Paula Drew: Buffalo’s Milkmaid and Hollywood siren

By Steve Cichon

In Buffalo, Paula Drew is probably best remembered as the raven-haired spokeswoman for Milk For Health in the ’50s and ’60s and Tops Friendly Markets in the ’70s and ’80s.

Buffalo TV personality and Niagara Frontier Milk Ambassador Paula Drew and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller make a milk toast in honor of “Milk for Health” week in 1959.

In a simpler time for television weather reporting, Western New York’s milk producers would sponsor the weather forecasts and Drew would anchor the late TV news weather update, as well as do a live commercial for milk. At various times through the 1950s, her reports as “The Milk for Heath Milkmaid” were seen on Channels 2 and 4.

Aside from being a television spokeswoman, Drew also wrote a weekly column called the “Milky Way,” which appeared in newspapers around the region. As the local ambassador for dairymen, she also made regular lobbying junkets to Albany and Washington on behalf of the farmers and producers of milk products.

In 1959, dressed in a fur stole and a pill box hat, Drew was received at the White House, bearing a gift for President Eisenhower from the Niagara Frontier’s milk producers. The 8-day-old Holstein came from the Genesee County dairy farm of Clarence Johncox.

The elegant Paula Drew also made regular appearances at the Fort Erie Race Track through the 1950s, always wearing pearls and mink, even in the barns.

Drew was also part of a New York State dairy contingent that toured European dairy farming and production facilities. In reporting back to Chautauqua County’s dairymen, she told the group that she “drinks at least three glasses of milk per day … although she likes coffee, tea and an occasional highball when on a date.”

An accomplished opera singer, Drew attended Juilliard School of Music, training as a coloratura soprano. While attending Juilliard, she was signed to a Universal Pictures contract.

In post-war 1940s Hollywood, she made movies with Red Skelton and Hugh Beaumont — better known later for his role as Ward Cleaver.

A 1946 ad for “Slightly Scandalous,” one of a handful of Hollywood films featuring Paula Drew (right).

Her greatest Hollywood fame came not as much from her acting as from scandal. As a 23-year-old in 1949, she married 56-year-old Dr. Ira Altshuler, who was also from her native Detroit.

A month and a half later, the news that they were suing each other for divorce landed in gossip columns in newspapers around the country. After 43 days of marriage, his divorce suit said he couldn’t afford her extravagant lifestyle.

She counter-sued with allegations of physical and emotional abuse, saying he was using his skill as a renowned psychiatrist to make her crazy.

Paula Drew on the cover of a French magazine, 1946.

After working in Buffalo for most of the 1950s, Drew moved onto other corporate public relations work in Toronto. Her last regular gig in Buffalo was as the voice of Tops Friendly Markets, from the 1970s until 1983.

Paula Drew visits the Tops in Springville, 1980.