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Shani > Biography

Shani Wallis was born on April 14, 1933 in Tottenham, England and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Following training, she played the lead in her first West End musical titled Call Me Madam at the Coliseum in March 1952, playing the juvenile female lead of Princess Maria. The show ran for a year. Wallis joined with comedian Fred Emney, Happy As A King, starring as Juliet opposite Dickie Henderson. Opening at the Princes Theatre in May 1953, it was her only real mistake, closing after only 26 performances. Her next show, Wish You Were Here, was an immensely unattractive Broadway blockbuster from Harold Rome, dumped at the Casino in October 1953. The vulgarity about the goings on in American holiday camps were not well recieved, so Wallis did her best to make the evening bearable. The following year she was in a variety revue, You'll Be Lucky, at the Adelphi, with the radio comic Al Read, Wonderful Town in which she was cast as Eileen Sherwood opposite established British star, Pat Kirkwood, at the Princes Theatre in February 1955. At first, Kirkwood attracted the most attention, but Wallis showed that she was the best around when it came to attractive young leading ladies who could sing amazingly well. In 1958 she was ideally cast as Sharon McLonergan in a British tour of Finian's Rainbow co-starring Bobby Howes, but it never seemed likely to be seen in London. Then it was back to variety when she brought glamour and a dash of West End quality to Fine Fettle at the Palace Theatre in August 1959. The following year she took over the title role of the French-British musical Irma La Douce at the Lyric Theatre. She moved to America and seems never to have been out of work, establishing a firm reputation as a cabaret performer, and joining a bewildering number of top-line stars in concert appearances. She had played the London Palladium, and polished off the Greek Theatre with Jerry Lewis, and starred at Disneyland, the Waldorf and, in London, the Talk of the Town. She was often found sharing shows with Liberace. Along the way she did musicals in stock, including South Pacific and The King and I, and played Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing in Australia. On Broadway in May 1966, for A Time for Singing, a delightful and adventurous musicalisation of Richard Llewellyn's novel How Green Was My Valley. As Angharad Morgan, Wallis shone with a brilliance that suggested she had matchless qualities, bringing reality and the deepest feeling to her numbers, 'Oh How I Adore Your Name', the rollicking 'When He Looks At Me' and 'I'm Always Wrong'. But A Time For Singing was finished after 41 performances. She had worked in films, having appeared with Charlie Chaplin in A King In New York, but in 1968 her career had an unexpected boost when she won the role of Nancy in the film version of Lionel Bart's Oliver! Wallis came to star in the most successful British musical of the 1960s. Shani also reprised the part on stage, in Los Angeles. From 1985 to 1987 she performed in 42nd Street, and for five years from 1985 went on a world tour with her old mate Liberace. It was ten years later that she came back to Britain to play Aunt Bessie in Always at the Victoria Palace in May of 1997. She made the most of her one big number, 'The Reason For Life Is To Love', performing as well as any of the other stars performing that night. Since then Shani has made appearances in a reoccuring role on The Young and the Restless, as the nanny Frances for young Abby, and recently played the role of Greta in the 2006 film The Mojave Phone Booth. When she isn't acting, Shani spends her time with her husband, agent and former actor Bernard Rich, since their marriage in 1965, along with their daughter, costumer designer Rebecca Rich.

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