Actress and singer Shannon Bolin Kaye died March 25 in New York City at the age of 99.
Bolin played the middle-age, Midwestern wife in the original Broadway production and subsequent film adaptation of “Damn Yankees,” to whom the young baseball player Joe Hardy longs to return. She also played one of the two bickering Corlick sisters in the Denny’s commercials that ran from the late 1980s to the 1990s. A mezzo-soprano on the concert stage with her own radio programs in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and later a contralto in television operas and on the concert stage, she also made her mark on the Broadway stage and in regional productions.
She was known for playing warm, maternal women — except in the Puccini opera “Suor Angelica,” in which she memorably played the mean princess.
When George Abbott cast her as Meg in the stage production of “Damn Yankees,” she rejected the role because she felt the character was underwritten. Abbott told her that it was up to her to create the character, and she did. The sophisticated nightclub singer in her mid-30s was costumed with layers of padding around her waist and dowdy dresses to look the part.
When Warner Bros. bought the rights to “Damn Yankees” as a vehicle for Tab Hunter, Abbott was critical of Hunter, and the cast (all from the Broadway production) was cold and unfriendly to him with the exception of Bolin and Gwen Verdon. Bolin and Hunter realized that they were left to their own devices to make the relationship and the emotional pull between the handsome young Joe Hardy and the middle-aged housewife convincing, and the two went off by themselves to rehearse their scenes and make the warmth between the characters palpable.
Bolin and Hunter remained great friends, and the actress was interviewed in the 2015 documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential.”
Ione Shannon Bolin was born in Spencer, S.D. She was a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. She attended Dakota Wesleyan University and the University of Maryland.
She worked as a teacher and at the Justice Dept. in Washington, D.C., before her career in show business.
Bolin studied singing with Margaret Schloss and acting at the Actors Studio and with Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan and Sanford Meisner.
During the 1940s she did a considerable amount of radio work, including hosting her own show, “Shannon Bolin” (aka “Songs by Shannon Bolin”) on WJSV (the CBS station in Washington, D.C. ).
She made her Broadway debut (under the name of Anne Bolyn) in 1944 in “Helen Goes to Troy.”
Bolin worked for two years with Marc Blitzstein on his opera of “The Little Foxes,” “Regina,” singing the lead at backers’ auditions and working with him on the musical. Then financial backing was lacking for the Broadway production and the producers hired radio star Jane Pickens to star as Regina with Bolin playing the role on alternate performances. The production debuted on Broadway in 1949.
She played Mrs. Juniper in “That Golden Apple” when the musical moved to Broadway in 1954. Other Broadway credits include “Only in America” in 1959 and “The Student Gypsy” in 1963.
The actress appeared Off Broadway in “Promenade” in 1969.
She was married to pianist, conductor, composer and arranger Milton Kaye from 1946 until his death in 2006.