Helen Shipman (Helen Phyllis Shipman)
BiographyPittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Helen Shipman was born in Pennsylvania, USA in 1899 (the exact month and day is in question). Her obituary in 1984 (which was written by her husband, Edward J. Pawley) stated that she was 85, which would have made her birth in the year 1899. Other newspaper articles also reveal that she was born in 1899. Helen was the daughter of William H. and Annie L. (Mitchell) Shipman. Her mother, Annie, was a stage actress of some note. By the age of 12, Helen was recognized as one of the foremost child impersonators (of various stars) of the early 1900s. Read more... professional job was as "Baby Phyllis" appearing at the Duquesne theater in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She later (1908) toured on the B. F. Keith show circuit in a play titled "Little Nemo." She was one of the "Melvin Stoltz Little Players in Kiddyland." After the tour with "Little Nemo" was over, Helen and her mother and older sister moved to New York City in order to further Helen's career. In between tours on the B.F. Keith circuit, she worked in small shows which included various types of acts at the Palace Theatre in NYC. She sang songs composed for her by the well-known lyricist, Neville Fleeson. In 1915, Helen was invited by Flo Ziegfeld to co-star in his new "Midnight Frolic" production which opened at the Rooftop Theatre of the New Amsterdam Hotel in NYC. Helen was a childhood friend of George and Ira Gershwin and, later, Rudy Valee. Both George Gershwin and Rudy Valee became enamored with Helen at different times in her career. The first known Broadway show in which Helen performed was "Robinson Crusoe, Jr." which debuted in 1916 when she was only 17. It was a musical extravaganza which featured Al Jolson and Kitty Doner and opened at the "Little Theatre" (now the "Helen Hayes Theatre"). Most of Helen's stage roles were in musicals and musical comedies. Her vocal range was mezzo-soprano. She is known to have sung/acted/danced in at least 16 Broadway shows. One of those 16 Broadway shows, titled "Oh Boy!", was the longest-running play at the Princess Theatre in NYC. Helen is probably best known for her starring role in the Broadway production titled "Irene." She toured with this play to cities across the country. Helen Shipman also appeared in at least 13 movies; such as, "Naughty Marietta", "Christopher Bean", "The Great Power", and "Wife vs. Secretary." Helen effectively retired after her marriage to the Broadway/movie/radio actor, Edward J. Pawley in 1937. She is sometimes erroneously noted as the second wife of the actor/writer Robert Keith and mother of his son, Brian Keith (the actor). This is information incorrect. Brian Keith's mother was Helena Shipman of Aberdeen, Washington. She was a stage actress of some note, but never achieved the stardom of Helen Shipman. The similarity of names has, evidently, led to this confusion. Helen (Shipman) Pawley died April 13, 1984 while a resident of Rock Mills, Rappahannock County, Virginia. She died after being operated on for a twisted bowel. She also had a rather weak heart. Helen and her husband did not have any children together. Her husband, Edward Pawley, had one child... a son by his first marriage to stage actress Martina May Martin. The son's name is Martin Herbert Pawley. Edward Pawley was a leading man on Broadway in the 1920s & early 1930s. He appeared in over 50 movies from the early 1930s to the early 1940s. He then gravitated to radio where he played "Steve Wilson" on the very popular radio drama show, "Big Town" from 1943 to 1951. He replaced Edward G. Robinson in that role. Both Edward and Helen (Shipman) Pawley were cremated and their ashes were buried near their home in Rock Mills, Rappahannock County, Virginia.