Actress/singer Lisa Kirk enjoyed a long career primarily as a nightclub entertainer, although she also created featured roles in Broadway musicals, acted on television shows, made some recordings, and even worked anonymously as a Hollywood "ghost singer," replacing the voice of Rosalind Russell in the 1962 film Gypsy. She was born Elise Marie Kirk in Charleroi, PA, on February 25, 1925, and raised in Roscoe, PA. Her father, George Kirk, sang in vaudeville and took his daughter on-stage as a child. As a teenager, she studied music and dance at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. In 1944, she was a big-band singer with Jimmy Palmer & His Orchestra in Baltimore.
After moving to New York and getting jobs in nightclubs and in the theater, she was cast in a featured part in the Broadway musical Allegro, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, which allowed her to sing the most memorable song in the show, "The Gentleman Is a Dope." Allegro was not a success, opening on October 10, 1947, and closing after only 315 performances on July 10, 1948. But it made Kirk's name. She appeared on the original Broadway cast album released by RCA Victor Records and quickly was cast in another major Broadway musical, getting the second female lead in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate and singing the coy "Always True to You in My Fashion" and "Why Can't You Behave." The show opened on December 30, 1948, and ran 1,077 performances, until July 28, 1951. Again, Kirk appeared on the original Broadway cast recording issued by Columbia Records, a chart-topping hit.
Kirk did not return to Broadway for many years, but she contracted with RCA Victor Records in 1949 and scored two chart hits in 1950, "Dearie," a duet with Fran Warren, and "The Old Piano Roll Blues," a duet with Eddie Cantor. (Sepia Records later compiled these and other pop recordings she made between 1949 and 1952 for the unlicensed CD I Feel a Song Comin' On.) In May 1953 she participated in a series of 10" LPs featuring songs from one vintage musical on one side, and songs from another on the other: Jumbo/Babes in Arms, Girl Crazy/Porgy & Bess, and Kiss Me, Kate/Anything Goes. She went on to become a top nightclub entertainer during the 1950s, also making appearances on TV variety series such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Jimmy Durante Show, The Walter Winchell Show, The Nat King Cole Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. Her frequent appearances on Talk of the Town (later known as The Ed Sullivan Show) are sampled on the album The Sullivan Years: An Evening with Rodgers & Hammerstein (TVT Records). She also made numerous appearances as an actress on such TV series as Studio One, Kraft Television Theater, The Motorola Television Hour, and General Electric Theater.
Her nightclub act was captured on her only solo LP, Lisa Kirk Sings at the Plaza, released by MGM Records in 1959. (Sepia Records later released an unlicensed reissue of the album on CD with bonus tracks including more of her early-'50s RCA recordings and some television transcriptions.) Also in 1959, she made yet another recording of Kiss Me, Kate, this one a studio cast album for Capitol Records. (The idea was to reconvene the principals of the Broadway production, also including Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison, and redo the score in stereo.) Her dubbing of Rosalind Russell's singing voice in Gypsy (and, of course, on the soundtrack album released on Warner Bros. Records) was one of her few jobs in feature films. Another was a small onscreen part in the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers (1968). She returned to Broadway as a replacement cast member in the 1963 musical Here's Love. Also in the '60s, she continued to work in variety (The Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Show) and as an actress (Bewitched) on TV.
Kirk was sidelined by a serious car accident in the late '60s, but she battled back and returned to her usual pursuits in the early '70s, relaunching her nightclub career with an appearance at the St. Regis Sheraton Hotel in New York in 1972 and taking a role in the Jerry Herman musical Mack & Mabel that ran on Broadway in the fall of 1974, with a cast album on ABC Records. (She re-created her performance of "Tap Your Troubles Away" on Herman's album An Evening with Jerry Herman, released by Laureate Records.) Her last Broadway appearance was in a revival of the Noël Coward comedy Design for Living that ran from June 20, 1984, to January 20, 1985. She continued to work in cabaret in her later years, appearing, for example, at the club Rainbow and Stars atop Rockefeller Center in 1989. On May 21 of that year, she was featured in a concert production of Porter's Nymph Errant in London, which was recorded for an album released by EMI Records. These were among her last performances. She contracted lung cancer that was diagnosed only weeks before her death at 65 on November 11, 1990, in New York. ~ William Ruhlmann