Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back today to continue our tale about Dorothy Lamour.
Clint Eastwood’s film J. Edgar — in which it’s formulated that Hoover, the legendary FBI chief, thought of Lamour as possible marriage material — has inspired us to resurrect us one of our very early blogs about her encounter with Joe.
Although she was a major star in the 1940s, after 1952, Dorothy Lamour spent less time on her career and more and more time on her marriage to William Ross Howard III, with whom she had two children and shared a step son. The couple, married in 1943, stayed together until his death.
He met Dorothy when he was in the service during WW II and she was a Hollywood star promoting war bonds with great gusto and success (the “Bond Bombshell” was personally credited for closing the sales on some $21 million – a staggering amount at the time – in war bonds). She was with Bob Hope entertaining the troops on Hope’s first of what would become his many legendary trips.
William Howard was a dashing, aristocratic officer in uniform. Dorothy Lamour was the patriotic beauty of solid, traditional values (Dorothy was Roman Catholic).
They fell in love, got married and presumably lived happily ever after. (Although Dorothy starred in the 1968 national road show of “Hello, Dolly,” her family life came first and she remained largely a homemaker.)
Howard’s family came from of old line Maryland lineage (he and Dorothy lived during the 60’s and 70’s in a suburb of Towson), and Howard himself was described as a businessman with interests in the frozen food and advertising businesses.
Then something interesting happened. Like much of the entertainment world, Joe was highly impressed with Lamour’s energetic re-emergence in the entertainment world following her husband’s death in early 1978.
All of a sudden, she was all over the place – on television (Bob Hope specials, “The LoveBoat” and “Murder, She Wrote”) and in regional theater.
The question: was Lamour’s cover-all-bases showbiz return after nearly 35 years of domesticity just another example of a merry widow kicking up her heels? Joe wasn’t sure, so he dropped by Lamour’s home in North Hollywood during the 1980’s to find out.
After a series of meetings and conversations about a possible book project, it became clear that Lamour’s frenetic re-emergence on the show biz scene in the 1980’s — which astonished much of show business at the time — was primarily driven by one thing.
As she confessed to Joe, Dorothy needed the money.
Like many women of her age and time, she had absented herself from the finances of her family, leaving such matters to her businessman husband. After he passed she discovered that all their credit cards had been maxed out. That all their stock had been sold. That her husband had cashed in his life insurance. That there was little if any money left.
Dorothy was urged to file for personal bankruptcy.” No,” she said.” I’ll go back to work and pay all my debts.” And that’s exactly what she did.
Fortunately her step-son, William Ross Howard IV, knew enough about the entertainment business to take over as Dorothy’s agent. At first the only job available was a supporting role in an El Paso dinner theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park”.
GASP! IS THAT DOROTHY LAMOUR?
Lamour told Joe that her most trying moment occurred when she walked onstage for the first time, and was greeted with a collective gasp from the audience. Naively expecting to see a youthful, sarong-draped Dorothy out of her earliest movies, audiences had to visually adjust to the deliberately frumpy-looking actress in her mid-Sixties playing the mother of a new bride.
But with Dorothy’s name, the offers soon came flooding in. What began as nervously tentative return driven by financial desperation quickly turned into late-career show business triumph.
Lamour suggested to Joe that her financial predicament could provide the makings of a wonderful new book, with Dorothy the centerpiece representing so many women of her generation who had blissfully left finances to husbands only to find themselves financially stranded after their mates departed. There was a real story here!
All across America there were thousands of women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who, when their “upper middle income” or even “rich” husbands died, found out they had in fact been living in a financial house of cards. There WERE no stocks, investments or bank accounts that these women could fall back on.
Without a movie star name to back them up, these women were forced to return to the work force often as waitresses, restaurant hostesses or sales clerks. Writing a book with Dorothy about how such women cope in such pressing circumstances seemed to Joe to be a worthy and most interesting project.
He whipped up a four-page book proposal, and took it to several New York publishers. One, the late Lyle Stuart, snapped it up. He told Joe he was buying the book idea at least partially because Lamour was the first movie star he had fallen in love with. (Stuart had never forgotten seeing as a young teenager Dorothy in 1936’s “The Jungle Princess.” Ah, that sarong!)
And, Stuart was savvy enough to realize the potential of a book about a famous Hollywood star experiencing the same distressing situation as an average housewife confronting the reality that dear departed husband had spent all the money. (Similar fates befell, by the way, Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds.)
But over time, Lamour began to get cold feet. Would this book be too revealing?
She finally made it clear to Joe that the subject of her financial straits was something much too personal — not so much about her personal distress but about the negative effect public disclosure might have on the memory of a man she had loved for more than three decades.
To Joe’s regret to this day, the book project with Dorothy never came to be. (Dorothy continued working into the late 1980’s. She even appeared as a disheveled housewife who gets bumped off in the horror movie “Creep Show 2.”)
She died in her North Hollywood home of a heart attack on Sept. 22, 1996. She was 81. Dorothy is remembered in many ways including her two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her movies and another for her radio shows. By most accounts she was pretty well off financially at the end. And, no, she never married J. Edgar Hoover.