The beautiful and unknown Peggy Corday. Born in Maryland (possibly Baltimore) circa. 1923, it appears that Peggy first came to public attention with a walk-on role in Richard Kollmar's Broadway musical, Early to Bed. Featuring the music of "Fats" Waller, Early to Bed debuted at the Broadhurst Theater (New York) on June 17, 1943.
Peggy would have a mere three lines.
It's unknown how long Peggy stayed with Early to Bed (which would run until May 13th, 1944) but on March 29th, 1944, it was announced that Peggy has been cast as Venus in the operetta Helen Goes to Troy. The legendary Max Reinhardt envisioned Venus as young, tall and with a heavy mane of red hair. This is exactly what he found in Ms. Corday!
The tounge-in-cheek look at Ancient Greece was expected to be a hit for the recently successful New Opera Company, opening at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) in New York on April 24th, 1944.
Of Peggy, the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Evening News would say "... there was one honey of a doll who will have the wolf pack in hot pursuit-her name is Peggy Corday and in the show she's-approximately enuf-Venus."
The marketing team for Piels Beer clearly understood Peggy's appeal as well. Sponsoring Helen Goes to Troy, part of their advertising campaign include a supposed endorsement from Peggy: "Piel's light Beer! My favorite."
Somehow I question the authenticity of this quote!
On May 29th, 1944, LIFE Magazine ran a photo of Peggy for their coverage of Helen Goes to Troy. Another picture of Peggy in costume as Venus would appear in the June 23rd, 1944, issue of the U.S. military magazine Yank, The Army Weekly. It is this photo that Peggy is probably most known for today. (This photo would also be printed in the British version of Yank on July 2nd, 1944.)
Despite mostly positive reviews, the public simply didn't come out to see Helen Goes to Troy. It closed on July 15th, 1944, after only 97 performances.
June 26, 1944, Peggy appears on page 34 of Newsweek as their Weekly Pin-Up. "Perky Peggy Corday of the Broadway hit 'Helen Goes to Troy' is this week's pin-up girl for servicemen."
As the run of Helen Goes to Troy was facing its final curtain, The Daily News (New York) ran a notice that Peggy was getting ready to debut as a singer. Though no further information is given, one Peggy Corday ("the singer") is quoted in a May 4th, 1945, New York Post article mentioning José Melis' performance at New York's Le Ruban Bleu: "For him I'd wear bobby sox."
Back to 1944. The Daily News also reported on September 20th that Peggy "will have a feature role in Felix Brentano's 'Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston.'" It would be another year before Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston would open and Peggy's name would not appear among the cast.
She would begin 1946 by gracing the cover of the January issue of Picture-Wise magazine.
Though Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston appeared not to materialize for Peggy, good notices for her role in Helen Goes to Troy led to screen tests and summer theater. She appeared as The Woman Scorned in the Boston Summer Theater production of Burlesque, acting beside Bert Lahr (that's the Cowardly Lion for you uninitiated out there!), in July of 1946. More stage appearances followed, including opening the Westport (Connecticut) Playhouse's 1948 season with Lysistrata. Peggy began appearing on television as well, "including a Theater Guild production with Gertrude Lawrence." (Was this The Great Catherine, on May 2nd, 1948?)
Peggy also appeared alongside photographer and host Joseph Costa on the television program Photographic Horizons, which debuted in December of 1947. For the live broadcast on WABD (now WNYW), New York, professional photographers would be brought on to discuss their photographic techniques. Peggy, of course, was their model. Of her role, Peggy would say "It's a wonderful experience because it requires spontaneity and naturalness and the ability to make guests feel happy and at ease." Photographic Horizons would come to an end right as Peggy was being crowned Miss Television in March, 1949, by Radio and Television Best Magazine. However, as one job was ending, another was beginning...
Left: Peggy appears on a (presumably) January, 1949, episode of Maxine Barrat's fashion program, And Everything Nice, for the DuMont network. (Syndicated article from the Detroit Free Press, January 30th, 1949.)
The famed amateur anthropologist Robert Ripley began his Believe It or Not television series on March 1st, 1949, for NBC. Peggy was hired as his able sidekick. According to Ripley biographer Neal Thompson, "Her first moment as Ripley's on-air assistant was a shrill scream of pretend shock as she opened a closet door to find Ripley's lifelike Masakichi statue staring back at her. Corday was bright-eyed and quick on her feet; her role would in part require her to keep the unpredictable host on track." Peggy's abilities to keep the show on track would come in most handy during the May 24th, 1949, broadcast of Believe It or Not when host Ripley unexpectedly fell silent. Corday kept the chatter going, helping the blacked-out Ripley to his chair without the audience being the wiser. Ripley was dead of a heart-attack two days later.
The last we seem to hear of Peggy is on the July 2nd, 1949, episode of Hollywood Screen Test, the first television series regularly broadcast by the American Broadcasting Company. Hosted by Neil Hamilton, established actors would act in scenes along side up-and-comers. Peggy Corday would appear along side up-and-comer Dickinson Eastham (later to be known as Richard Eastham) and actress Peggy Knudsen.
And that's it. The trail runs cold after July of 1949. There do not appear to be any further television or stage appearances, though there must have been. However, as far as popular culture is concerned, Peggy Corday simply ends there. So what ever became of this promising actress? Did the momentum just never pick-up? Did she tire of acting and entertaining? Did she abandon it all for that special someone?
If you have any more information on Peggy, I would love to hear from you. Thanks!
- The Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY) March 29,1944
- The Evening News (Harrisburg, PA) April 29, 1944
- The Daily News (New York, NY) May 28th, 1944
- Life Magazine, May 29, 1944
- Yank, The Army Weekly, July 2, 1944
- The Daily News (New York, NY) July 7th, 1944
- The Daily News (New York, NY) September 20th, 1944
- New York Times (Syndicated column) May 4th, 1945
- The Detroit Free Press January 30th, 1949
- Radio and Television Best Magazine, March 1949
- Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) March 22nd, 1949
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette July 2nd, 1949
- Best Sellers: From the U.S. Government Printing Office, Volume 21 (1961)
- A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It Or Not" Ripley by Neal Thompson (2013)
- The Complete Book of 1940s Broadway Musicals by Dan Dietz (2015)
- The Early Shows: A Reference Guide to Network and Syndicated PrimeTime by Richard Irvin (2018)