Judy Canova (November 20, 1913 – August 5, 1983), born Juliette Canova, (some sources indicate Julietta Canova), was an American comedienne, actress, singer, and radio personality. She appeared on Broadway and in films.
She hosted her own self-titled network radio program, a popular series broadcast from 1943 to 1955.
She was born in Starke, Florida, one of seven siblings, to Joseph Francis Canova (1873-1926), a businessman, and Henrietta E. Canova (née Perry; 1872-1930), a singer. Young Juliette (or Julietta) became “Judy” and began her show-business career with a family vaudeville routine, joining her sister Annie and brother Zeke.
Their performances as the Three Georgia Crackers took them from Florida theaters to the Village Barn, a Manhattan club. Canova sang, yodeled, and played guitar, and she was typed as a wide-eyed likable country bumpkin, often barefoot and wearing her hair in braids, sometimes topped with a straw hat.
Sometimes she was introduced as The Ozark Nightingale or The Jenny Lind of the Ozarks. In truth, the Ozarks do not extend to her home state of Florida, and in an interview with Rosemary Clooney she said that her family came from the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain, though other sources say the island of Minorca.
When bandleader Rudy Vallée offered the still-teenaged Canova a guest spot on his radio show in 1931, The Fleischmann Hour, the door opened to a career that spanned more than five decades. The popularity of the Canova family led to numerous performances on radio in the 1930s, and they made their Broadway theater debut in the revue Calling All Stars. An offer from Warner Bros. led to several bit parts before she signed with Republic Pictures.
She recorded for the RCA Victor label and appeared in more than two dozen Hollywood films, playing leading roles as well as supporting parts, including Scatterbrain (1940), Joan of Ozark (1942), and Lay That Rifle Down (1955).
In 1943, she began her own radio program, The Judy Canova Show, that ran for twelve years—first on CBS and then on NBC. Playing herself as a love-starved Ozark bumpkin dividing her time between home and Southern California, Canova was accompanied by a cast that included voicemaster Mel Blanc as Pedro (using the accented voice he later gave the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales) and Sylvester (using the voice that later became associated with the Looney Tunes character); Ruth Perrott as Aunt Aggie; Ruby Dandridge as Geranium; Joseph Kearns as Benchley Botsford; and Sharon Douglas as Brenda.
Gale Gordon, Sheldon Leonard, Gerald Mohr, and Hans Conried also appeared sporadically.
During World War II, she closed her show with the song “Goodnight, Soldier” (“Wherever you may be… my heart’s lonely… without you”) and used her free time to sell U.S. War Bonds. After the war, she introduced a new closing theme that she once said she remembered her own mother singing to her when she was a small child:
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
When you wake
You’ll patty-patty cake
And ride a shiny little pony.
By the time her radio program ended in 1955, Canova made a smooth transition to television with appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Steve Allen Show, Matinee Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Make Room For Daddy,and other shows. In 1967, she portrayed Mammy Yokum in an unsold TV pilot adapted from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner. She also worked on Broadway and in Vegas nightclubs through the early 1970s, touring with No, No Nanette in 1971. She appeared as a mystery guest on the TV show What’s My Line on July 18, 1954.
Her hayseed character developed as radio’s female equivalent of her first husband, comedian Bob Burns. A nationally known cracker-barrel radio and film personality during the 1930s and 1940s, Burns was recognized by his own hillbilly origins as “The Arkansas Traveler” and “The Arkansas Philosopher.” The couple were married in 1936, but the marriage lasted only three years.
Briefly, Canova then was married to James Ripley, but the union soon was annulled during 1941. Her third marriage was to Chester B. England in 1943, which ended in divorce by 1950. Her fourth and final husband was musician Filberto Rivero in 1950. She lived in Palm Springs, California from 1956 to 1959.
The union produced a daughter Diana (born 1953), but the marriage ended in 1964. Diana Canova is an actress best known for her role as Corinne on Soap.
In 1983 at age 69, Judy Canova died from cancer and her ashes were interred in the secluded Columbarium of Everlasting Light section, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Her ashes are among those of her siblings Annie (1901–1994), and Zeke Canova (1898–1980).
Canova is honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the film industry (6821 Hollywood Boulevard) and a second star for her radio career (6777 Hollywood Boulevard).