1900 broadway

JULY 27: Nancy Hamilton (1909-1985)

Actress, producer, and one of the first women to succeed as a lyricist on Broadway, Nancy Hamilton, was born on this day in 1908.

Nancy Hamilton sits posed with a guitar on her lap, September 9, 1926 (x). 

Nancy was born on July 27, 1908 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania and had a very suburban childhood raised by her mother Margaret and her father Charles. As a child, she went to an academy called Miss Dickinson’s School but she would eventually graduate with a B.A. from Smith College in 1930. It was at Smith where Nancy first began writing songs and becoming involved with the theater program; by her senior year, she was the Producing Director of the Dramatic Association Council. She also earned a bit of a reputation for scandal during her college years for frequently incorporating men into her stage productions, an unheard-of act at the all-girls Smith College.

After college, Nancy moved to New York City and found a job working as a spy for RKO Pictures, except instead of stealing state secrets as the title would suggest, Nancy instead secretly surveyed audiences’ reactions to different vaudeville shows and reported the results back to her employers. She was also an actress for a time and was Katharine Hepburn’s understudy in The Warrior’s Husband, who she was rumored to have had a fling with, but she found her niche in 1934 when New Faces premiered on Broadway. Nancy had written a majority of the lyrics in New Faces and with the musical’s success, she had found her creative sweet spot. Throughout her career, Nancy’s lyrics were performed for the world in popular Broadway revues such as One for The Money (1939), Two for the Show (1940), and Three to Make Ready (1946). She also wrote radio scripts for celebrities such as Beatrice Lillie and Fred Astaire and she even toured  Europe in the midst of World War II with the American Theater Wing War Players.

Nancy met her life partner, the famous Broadway actress Katharine Cornell (whose birthday we also covered!), during the production of the 1955 documentary The Unconquered. Produced by Nancy and narrated by Katharine, the film told the life story of Helen Keller and also won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Nancy and Katharine lived together as partners until Nancy’s death on February 18, 1985.

-LC