Singer-actor Lewis no more

LOS ANGELES: American actress and singer Monica Lewis, who was the voice of the Chiquita Banana cartoon character, has died. She was 93.

The former Benny Goodmna vocalist, who headlined the very first broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show, died on June 12 of natural causes at her apartment in Woodland Hills, California, reports

Born in Chicago to a musical family headed by her father Leon Lewis — a symphonic composer and conductor, Lewis studied voice with her mother from the time she was a toddler, but when her family faced a financial turmoil during the Depression, they moved to New York to start afresh.

She quit school at the age of 17 and took a job as a radio vocalist to supplement the family’s income and soon had her own programme on WMCA. In 1943, jazz group Benny Goodman’s vocalist Peggy Lee eloped with guitarist Dave Barbour, and Goodman was frantically auditioning girls trying to find a replacement. Lewis auditioned and got the job, performing with Goodman that same night on national radio.

In 1950, Lewis signed an exclusive contract with studio MGM for both films and recordings. Groomed by the studio’s drama coach Lillian Burns, she was given singing, dancing and acting roles in films like Inside Straight, The Strip, Everything I Have Is Yours among others.

She began a 14-year campaign as the voice of Chiquita Banana, a popular series of musical cartoons that were shown in movie theatres. She also made cameo appearances in several of her husband’s films, in order to accompany him on location.

Some of her films are Earthquake, Charley Varrick, Nunzio, and The Sting II.

Lewis is survived by sons Rocky and Mike (the noted jazz pianist) and three grandchildren.