Isabel Bigley (February 23, 1926 – September 30, 2006) was an American actress, perhaps best remembered for originating the partof Sarah Brown in Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls.
Bigley was born in New York, the daughter of a salesman, and was educated at Walton high school in the Bronx before going to the Juilliard School of Music in 1944. Her Broadway debut was in the chorus of Oklahoma! in 1946. She followed the show to Drury Lane, where a brief period in the chorus led to the small part of Armina in 1947. She was so good that by the time the show closed in 1949, she was playing the female lead, Laurey, serenaded in The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.
News of her success got her recommendation to Feuer and his partner, Ernie Martin, for Guys and Dolls. Once the difficulty with Loesser was resolved, Bigley went on to be a sensation in the show, winning a Tony award in 1951. This was followed by a Theatre World award for the most promising newcomer.
When she sang Sarah's other hit, If I Were a Bell, critics remarked that that was how her voice sounded - like a bell. That same year, Bigley took part in the first television spectacular in colour. The show, Premiere, starred some of the most important American entertainment figures of the day.
When the Broadway production of Guys and Dolls ended in 1953, Rodgers and Hammerstein cast Bigley in the lead role of Jeannie in Me and Juliet, a show that ran for 358 performances. From then on, she concentrated on television, hosting the US version of the TV cabaret show Café Continental and appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. She was a regular, too, on the Paul Whiteman, Eddie Fisher and Abbott and Costello shows, and was on the team of the American What's My Line? She yearned to go back to the stage, but somehow the right part never cropped up at the right time.
In July 1953, Bigley married Lawrence Barnett, an important theatrical agency boss. She retired in 1958 to raise their six children.
Barnett and Bigley made many charitable contributions to arts education, including establishing a graduate program in arts policy and administration at Ohio State University. They were also strongly involved in fund-raising for an organisation devoted to finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).
Bigley lived in both Los Angeles and Rancho Mirage and in 2005 she was named chairwoman of the board of the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
She died in Los Angeles 30 September 2006, from undisclosed causes, aged 80. Her widower died on June 11, 2012, aged 98. (Info mainly edited from an article by Michael Freedland for The Guardian.)