STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Mere words can’t describe the meteoric rise of Philadelphia’s own Peggy King. Best remembered as “Pretty Perky Peggy King” from the 50’s hit TV program “The George Gobel Show,” King, who turns 85 years young next month, defied overwhelming odds to become one of the decade’s star performers.
Barely 5’ 2” tall, King’s larger than life personality, commanding vocal talent and relentless drive led to a spectacular career in live radio, film and TV.
Routinely working alongside icons Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra (and often compared to Judy Garland), King became one of Hollywood’s most charming treasures. She was a frequent guest on “The Steve Allen Show,” “American Bandstand,” “The Perry Como Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Jack Benny Show.”
King remains one of the few great American jazz pop vocalists still performing.
Born and raised in Greensburg, Pa. to working class parents, King recalls the abject poverty her family endured.
“My parents were strong people, but I came from nothing,” recalls King as we met in her Philadelphia apartment. “I was determined to help them. I did not want to live the rest of my life in that kind of poverty. I wanted to move on, and I felt that I had enough talent to do that.”
“I always wanted to sing,” added King. “I asked my mother, ‘When did I start singing?’ She said, ‘I don’t remember when you weren’t singing.’
I drove my parents mad. I sang from morning to night. When I was 7 or 8, I just knew that I wanted to be a professional singer. Nothing else mattered to me. I wanted to be a singer so I could buy my parents a house.”
The teenage King relocated to Cleveland, Ohio where she found work on radio and stage. After performing with the legendary Charlie Spivak, Ralph Flanagan and Ray Anthony Bands, King found even greater success in sunny California in film, TV and recording.
“I felt like someone in a fairy tale,” recalls King. “I couldn’t believe this was really happening. I knew I could sing, but I didn’t know I was going to be able to get work. I became one of the few (professional) girl singers of that time.”
Contracted by MGM in 1952, King made her big screen debut in Vincente Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful,” starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.
Recommended by Bing Crosby, a great fan of her work, King began a three-year tenure as a regular on the popular George Gobel TV show in 1954.
“My agent took me aside and said, ‘Someone is going to call you and ask you to do weekly TV at Saturday night at ten o’clock,’” recalls King. “’It’s the most watched time of all weekend. It’s almost impossible that the show won’t be a hit.’ I was doing very well working five days a week and making good money. I thought, ‘do I want to do this?’ I called my folks and they said, ‘we don’t think you should pass up an opportunity like this. We think you should take it!’”
“So I made the leap and took the show,” added King. “Within two weeks, I couldn’t walk down the street. That’s how famous I was and how fast things happened. It was big! I still wonder how it all happened.”
1955 was a banner year for King. Inking a recording contract with Mitch Miller at Columbia Records, she released two bestselling albums, “Wish Upon a Star” and “When Boy Meets Girl.”
Performing at the Academy Awards, King sang the nominated song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” and was named “Best New Singer” of 1955-56 by both Billboard and Downbeat Magazines. She also sang commercial jingles for Hunts tomato sauce.
“Once I started, I went from one stepping stone to another,” recalls King. “I’ve always been one of those people who was in the right place at the right time. I’m kind of fearless. I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like not to know what’s going to happen next week. At first I wanted to do it to help my folks. I don’t think I knew how much I wanted to do it for me. Every job I went for I got. It was weird. I would walk in and sing, and I would get the job.”
By the late 1950’s, rock and roll was in flux, and the teen idol craze was building. King could see her musical genre fading. It was only a matter of time before her career would be impacted.
Fate led King to meet the love of her life, Sam Rudofker, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist (and owner of the Philadelphia-based After 6 formal wear company). The couple married in a matter of months. Following her heart, King opted for domestic life.
“There was something about him,” recalls King. “He was so nice. He was the one, and I knew it. I had been in the business for a long time, and it was time for me to go. He insisted I continue my career even though I didn’t want to. I was so impressed by that. I saw the house in the suburbs. I saw what I didn’t have as a kid. I wanted the family more than the career. So, I took the opportunity.”
“I was so happy with him. He was everything I ever wanted. I don’t know how I ever got that lucky.”
King’s storybook marriage came to an end in 1994 with Sam’s passing. Other than an occasional benefit or public appearance, she maintained a low profile.
Tragedy struck in 2000 when King’s adult son, Jonathan, unexpectedly passed away.
“Losing my son was something that I can’t even describe,” says King. “To live through the death of a child, I still to this day can’t tell you how I made it. You never get over it. However, I do not dwell on it any longer, and I think maybe that has to do with going back to singing.”
A chance meeting between King and the All Star Jazz Trio was fateful. Soon, she was singing with Andy Kahn (piano), Bruce Kaminsky (bass) and Bruce Klauber (drums) at Philly’s Chris’ Jazz Café, wowing an audience.
“It worked from the beginning,” says King. “I never really thought of coming back. I wouldn’t have had I not heard them. I guess it was meant to be. I guess I was waiting for somebody to come along and pull me back in.”
“What sets us apart is that I’m absolutely fearless,” added King. “If Andy decides to change keys in the middle of a song, I go with him. We look at each other, and we know what we’re doing. I know that, when the trio is playing for me, they will not let me fall. They are my safety net. It works. I don’t ever want to work with another band. I want to work with them.”
“I don’t want to see the kind of singing I do go down the drain, and I fear that it is,” says King. “I am determined to keep the great American songbook alive.”
Always focused on the happily ever after, King did realize her dream of buying her parents a new home. They settled in the town of Ravenna, Ohio.
IF YOU GO
What: Peggy King and the All Star Jazz Trio
Where: Sellersville Theatre; 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
When: Concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday Feb. 1.
Info.: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or on-line at www.st94.com.