right.” Her skin was flawlessly beautiful.

Without a doubt Penny was still the "Blondie" all of us who ever held a bleach bottle wanted to look like as the years rolled by. She was, indeed, a “doll.” My husband, Andy, told me that he thought I was going to look like Penny when I got older.

“That would be fine by me,” I told him. “Let’s pray for it!” Penny was accessible to people. She always took time to chat or take a photo with a fan or just one of us fellow parishioners. (I know I have some “snap’s” taken with Penny, they’re in my home someplace…now if I could just find them!)

I promised to tell you what kind of person Penny Singleton was. Well, I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they pray. Seeing Penny pray all these years gave me the distinct feeling that she was in love with her God. My guess is that she prayed for her family, friends and those in need. But I’d bet she also prayed to say thanks to God for her many blessings. She just struck me as a person grateful for life itself.

I’d say Penny was one of the more intelligent actresses of our business because she knew what was really important in the long run. While the Hollywood "spotlight" is nice when one is talented enough to have it, as Penny did during her tenure, it is not the “end all.” I believe, in my heart of hearts, that Penny Singleton knew this and that's why she was at Mass praying. I believe she had placed her faith in God and I'm positive that Jesus Christ delivered on His promise when He called her home.

Penny Singleton was a woman who had faith, and we will miss her presence. I believe the greatest "light" of love is shining on her now, in paradise.

©2003 by Ann Jillian Murcia


'Blondie' Forever

Dagwood had to share her  with all the rest of us
By Ron Miller

Back in 1938, a 30-year-old "B"-movie actress named Penny Singleton dyed her hair blonde, put on an apron and set up shop in what was to become one of America's most familiar homes--the Dagwood Bumstead household.

As the title character in the first film version of Chic Young's phenomenally popular comic strip--"Blondie"--Singleton was bound to be noticed. Millions flocked to theaters to see Columbia's "Blondie"--and kept on coming at the rate of two new movies a year until the series finally ended in 1952.

Meanwhile, Singleton joined movie co-star Arthur "Dagwood" Lake on the CBS radio network and started playing Blondie Bumstead on the radio, too. Though Singleton eventually turned the radio role over to a string of other actresses, the radio series continued to run until 1950--with most folks still picturing Penny Singleton whenever they heard Blondie's baby-ish voice, scolding husband Dagwood, as usual.

Singleton, who died last week at age 95 after suffering a stroke, surely played other roles both before and after "Blondie," but even though CNN seemed to pay more attention to the fact she provided the voice for the cartoon character Jane Jetson in the 1962-63 animated TV series "The Jetsons," most mature adults will remember her only as the quintessential screen Blondie--the role that swallowed up her entire career.

Singleton was a very pretty young woman with a trim, but curvaceous figure when she first played Blondie in 1938. She had married Dr. Lawrence Singleton in 1937 and gave up her previous name, Dorothy McNulty, both on screen and in her private life. They were divorced in 1939, but Penny retained his name, which by then had become very famous indeed.

On screen, Singleton was the perfect Blondie: Calm and reasonable most of the time, which was a miracle considering she was married to one of the most dither-prone dimwits in American pop media. Thinking dispassionately, I always wondered why Blondie stuck with Dagwood. She was very pretty while he was a human dipstick with the rumpled look of a husband who hadn't even learned how to dress himself or comb his own hair. Couldn't she have done better?

Perhaps Singleton's Blondie enjoyed being the competent one in the family. She certainly was the one in charge at home. In the opening moments of the first "Blondie" movie, Singleton warns a salesman to position himself safely a block away from the house to avoid being bowled over by the fast-moving Dagwood as he storms out the front door and off to work, invariably late again. Then she takes time to scold her youngest child, Baby Dumpling, for telling a whopper.

"Baby Dumpling," she said in that stern tone she could get in her Baby Snooks-ish voice, "Do you know what happens when you tell stories?"

Then, she basically clears the way for Dagwood as he rockets through the kitchen on the way to the front door, where the mailman is almost always waiting to be run over by Dagwood, scattering his mail to the winds.

My childhood reaction to Singleton's Blondie was essentially that of any heterosexual male adolescent of the early 1940s: Relief that she wasn't living in my neighborhood. If she had been, of course, I'd have been mowing her lawns for free, carrying her groceries in for her and the garbage out, all for the precious chance she'd invite me in for a moment or two. I'd have tried real hard to become the best friend of her son Alexander, which is what they called "Baby Dumpling" when he got out of diapers, on the chance I'd be offered milk and cookies by his gorgeous Mom.

Though Singleton made a few other movies--you can see her in "After the Thin Man" (1936) "The Mad Miss Manton" (1938) with Barbara Stanwyck and "Go West, Young Lady" (1941)--she mainly resigned herself to playing Blondie, which had a run of 28 feature films, one of the longest movie series in history.

In her post-Blondie days, Singleton was the vacation replacement for Ruby Keeler in the Broadway revival of "No, No Nanette." She also was in "The Best Man," the 1964 film version of Gore Vidal's political novel.

Penny Singleton with
Arthur "Dagwood" Lake

Yet her most time-consuming job in the post-Blondie era was as a salaried union officer for The American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), which negotiated contracts for actors. Legend has it that Singleton was a tough negotiator and turned any number of management negotiators into dithering Dagwoods while working for her union.

Singleton married movie producer Robert Sparks in 1941. She was widowed in 1963. She had two daughters, Dorothy Grace ("DeeGee") and Robin. Though she never attended college, she was awarded a "Doctor of Letters" degree in Fine Arts from St. Johns University in 1974. She outlived her old partner, Arthur "Dagwood" Lake, by 17 years.

The "Blondie" films are all available on home video, so we can rest assured that generations to come will continue to celebrate the charm and appeal of the original--Miss Penny Singleton.

©2003 by Ron Miller.



Elizabeth's Tribute at the Funeral

Blondie for Victory was one of my favorite movies...
And also one of my favorite pictures.
In the picture... Aunt Penny is the Head of the V for Victory.
That is how I saw her in life.
She was the head of the family.
The Matriarch.
The Glue.
She kept us all together and stayed involved with each and every one of us.
She loved her family with her whole heart just like she loved life.
She lived it to the fullest with such incredible optimism.
With those beautiful baby blue eyes sparkling like magic.
Aunt Penny has definitely made her mark in this lifetime ...
Through her decades of entertaining people to her unconditional love for her family and dear friends.
She marched to the beat of her own drum.
Feisty and Fiery yet still lovely.
She was a remarkable woman.
A shining star.
My love for her is immeasurable and never ending.
I will always carry her smile in my heart along with that twinkle in her eyes ... and her unconditional love.
She was and always will be...
My Mentor,
My best friend
and now my guardian angel.
All of ours. Thank you.

The brightest light is a little dim tonight
But not for long for she is strong
and there is no need to fight.
She holds all the purest power even in the darkest of hours.
In everyone s heart her beauty is there.
Her smile, her laughter, her ability to care.
I have always said she shines far brighter than any star I have ever seen.
So even on the dimmest night...
She is the strongest light in my life.
Dedicated to Aunt Penny.


Penny's Story
Penny's Filmography
Penny's Photo Galleries I
.Penny's Family Album I
Penny's Family Album II
.Penny's eBay Watch
Memories of Penny
Penny's Memoriam
Penny's Photo Galleries II
Victory Photos
Old Mirror Site 1 ~ Site 2
Film Clips

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