Margaret O’Rene “Peggy” Ryan (August 28, 1924 – October 30, 2004) was an American dancer, best known for starring in a series of movie musicals at Universal Pictures with Donald O’Connor and Gloria Jean.
She joined her parents’ vaudeville act, “The Merry Dancing Ryans,” before she was two years old. Her singing, acting, and dancing skills were noticed by song-and-dance actor George Murphy, who helped her get a role in 1937’s Top of the Town. She continued working in small roles until 1942, when she had a solo number in the feature film What’s Cookin’?. The Gloria Jean-Donald O’Connor-Peggy Ryan team were a great hit with audiences and exhibitors, and the three teens made five features together. Ryan’s screen character in these films was usually brash, wisecracking, and boy-crazy. In 1944 Peggy Ryan advanced to more elaborate productions, in support of Jack Oakie and Abbott and Costello.
She left Universal in 1945 and married James Cross that same year; they were divorced in 1952. She returned to the screen with dancer Ray McDonald for 1949’s There’s a Girl in My Heart and Shamrock Hill, and 1953’s All Ashore. They wed in 1953 and toured together in a nightclub act before being divorced in 1957. Her third marriage, in 1958, was to Hawaii columnist Eddie Sherman, following which she left movies for choreography and semi-retirement. Sherman adopted her two children from her previous marriages. On television, she played a recurring role as secretary Jenny Sherman in Hawaii Five-O from 1969 to 1976.
In later years she trained Las Vegas showgirls in tap dancing. Her last public performance, at her 80th birthday party, was a hilarious song-and-dance routine for her former Universal studio colleagues. She continued to teach tap until two days before her death at the age of 80 from the effects of two strokes.