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Julie London: The 'Emergency!' Life Saver Who Was 'Too Sexy'

Icons | July 13, 2019

Left: Julie London as Dixie McCall on 'Emergency!' in the '70s. Right: Detail of the cover of London's 1959 album 'Swing Me An Old Song.' Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Amazon.com

Which Julie London do you remember? Successful as both a singer and actress, Julie London had at least two phases of her career: there was Julie the sultry singer of torch songs, and there was Julie ER Nurse -- Dixie McCall -- on the hugely successful TV series Emergency! You could probably add in a brief career as a WWII-era model and pinup, and tack on a fourth era as a Golden Age of Hollywood actress alongside such stars as Robert Mitchum, Rock Hudson, and Gary Cooper. 

Julie London: The Early Years

Julie London as a screen seductress in an undated publicity photo, and in her career-launching Esquite photo from 1943. Sources: eBay; julielondon.org

Julie London, born Nancy Gail Peck on September 26, 1926, was the daughter of vaudevillians and sang most of her life. A fateful meeting with Henry Waxman, a photographer for Esquire, while she was working as a clerk in a menswear store, launched her career in the public eye -- Waxman photographed a 17-year-old London draped in a wet sheet and the image was published in Esquire's November 1943 issue. Like many young women who appeared in Esquire at the time, London became a popular pin-up girl for the G.I.s serving in World War II.

A still-teenaged London began her career as an actress in 1944 in Nabonga, a movie about a giant gorilla whose name was not King Kong. 

Julie London Had Two Celebrity Husbands

Left: London in 'Nabonga,' 1944. Right: London on the cover of her first album, 'Julie Is Her Name,' 1955. Sources: julielondon.org; eBay

When London was 15, she had met Jack Webb in a nightclub. She later marry Webb, who was then predominantly a radio star, in 1947 and quit her career to be a full-time wife and mother. They divorced in 1953 after having two children. Six months after her divorce, she met Bobby Troup, the songwriter who wrote “Route 66,” and whom she would marry in 1959.

The Hollywood Actress Becomes A Famous (Or Infamous) Singer

Left: Gary Cooper and Julie London in 'Man Of TheWest,' 1958. Right: with Rock Hudson in 'The Fat Man,' 1951. Source: IMDB

London was in several other films, including The Fat Man with Rock Hudson, but appeared more frequently on television shows. But she was primarily known as a singer in the '50s and '60s, with a famously sexy voice who released around 30 albums over the course of her career. In 1955, she released her first album on the Liberty label, Her Name is Julie. That album included her biggest hit, "Cry me a River". The song was written by Arthur Hamilton and was originally intended for Ella Fitzgerald. He eventually offered it to London; the song was a top 10 hit, and it became her best-known song. Billboard Magazine named her the most popular female vocalist for several years, and she ehe eventually received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for recording.

The 'Julie London Dilemma'

Julie London in full pin-up mode on the covers of her albums 'Calendar Girl' and 'Julie.' Sources: eBay; Amazon.com

London was known for her low, sultry voice, and he also happened to have a beautiful face and a good figure. It was an appealing package, and producers at Liberty records made good use of her looks on her album covers. In fact, she attributed her limited success as an actress to her fame as a singer. An amusing AP article from 1961 summed up her career challenges at that time; it was titled "Julie London Dilemma: She Sounds Too Sexy":

Sometimes a girl can sound too sexy for her own good. That’s Julie London’s dilemma. Album buyers know Julie as the girl with the bedroom voice. So, apparently, do movie producers. “Why can’t I ever see some of those good, wholesome scripts that other actresses get?” she asks. “Everything they send me is pornographic,” she laments. “I won’t do them.”

Even the liner notes sometimes commented on her looks. For instance, the liner notes for her album Calendar Girl read: “No wonder her voice comes out swell. Look where it’s been!” 

As one Liberty executive said (in the AP story mentioned above): “She is the only singer I know of who can sell albums to men who don’t own record players.”

London released her final album, Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, in 1969. 

'Emergency!' Revived London's Career

On the show Emergency! Source: (pinterest)

London remained amicable with her ex-husband, Jack Webb, who cast both London and Troup in Emergency! a hit show that ran from 1972-79 and was set in the same TV universe as the Webb-produced Dragnet and Adam-12. She played the nurse Dixie McCall opposite Troup, who played Dr. Joe Early. To play the role, she studied medical terminology.

Julie London Left Show Business In Her Early 50s

Left: Publicity still of London and Edmond O'Brien from 'The 3rd Voice' (1960). Right: London on the cover of her 1959 album 'Your Number, Please.' Sources: eBay; Amazon.com

London left show business after Emergency! ended its run in 1979. Her final song, a cover of “My Funny Valentine,” was included on the soundtrack to the Burt Reynolds film Sharky’s Machine in 1981. 

In 1995, London, who had been a smoker for many years, had a stroke. Her health continued to decline after that, and she died after going into cardiac arrest on October 18, 2000.

Tags: Emergency! | Famous Singers | Julie London | Ladies | What Did She Do?...

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!