Appeared in 'Oklahoma,' 'South Pacific'
Actor, singer and stage manager Wally Peterson died Wednesday, March 30, of natural causes in New York City. He was 93.
Peterson was born in Boston; his first broadcast, singing “Blue Moon,” was for a local radio station at age 15. He was given his own weekly radio series and continued to broadcast off and on until entering military service in WWII. In the late ’30s, he was a member of the Barter Theater in Virginia. By 1942 Peterson had also appeared in a number of professional operettas including “The Student Prince,” “Lady Baltimore” and “Rose Marie.”
During the war, Peterson produced variety performances for fellow U.S. soldiers stationed throughout Europe.
Returning to the U.S., he auditioned for the London company of “Oklahoma,” which opened in 1947. In this production Peterson formed a strong friendship with two young actors, Elliot Martin and Marjorie Austin, who later married and became successful theatrical producers, mounting many of the Broadway and West End productions on which Peterson would work well into his 70s.
In 1948 he met Australian singer-actress Joy Nichols, star of the new hit radio program “Take It From Here.” They married in 1949 and Peterson moved into radio, writing and performing shows for the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. He recorded many songs on the Decca and Parlophone labels, including his own hit songs, “This Is the First Time” and “A Tale of Tahiti” (written with Mantovani).
In 1951, Peterson returned to Drury Lane in “South Pacific.” He also continued his solo singing career as a variety performer.
By late 1955 Wally was broadcasting his hit series “By Candleglow” on Radio Luxembourg. He was also a TV producer and director for the Associated Broadcasting Co. Then in 1957, the Petersons moved to New York City.
Peterson toured for several summer seasons including performing in a production of “Sunrise at Campobello” with Howard Keel. He wrote for the London Record Mirror, reporting on the New York theater scene.
In 1962, after appearing on Broadway in “A Passage to India,” Peterson began a long career in stage management. He was production manager on the Broadway comedy “Never Too Late” and subsequently restaged all the national tours throughout the U.S. Over the next several decades, Peterson worked with Rex Harrison, Stewart Granger, Claudette Colbert, Walter Pigeon, Betty Grable, Maureen O’Sullivan, Jason Robards, Liv Ullman, Art Carney and Betty Garrett, among others, in legit efforts.
His experiences as a songwriter became the basis for his one-man show “Tin Pan Alley and the Silver Screen,” which he toured through the university circuit in U.S. before a successful run at London’s Arts Theater in 1992 at age 75. Singing and playing guitar, he would tell the stories of the unheralded songwriting teams behind Hollywood’s golden era of movie musicals.
The Petersons were divorced in the mid-’70s, and Joy died in 1992. He is survived by two daughters, a son, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.