With 17 appearances at the London Palladium to his credit, Jim Bailey was the most famous American female impersonator in Britain.
He specialised in such divas as Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, mimicking their voices and characteristics meticulously. He became Marilyn Monroe in a photo shoot, and in stage plays took on the roles of Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead. But he dismissed the description of himself as an impersonator, styling himself instead as an illusionist or a character actor.
His prowess as an impressionist became evident when, as a young boy, he imitated his mother’s friends. He attended the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and trained as a lyric tenor before moving to New York and landing work in the choruses of stage shows.
He also developed a cabaret act that, in time, became a ‘must-see’ at such venues as Caesar’s Palace and the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. His international career was launched after appearing on Ed Sullivan’s television show as Judy Garland singing The Man that Got Away.
Later on television, he and Carol Burnett sang a comic version of Happy Days Are Here Again, with Bailey cast as Streisand. But the spookiest pairing of all was a concert at the Flamingo in Las Vegas when Bailey as Garland sang alongside her daughter, Liza Minnelli.
When he appeared in London six years ago on the 40th anniversary of Garland’s death, The Times reported: “It can scarcely be described as an act, for Bailey inhabits Garland’s persona to such an extent that, well, there she is. It is a supreme illusion.”
James William Bailey, who was born on January 10, 1938, died on May 30, aged 77.