'Eileen,' Musicals Star Blair Dies

Janet Blair, the beautiful star of several 1940s musicals and comedies, has died at the age of 85.

The actress passed away on Monday, Feb. 19 from complications of pneumonia at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., report news sources.

Born Martha Janet Lafferty in 1921 in Altoona, Pa., Blair got her first taste of performing while singing in the church choir and taking voice and dance lessons at the Ruth Barnes School of Dance. She landed an audition with bandleader Hal Kemp through a family friend, and by 1940, she had hit the road to sing with his band at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles.

A year later, Kemp died in a traffic accident, but by this time Blair had bee spotted by a Columbia Pictures talent scout. After the musicians disbanded, she switched to movies by signing a $100 a week contract with the studio.

Her career was filled with fairly lackluster roles until Rosalind Russell recommended her for the title role in the comedy "My Sister Eileen," which promptly won her critical praise and bettter roles. Her films during that golden time included "Broadway," "Once Upon a Time," "The Fabulous Dorseys," "The Fuller Brush Man," "Something to Shout About" and "The Black Arrow."

At that point, she left films because her roles were just the stereotypical fawning females. Blair moved to the stage by playing Mary Martin in "South Pacific," and never missed any of the 1,200 performances over three years. During the tour, she married her second husband, producer-director Nick Mayo, with whom she had children Amanda and Andrew.

The '40s and '50s brought Blair to TV, and she appeared in "Ford Theatre," "Philco TV Playhouse," "Lux Video Theatre" and "U.S. Steel Hour." She also starred opposite Sid Caesar in "Caesar's Hour" and played Henry Fonda's wife in the "The Smith Family." Her last TV appearance was on "Murder, She Wrote."

Blair is survived by her two children.