Known for her sultry voice and sensual persona, Julie London was an actress and a singer. She was active during the 50s, where she was also considered as a sex symbol and a pinup girl, mostly judging from the provocative poses in her LP sleeve covers. London tackled pop and jazz tunes, and was known for her hit song “Cry Me A River” (featured as a soundtrack for The Girl Can’t Help It where she performed the song). As an actress, London appeared in films such as Man of the West and Saddled In The Wind. She acted on TV (most notably “Emergency!” in the 70s). During her heyday, the Californian-born London recorded 30-odd albums (mostly for the label Liberty), the last being Yummy, Yummy, Yummy in 1969. She retired from showbiz in the late 70s. In the mid-90s, London suffered a stroke that led to her death in October 2000.
Beginnings and rise to popularity
Julie London was born Nancy Peck in Santa Rosa, California in September 26, 1926. Show business ran in the family, as both her parents were members of a vaudeville troupe. It’s no surprise that the young Nancy started her inevitable path to entertainment quite young. An alumna of the now-defunct Hollywood Professional School, London had begun appearing in films in bit parts. Before her film work, London had also started singing under the name of Gayle Peck.
When she was 20 or 21 years old, London married actor Jack Webb, who later rose to fame on the television series Dragnet. They divorced in 1954.
In terms of her singing career, Julie London released her debut album Bethlehem’s Girlfriends in 1955. Since then, London had released 30-plus other albums, the most successful on the Billboard 200 being Julie Is Her Name (1955, at #2), Lonely Girl (1956, at #16), Calendar Girl (1956, at #18), and About The Blues (1957, at #15). The beautiful singer-actress also got her fame largely in part due to her provocative “pin-up girl” poses on many of her album covers. Despite this come-hither image, she was actually shy behind the camera.
London also developed her own style of singing, her repertoire being jazz which she loved. Despite lacking in range found in other jazz singers like say, Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald, she had this certain “smokiness” in her singing. Her smoldering and sultry vocal style, coupled with a sense of restraint and tenderness, brought her distinction.
Although London made many records, her most successful one in her career was “Cry Me a River,” released in November 1955 and appeared on her most commercially successful album Julie Is Her Name. The song was written by her classmate Arthur Hamilton, originally intended for Fitzgerald to sing in the film Pete Kelly’s Blues (although the project never pushed through, Fitzgerald did record a later version of that song). The single was produced by jazz pianist/singer/composer/actor Bobby Troup, whom London would marry in 1959. “Cry Me a River” broke into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9 — her only Top Ten (or Top 20, or even Top 40) hit ever.
London performed “Cry Me A River” on the Tom Ewell/Jayne Mansfield-starred musical comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, which did bolster the single’s success.
London’s last studio LP was 1969’s Yummy, Yummy, Yummy which featured the title track, her cover of the Ohio Express bubblegum pop hit. Her other higher-charting hit was “Like to Get to Know You,” which peaked at #15 on the easy listening singles chart.
As an actress, London did a lot of work in film and television. She appeared on a little over twenty films and many appearances on TV variety and drama shows. But the most known TV show she had starred in was the NBC medical drama Emergency! in the 1970s. The show was produced by London’s ex-husband Webb, and also starred her current husband Troup.
In her later years, London suffered a massive stroke, and passed away in 2000, on October 18 — the birth date of her husband Troup who died a year earlier. She was 74 years old.
“Cry Me a River” has undergone many cover versions by a wide range of artists, from chanteuses Crystal Gale, Shirley Bassey and Linda Ronstadt to rockers Jeff Beck and Aerosmith. It has even been re-recorded in several languages. But everyone knows that a big part of Julie London’s fame is still inextricably connected with the song which she had immortalized.