TESSIE  O'SHEA

1914 - 1995

From 1920 to 1990, One of Great Britain's Most Talented Entertainers

ROYAL COMMAND PERFORMANCE

TONY AWARD WINNING BROADWAY ACTRESS

TELEVISION PLAYER

MOTION PICTURE STAR

LAS VEGAS HEADLINER

NIGHTCLUB SONGSTRESS

RECORDING ARTIST

COMEDIENNE

RADIO PERSONALITY

RACONTEUR

Say Hello to My Old Banjo

Tessie O'Shea was born in Cardiff, South Wales , of Irish father and a mother who was part Italian, part Jewish, part English and as Tessie says, "a little bit of everything."  At three, Tessie climbed on a stage during a garden party at a British seaside resort and belted out a rendition of "An Egg, An 'am And An Onion" -to the amazement of the audience and her parents.  Feeling that she could benefit from some professional training, her parents had her begin song and dance lessons at the age of four and, by seven, she was "on the road."

Her first engagements were in the valleys of Wales and, at 10, she was booked into the Bristol Hippodrome.  At 15, she went to Johannesburg to appear in a Christmas show for Schlesinger's African theatres and, received so well, was signed by Jack Hylton to sing in all his shows throughout Great Britain.

Two Ton Tessie From Tennessee

Every summer, Miss O'Shea played at Blackpool until she moved to London in 1957.  It was at Blackpool that she introduced what was to become her signature tune, "Two-Ton Tessie From Tennessee," accompanying herself on the banjo, which also was to become a symbol of her performances.  During World War II and the post war years, she played the famous London Palladium, with one engagement -"High Times"- lasting  a year.  Tessie also sang and danced in every area where there were servicemen, entertained in bomb  shelters to boost morale during the air raids, and performed at workers playtimes and for the wounded in hospitals.

Her most memorable moment, however, occurred just after D-Day in 1944 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth sent for her to appear at an informal party at Windsor Castle.  Their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret wanted to see and meet "Two-Ton Tessie," as they enjoyed hearing this funny lady sing on the radio.

Later, on a tour of America in 1952,  (In her recording, she said 1954, but then later remembered it was 1952)  Tessie went to the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village where two young men gave he a song they had just written, which she took back to London and recorded.  It was "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" and it became a hit in Europe  some nine years before Tony Bennett ever heard it.

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Returning from a tour of South Africa and Rhodesia in 1963, Tessie flew to New York where Noel Coward had invited her to star in his Broadway musical, The Girl Who Came to Supper.   Midway through the first act, dressed as a London fish-and-chips monger, Tessie came out, sang "London Is A Little Bit Of All Right" and "Saturday Night At the Rose and Crown" and did some light-footed dancing.  Although she was on for only 12 minutes, the first-night audience rose and gave Tessie O'Shea a roaring ovation.  She continued to stop the show every night for its run.  For her show stopping turn in this musical she won not only rave revues from  all the critics but also the Antoinette Perry Tony Award.  Musicians Union and Whitebread Theatre Awards.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree

"Tessie O'Shea...a great name---and a great act!" CUE; October 16, 1977

In the 1960's, Tessie appeared as entertainer in Jack Palance's television production of  "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which was nominated for Emmy Award.  Her British film credits included "The Way Around," "The Blue Lamp," "London Town," " The Shiralee," and "The Best House in London."  She also appeared in two Hollywood films "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and the classic "The Russians are Coming,"  the later Oscar nominated film.  In 1964 she was a regular on the short-lived CBS variety show  "The Entertainers."

In 1967, won acclaim as a Shakespeare actress in her five-month role as a nurse in "Romeo and Juliet" at the New Orleans Civic Center.  In 1968, Tessie had her own color TV special on BBC and the following year appeared in the sit-com, "As Good Cooks Go." She also had time to write a book entitled O'Shea Slimming Cook Book.

I'd Like to Teach The World to Sing

 

In 1971, she appeared at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in a successful British revue, but her first appearance there was in 1949 when there were only three hotels and a lot of desert.  From 1972 to 1975 Tessie returned to England to appear in plays at Torquay and, of course, Blackpool. 

Tessie O'Shea London's great music hall entertainer has introduced such popular songs as "Slow Boat to China," "Give Me Five Minutes More, "I'm Just a Little on the Lonely Side," and "Red Roses for a Blue Lady."  Recently she has completed record-breaking engagements at The Eden Roc Hotel in Durban (South Africa), The Empire Theatre in Glasgow, The Imperial Room of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto  and The Grand Finale and Town Hall in New York.

Introduction & Slow Boat to China

Miss O'Shea's performances are her autobiography in song "My act has universal appeal," she explains.  "Some want the cockney songs, some want the jazz stuff and some want the nice ballads. I sing 'em all."

Tessie is never happier than when she's performing, and her favorite show is always the current one.  Backed by accompanist Frank Still, whom she has known for 30 years, Tessie delivers more than an hour of delightful and versatile entertainment, working with such energy and effervescence that  one nearly forgets  she was doing the same sort of thing back in the '40s at the London Palladium.

 Her accompanist of many years, Mr. Ernest Wampola, retired and is now living with his wife Kathy and two daughters Kari and Kati in central Florida.

 

REVIEWS

"Miss O'Shea's uproarious humor is infectious."  MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS

"..a roly-poly music hall entertainer"  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

"Not since the heyday of the late, great Sophie Tucker has there been such a phenomenal show biz dynamo.  This Tessie O'Shea gal isn't just a star; she is a one-woman constellation."   BACK STAGE ,  February 4, 1977

"Miss O'Shea credits Sophie Tucker with being her inspiration when, as a girl of 15, she was starting her career in Blackpool...The blonde singer became fast friends with Miss Tucker and, shortly before the American  performer died, Miss O'Shea promised to perpetuate the memory of her work buy including some of the material in her own act.  She does it with great care and wonderful effect."    ALBANY-TIMES UNION,  February 22, 1978

Tessie and Sophie in London

O'Shea is a Sophie Tucker with a cockney charm...the give-them-their-money's-worth school of entertainment..."   THE WASHINGTON POST,  June 7, 1978

Tessie as Mrs. Hobday in "Bedknobs & Broomsticks"

 

 

Tessie as Alice Foss in "The Russians are Coming"

Ed Sullivan & Tessie on Toast of The Town

 

Tessie became a teenage idol after she appeared with the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960's  "The kids didn't know whether I was the Beatle's mother or a fifth Beatle," she chuckles. "But when I started to play my banjo ukulele, they screamed....and they've been screaming for me ever since."   LONDON'S SUNDAY PEOPLE

 

Tessie & Mike Douglas

 

I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover

Tessie & Me

REVIEWS

"Miss O'Shea, a large woman draped in a loosely fitting electric blue gown, bubbles with enthusiasm and unflagging energy as she sings, prances, chatters glibly and even bangs away on a banjo , sustaining  momentum that is high gear from the moment she enters.."   THE NEW YORK TIMES,  October 8, 1976

"She's full of pizzazz...and is expert at mixing sentiment with salty humor"    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES,  October 7, 1977

"The blonde performer is the epitome of the British music hall entertainers who form the backbone of England's show business.  Her voice is the kind that filled theaters long before amplification was developed.  In the tiny theater the walls are threatened with her volume."  ALBANY TIMES UNION,  February 22, 1978

"Wherever she goes she takes a little bit of Britain with her.  When she gives forth and booms and bellows in rich resounding voice, when her jokes make you spit you sides with laughter, when she strums her banjo (she is the fastest player of this instrument in the world), you see London and its pubs, Hampstead Heath and its roundabouts on a bank holiday...and you can smell the fish-and-chips of the old Kent Road--she is the barmaid, the Duchess, the Pygmalion of MY Fair Lady and a pedestrian on Baker Street...In short Tessie revives the Golden Age of the Music Hall of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  She is the prototype of the immortal English vaudeville artists."   LONG ISLAND ENTERTAINER

 

I'm On My Way to Tallahassee

"...the bombastic bombshell, beautiful bellowing Tessie O'Shea.. exudes good nature, is so full of bounce. 'joie de vivre,' vim and verve, that just looking at her makes one happy and gives one the lift we all need in a difficult world..."    LONG ISLAND ENTERTAINER

"...buxom, bouncing and beautiful Tessie O'Shea Britain's rollicking funny girl and number one comedienne...oozes hilarity and bubbles and sparkles like a glass of champagne..."   LONG ISLAND ENTERTAINER

"...a whirling blonde dervish in frenetic abandon.  She possesses a flashing smile; a trumpeting vibrant voice; and overwhelming vitality and sunny personality.  She is bombastic and noisy and indescribably funny...Tessie easily cajoles her listeners and annihilates formality, addresses all as ' luv' and leaves one exhausted from mirth."  WINNIPEG TRIBUNE

 

Tessie was born in Cardiff South Wales on 13 March 1914 and passed away after a short illness at her home in East Lake Weir, Florida on 21 April, 1995.  She was cremated.

William (Bill) Taggart,  email -- upwey2000@yahoo.com

This site was last updated 27 July, 2006

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