POLLY PEPPER was born Maryanne Schlitzman, in Hollywood, California, on January 16, 1942. (The same day Carole Lombard died.) The only child of Lucille Schlitzman (there is no record of her father), Maryanne was a dreamer.
At age 5 she decided that when she grew up she would be an internationally acclaimed entertainment icon. She actually began her career in show business selling maps to movie stars’ homes. However, she quickly realized that she wanted to live in a movie star’s home instead of simply giving directions to them. So she quit this job and earnestly began to pursue casting agents and film producers, in search of film and television roles.
Intuitively knowing that her name didn’t match her personality, Maryanne changed it to Polly Pepper after hearing a commercial for a popular soft drink. An actor who squawked like a parrot demanded, “Polly wants a Dr. Pepper!” She omitted the Dr. and became Polly Pepper.
An alumnus of Hollywood High, Polly appeared in all of her school’s variety shows and pep rallies. After graduation, she set out for New York, intent on becoming a Broadway star. However, fate had other plans for the talented young girl from L.A. Although she frequently auditioned for the chorus of Broadway musicals, her lack of training in dance and voice led to her never being cast in any of them. Then, one day, down to her last dime but giving her dream one more shot, she auditioned for the Broadway musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Polly didn’t get into the chorus of that musical either. But the rehearsal pianist, who knew the personnel manger at The Tonight Show, which then starred Jack Paar, suggested that she apply to the show’s page program.
Polly landed the job but was almost nearly fired on her first day when, during Mr. Paar’s opening monologue, she elbowed a member of the audience, and in what became her signature wiseacre voice, said, “He must be new at his job too!” Mr. Paar stopped his prepared jokes and called Polly up to the stage for a coast-to-coast reprimand. However, with nothing to lose, Polly faced off against Paar to hysterically funny results. In that very moment, a star was born, and Polly Pepper was soon offered opportunities to be a guest on all of the popular musical/comedy television shows of the day.
Among her more memorable appearances were on The Perry Como Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Dean Martin Show, and in a classic Bob Hope Special, which launched her own career as a musical/comedy variety show hostess.
|Polly won one of 13 Emmys for her 1972 Christmas special. Click image to enlarge.
But while Polly Pepper was enjoying unparalleled success in show business, her personal life was less than stellar. Her first marriage, to unproduced screenwriter Larry Stevens, was short lived. Although the union produced one child (a boy, Tim), actress Sedra Stone (1940-2007) was named as co-respondent in Polly’s divorce from Larry. Polly found solace in the arms of investment broker Jeffrey Small, who became her second husband. However, he too left Polly to marry the recently divorced Stone. Polly never married again.
In addition to her own variety show, Polly's long list of television credits is too extensive to note in its entirety. However, among the most acclaimed are appearances on The Tony Bixter Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Bob Hope’s Christmas in Palmdale, The Smothers Brothers Farewell to Hollywood, and Rico Chavez: Barrio Brother. Polly is also known for her appearances on The Match Game, To Tell the Truth, and The Hollywood Squares. Recently, she was a judge on the summer replacement show, I’ll Do Anything to Become Famous.
Her feature film credits include Crawling Eyeball 2: The Vision Returns, It Ate Kowalski, and It Oozed through the Crack, among others. Pepper also earned a gold record for her #1 hit song, “For New Kate.”
When not traveling the world performing in classic musicals and comedies, Polly enjoys hosting intimate dinner parties at her fabled home in Bel Air, Pepper Plantation. She is an avid reader of mysteries and movie star biographies, and supports numerous charitable causes, including the Beverly Hills Police Department. Champagne is her beverage of choice.
Who Will Play Legendary Polly Pepper on TV?
Calling Kim Catrall, Goldie Hawn, JoAnne Worley, Michele Lee. Readers and critics alike have suggested that the heroine of R.T.Jordan’s cozy Polly Pepper Mystery series sounds like a natural fit for a talented actress of a certain age. Author R.T. Jordan says when his books are made into a television series, he wants Rita Wilson’s name to be added to the list of Polly Pepper hopefuls. Jordan says, “I don’t really care who plays Polly. Just throw me a ton o’ money for the TV/film rights!”
What would Polly Pepper say?