Barbara Nichols, born in Jamaica on Dec. 10, 1928 as Barbara Marie Nickerauer, was a popular and spirited girl who won many beauty contests while still in Woodrow Wilson High School, later renamed August Martin in honor of the first black commercial pilot. While at Woodrow Wilson, she trained in cosmetology, and was always proud that she could do her own hair and makeup.
Barbara’s parents, George and Julia Nickerauer, and their family lived at 116-39 139 St. in South Ozone Park. Her father, the breadwinner, owned a gas station on Baisley Boulevard called Rauer’s. On weekends Barbara would go to the Park Movie Theater on the corner of Rockaway Boulevard and 133rd Street and dream of becoming a star.
To earn extra money as a teen she modeled for Gertz department store at 162nd Street and Jamaica Avenue in Downtown Jamaica. Many beauty titles followed, such as Miss Loew’s Valencia Theater. Following high school graduation, she went to Panama and became a chorus girl. After appearing as a pinup model in Esquire magazine in 1952, she landed the role of Valerie in Broadway’s “Pal Joey.” After that she appeared in many films and TV shows, and in 1961 won Look magazine’s award for best supporting actress for her role in TV’s “The Untouchables.” She will always be best remembered for playing an alluring blonde or a comedic dame.
Nichols’ death from liver failure at age 47, in October 1976, was an untimely blow to her fans. She is buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, LI.
Today a whole new generation of fans is discovering her talents in old movies and TV shows, most probably with no idea that it all started right here in Queens.