He was once the hottest song and dance man on the silver screen. His many hit films with Betty Grable….
…made them one of the screen’s top duos. And, he had a grin that matched her legs — it wouldn’t quit.
But that grin was deceiving. Dan Dailey, born in New York City in 1915, was in the forefront of a Hollywood contingent that frankly proclaimed that stardom can contribute to mental illness. (His only child, son Dan Dailey III, committed suicide in 1975.)
He entered show business early, making his early mark in vaudeville and on Broadway in the Thirtes musical comedy by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, Babes In Arms. At six foot-three inches, he was a dance man that stood out. MGM noticed and signed Dailey, promptly making the mistake of casting him as a Nazi in 1940’s The Mortal Storm.
Common sense returned to the studio front office, and Dailey was cast in what he was born to do in a series of screen musicals. He career was interrupted by his military service during World War II as an officer in the Army signal corps.
His teaming with Grable then began in the late Forties notably in 1947’s Mother Wore Tights and 1948’s When My Baby Smiles At Me, which won Dailey a best actor Oscar nomination. His abilities as a singer were playfully showcased in 1949 when Dailey and the Andrew Sisters collaborated on four songs for Decca Records — including Take Me Out To The Ballgame and In the Good Old Summertime.
In the Fifties, Dailey branched out a bit, starring in A Ticket To Tomahawk, which featured an early screen appearance by someone named Marilyn Monroe. Years later, he costarred with a more mature Monroe in Fox’s There’s No Business Like Show Business. An interesting change of pace had Dailey as pitcher Dizzy Dean in the 1952 baseball biopic, The Pride of St. Louis.
Also in the Fifties, Dailey married the third of his four wives, Gwen Carter, the former spouse of fellow song-and-dance man Donald O’Connor.
But by the early Fifties, Dailey felt the pressure of his Hollywood career. In addition to the consequences of a busy marital life — four wives, four divorces — he turned in something of a workaholic. Therefore, he decided, he would take some time off at the Menninger Clinic to ease the strain. He did so, he told columnist Hedda Hopper, to forestall “cracking up.”
In the Sixties, Dailey turned largely to tv topped off by the starring role in The Governor and J.J., a political situation comedy about an elected official (Dailey) and his beautiful young daughter (Julie Sommars). The show was carried on CBS running from 1969 to 1972. It was, perhaps, the closest Dailey ever became to a household name.
While performing in a touring stage version of The Odd Couple in 1977, Dailey took a fall and broke his hip. He died in 1978 from complications of a hip replacement surgery.