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Born in Omaha, Nebraska and first finding a musical outlet with local musical group Hank's Hepcats, Wilson headed to New York City during World War II and found work in two of Manhattan's leading nightclubs, the Latin Quarter (nightclub) and the Copacabana.
She made her Broadway stage debut in the 1946 revue Three to Make Ready. In 1951, she moved to London to star in the West End production of Kiss Me, Kate and remained there for four years, appearing in shows such as South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She returned to New York to replace Joan Diener in Kismet. Additional Broadway credits include The Pajama Game (1954), Jimmy (1969), Park (1970), and Legs Diamond (1988), for which she received a Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also toured in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music.
In 1957, Wilson sang with Ray Anthony and his Orchestra, contributing vocals to a number of songs in the soundtrack to the film This Could Be The Night. Wilson also had an acting role in the film, as singer Ivy Corlane.
Wilson's television credits include regular roles on the American daytime soap opera The Secret Storm. She also appeared in a Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of Kiss Me, Kate and numerous episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show.
With her second husband, actor/producer Michael McAloney, Wilson had two sons, Holt and Michael, Jr., who attended school in Ireland while their parents worked in New York City. When the marriage failed, Wilson sent the boys to live with her parents in Omaha. When they reached their teen years, she retired and joined them.
In 1983, with her sons grown and her parents deceased, she found her niche and forged her reputation as a cabaret performer, known primarily for her dramatic delivery of torch songs and show tunes. Her recordings include My Old Flame, Live From the Russian Tea Room, Julie Wilson At the St. Regis, and collections devoted to the songbooks of Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, and George and Ira Gershwin.
Holt McAloney now acts under the name Holt McCallany. Michael McAloney Jr. died in 1989.
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