Shirley Dinsdale Layburn, a ventriloquist who won the very first Emmy Award in 1949 (the first year the awards were presented) and later moved on to a career in health care, died May 9 of cancer at her home in Stony Brook, N.Y. She was 72.
Layburn received her Emmy Award for most outstanding personality by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Her show, for which she was paid $10 per program, appeared on Paramount Studio’s KTLA in Los Angeles and featured her and her puppet “Judy Splinters.”
She later had her own children’s show on NBC’s KNBH, followed by several other shows on ABC in New York and Chicago.
She later quit her television career and from 1973 to 1985 was the head of the Respiratory Therapy Department of John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Layburn, who was born Shirley Faye Dinsdale in San Francisco, began her ventriloquism career there at age 14 with her radio show “Judy in Wonderland.”
She later moved to Hollywood, where she and her puppet had appearances on radio shows alongside personalities such as Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallee and Bob Burns.
During World War II, Layburn worked for the Victory Committee and went on tour with the USO.
She made her TV debut in 1947 announcing shows and giving children birthday greetings on KTLA. Her appearances led to the weekly children’s show “The Judy Splinters Show.”
In 1953 she married Frank Layburn and retired from television. At age 40, she returned to school and graduated as class valedictorian from the Health Sciences School of Stony Brook U.
Layburn is survived by her husband, a son and daughter and two grandchildren.