Joan Roberts, the stage and film actress who created the role of "Laurey" in the original 1943 production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA!, died on Monday August 13, in Stamford, Connecticut. She was 95, and died of congestive heart failure, according to her son, John Donlon.
Born on July 15, 1917 in New York City, Roberts appeared on Broadway in the musicals SUNNY RIVER, MARINKA, ARE YOU WITH IT?, and HIGH BUTTON SHOES, in addition to her role in OKLAHOMA! Her final Broadway appearance was as Heidi Schiller in the 2001 revival of FOLLIES.
Joan Roberts also performed in summer stock, television and film (making her professional debut at the age of 5 in an episode of the OUR GANG film serial, according to Donlon). In recent years, Ms. Roberts conducted workshops on singing and voice projection. In 2011 she was honored by the University of North Carolina's School of the Arts while attending their replica production of the original OKLAHOMA!, where she was joined by fellow original OKLAHOMA! star Celeste Holm (who died on July 15 of this year.) Joan Roberts’ autobiography, STAGE RIGHT, was released by Kaufmann Publishing earlier this summer.
In a statement this evening, Rodgers & Hammerstein President Ted Chapin said: “Joan Roberts was a wonderful character. When I first met her and that feisty spirit came with a decidedly Long Island accent, her uniqueness became apparent. But she was sharp as a tack with a wonderful memory of Oklahoma! It is sad to see one more member of the original cast leave us.”
Joan Roberts was married to John Donlon, MD, until his death in 1965. She was married to Alexander Peter, DDS, until his passing in 1993. She is survived by her son John Donlon and his wife, Margaret, of New Canaan, CT; two stepsons, Robert Peter, MD and his wife Mary Ann, of Hillsborough, NC, and James Peter of Des Moines, IA.
Funeral arrangements are as follows: visitation on Thursday August 16 from 2-4PM and 7-9PM at Macken Mortuary, 52 Clinton Avenue, Rockville Centre, New York. The funeral mass will be held on Friday August 17 at 10 AM at St. Agnes Cathedral, 29 Quealy Place, Rockville Centre.
Photo: Joan Roberts and AlfrEd Drake from the original 1943 Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! Photo Courtesy of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company.