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Peggy Ryan, 80; Dancer, Actress

November 01, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Peggy Ryan, the tap-dancing partner to Donald O'Connor in more than a dozen film musicals in the 1940s and an actress who served as Jack Lord's secretary on television's "Hawaii Five-O," has died. She was 80.

Ryan died Saturday in Las Vegas' Sunrise Hospital, the hospital's spokeswoman, Cheryl Smith, said Sunday.

The dancer, who had taught tap and produced dance revues in Las Vegas for the last several years, died of complications from two strokes, Dottie Fusch, a friend who had danced with Ryan, said Sunday.

Fusch said Ryan was teaching and performing until a few days before she entered the hospital and on Sept. 24 had entertained her Hollywood contemporaries, the Jivin' Jack and Jills, with a show at Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.

Born Margaret O'Rene Ryan on Aug. 28, 1924, in Long Beach, Ryan began dancing professionally at age 3 in her parents' vaudeville act, the Dancing Ryans. She also appeared in Education Pictures' "Baby Burlesks," and at age 6 played Jill in "The Wedding of Jack and Jill."

Over the next two decades, she danced and acted, usually as a comedian, in more than two dozen films, including an uncredited appearance in the 1940 classic "The Grapes of Wrath."

Among her films with O'Connor were "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in 1942, "Mister Big" in 1943, and "Chip Off the Old Block," "This Is the Life," "The Merry Monahans" and "Bowery to Broadway" in 1944.

Her final picture was "All Ashore" with Mickey Rooney in 1953.

Ryan danced in stage revues around the world, including London's Palladium, with her second husband, Ray McDonald. She also worked in television, starting with the memorable 1948 premieres of two variety shows, Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" and Milton Berle's "Texaco Star Theater."

The actress moved to Honolulu after marrying her third husband, novelist and Honolulu Advertiser columnist Eddie Sherman. She choreographed stage productions of "Funny Girl" and "The Music Man" there and taught dancing at the University of Hawaii.

In 1969, Ryan won her longest-running TV role as Jenny Sherman, secretary to Lord's Det. Steve McGarrett on "Hawaii Five-O," remaining until 1976. The series, which ran from 1968 to 1980, was the longest-airing TV police show of its era.

Always a close friend of O'Connor's, Ryan delighted an audience at Los Angeles' Greek Theater in 1987 by re-teaming with him in his stage show "Me and My Shadow."

James "Spike" Cross, Ryan's son from her first marriage to actor James Cross, died in a vehicular accident in 1987. She is survived by her daughter, Kerry English, from her marriage to McDonald; son Sean Sherman, whom she adopted with Sherman; and five grandchildren.

Services are planned for Saturday at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas.

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