A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 30, 2013
Triple Threat (acting, singing, dancing)

The term “triple threat” was used in sports (football) in the 1920s; the “triple threat” combination of talents was used in entertainment by the early 1930s. The classic “triple threat” is a performer who can act, sing and dance. “With Cagney in ‘Something to Sing About’ is Evelyn Daw, Jimmy’s contribution to the discoveries of 1937, a triple-threat leading lady who sings, dances and acts” was cited in November 1937.

A familiar “triple threat” joke appeared by at least 1938—about the person who is a threat to act, a threat to sing and a threat to dance. “Overheard at a local nightspot: ‘She’s a triple-threat entertainer. She can’t sing, she can’t dance, she can’t act’” was cited in an “In New York” newspaper column in February 1938.


(Oxford English Dictionary)
triple-threat adj.
1939 W. H. Baumer Sports as taught & played at West Point 40 Any backs who possess the three qualifications of being a good runner, passer and kicker to a marked degree are triple-threat men.
1972 J. Mosedale Football v. 67 Football no longer requires the triple threat back—the player who can run and kick as well as punt.

15 November 1937, Syracuse (NY) Herald, “Cagney, Film ‘Tough Guy,’ Turns Dancer,” pg. 20, col. 2:
With Cagney in “Something to Sing About” is Evelyn Daw, Jimmy’s contribution to the discoveries of 1937, a triple-threat leading lady who sings, dances and acts.

28 February 1938, Chester (PA) Times, “In New York” by George Ross, pg. 7, col. 5:
Overheard at a local nightspot: “She’s a triple-threat entertainer. She can’t sing, she can’t dance, she can’t act.”

Google Books
11 August 1941, Life magazine, pg. 33, cols. 1-3:
RITA HAYWORTH RISES FROM BIT PARTS INTO A TRIPLE-THREAT SONG & DANCE STAR
(...)
Now as a result of her hit, Rita is becoming a triple-threat singing, dancing glamor star.

21 October 1941, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “Miranda and the ‘Nango’”, pg. 7, col. 3:
Moreover, although her dancing prior to this has been confined to her sinuous singing movements ("con moviemento,” she calls it), studio executives decided to make a triple-threat singing, dancing and acting star out of her, and commissioned Hermes Pan, studio dance director, to create a dance called the “Nango” for Miss Miranda.
(A photo caption reads: “CARMEN MIRANDA Triple-threat Brazilian bombshell”—ed.)

29 November 1942, Greensboro (NC) Daily News, “Actors Who Can Dance Are Very Handy” (UP), sec. 4, pg. 7, col. 5:
Betty Grable and Judy Garland are a couple of other triple threat girls who have done very well for themselves and their studios. Sonja Henie is another.

Dinah Shore is one of the most promising triple threaters on the movie horizon. She already has demonstrated that she can act, sing and dance.

Google Books
Singin’ in the Rain: [screenplay]
By Adolf Green and Betty Comden
Los Angeles, CA: Script Collectors Service [distributor]
1951
Pg. 60:
Cosmo: She can’t act. She can’t sing, and she can’t dance. A triple threat.

Google Books
Sing for Your Supper:
Earning Your Living as a Singer

By Yvonne Michie Horn
New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
1979
Pg. 13:
You have to be a triple-threat performer — actor, singer, dancer. And you better your chances if you’ve sharpened those three disciplines to a tee and are able to sing and dance in a variety of styles.

OCLC WorldCat record
The actor/singer/dancer : challenges of the triple threat (volumes I and II)
Author: Michael Bruce Ellison; University of Minnesota. Graduate School.; UMI Dissertation Services.
Publisher: Ann Arbor, Michigan : UMI Dissertation Services , ©1994.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Minnesota, 1994.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : English

Urban Dictionary
triple threat
A person who excels in singing, acting AND dancing.
Jennifer Lopez, though obnoxious, is a triple threat.
by gab Mar 29, 2005

Google Books
Grandma, Someday I’ll Travel the World
By Elfie Rainals
Xlibris Corporation (xlibris.com)
2008
Pg. 132:
“I will be famous,” Monica says. “Not because I am beautiful, but because I am very, very talented. I dance and sing and act. What they call a triple threat. Can you be a triple threat?”

“I don’t know what a triple threat is,” Sandra says.

“I just told you,” Monica says, “It means you can sing and dance and act.”

Broadway World
BWW Reviews: ANYTHING GOES Delivers Laughs at Kennedy Center through July 7
Sunday, June 16, 2013; 08:06 AM - by Rebecca Maynard
(...)
Rachel York steals the show with her masterful portrayal of Reno Sweeney, a modern woman who’s been around the block a few times, but the one man she really cares about is in love with someone else. The old phrase “triple threat” came to mind as I watched her performance, as her acting, singing and dancing were all equally wonderful.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Sunday, June 30, 2013 • Permalink