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The Tragic Death of Judy Tyler

July 27, 2018



July 3, 1957. It was their long delayed honeymoon - a cross country drive from Hollywood to New York City. Fast rising movie star Judy Tyler age 24, her husband Greg LaFayette age 19 and their pets, a new puppy and a kitten, were approaching Wild Bill's Petting Zoo and Souvenir Store on a two lane highway in Wyoming.  A car with a trailer blindly pulled out of the Souvenir Store parking lot directly into their lane. Greg braked then turned the couple's 1957 Chevy sedan into opposite lane to avoid a collision. Their car swerved and skidded around hard left across the center line exposing the passenger side door directly to an oncoming car. The sharp sudden sound of the crash rattled the souvenir store's windows and shelves. One patron thought it was an explosion. A string of small ceramic indian princess dolls shook beside the cash register. People ran out to look. The La Fayette's Chevy was penetrated three feet by the front end of the oncoming car. It was a classic T-bone collision and  Judy Tyler, sitting in the passenger seat, took the impact. Her body was split in two. Greg's back was broken. He lingered for a while at a local hospital before passing. The pets were dead at the scene as was the young driver of the oncoming car.

 Judy Tyler was Judith Mae Hess, a Milwaukee-born daughter of a Milwaukee-born show girl mother and musician father. She often claimed she was born in New Jersey. In those days, being from Wisconsin lacked color.  At age 15 her family was living in Teaneck, New Jersey and Judy - ambitious, confident and in a hurry to succeed - left home to  a pursue a career in show business. "Judy was a tough, talented, single minded kid. She had tremendous energy and she always did what she pleased" , said a colleague from those early years. "I  never started at the bottom in any aspect of show business", said Judy.  She modeled, was a glamour girl at the Copa (Copacabana), weathered a short lived first marriage, and in 1950 at age 17 she landed a regular part on the wildly popular children's TV program, THE HOWDY DOODY SHOW. She played the role of Princess Winterspring Summerfall, an Indian Princess doll come to life. Broadway and a choice role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical followed. In 1957, Judy Tyler arrived in Hollywood. She starred in the MGM rock/calypso musical BOP GIRL GOES CALYPSO, did an episode of PERRY MASON, married Greg LaFayette, a TV actor, then landed the role of a lifetime - She co-starred with Elvis Presley in JAILHOUSE ROCK. It was said that everyone who worked with Judy fell in love with her and so did Elvis. (Elvis fell in love with all of his co-stars.) But Judy was a newlywed. Even though Elvis admitted to keeping things platonic, he and Judy reportedly enjoyed at least one late lunch together. After the film wrapped, Judy and her husband embarked on their honeymoon drive across the country. Elvis saw them off. He always remembered the dress Judy wore on the day of their departure. Elvis was home in Memphis when he got word of the accident. He was crushed.  Judy's death shook a lot of people. Shortly after the accident, events in Wyoming took an odd turn. After some initial concerns by the Hess family that the crash site was looted by onlookers, Charles C Littnan, a Milwaukee Detective and close family friend was retained to make sure all of her personal effects from the accident scene were accounted for. Littnan flew to Wyoming. He recovered a mink coat, a checkbook , a mother of pearl ring and a necklace and locket given to Judy by her mother when she was a child. A woman t