To some extent they were competing musical brothers, but there’s no doubt that they both were perhaps the most prominent Big Band leaders of their time in Hollywood.
The more famous of the two, Tommy Dorsey, along with his Orchestra appeared in a dozen films in the Golden era of Hollywood. First Paramount, then MGM lured Dorsey to make films during the war years. Big Bands were still flourishing, but many of their fans were now in the Armed Forces.
Las Vegas Nights, in 1941, gave Tommy and the Orchestra top billing (in all the ads and posters) over players like Phil Regan, Constance Moore, Bert Wheeler and Virginia Dale. He and his music were going to fill those theatre seats. And they did.
The movie is famous now as marking the film debut of Frank Sinatra. Of course Frank was just the vocalist backed by the male chorus singing the orchestra’s then popular hit, I’ll Never Smile Again. Sinatra and other band vocalists of the day received no billing, they were just part of the band.
When Dorsey moved over to MGM he and the orchestra were featured in much better fare, Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton’s Ship Ahoy, Judy Garland‘s Presenting Lily Mars, and Girl Crazy, and Esther Williams‘ The Thrill of Romance.
Dorsey along with his older brother Jimmy (right in the photo above), had played in some of the top bands in the 20’s and early thirties before they formed their own, very successful Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. But then they argued and split in 1935. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra became the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra had gotten to Hollywood first. They were in the Fred and Ginger starrer Shall We Dance in 1937. In 1942 they featured in the Dorothy Lamour/William Holden hit The Fleet’s In. Dorsey’s boy/girl singers Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell appear too (like Sinatra) unbilled. And the film marked the debut of another former band singer, Betty Hutton.
You can also see the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in Red Skelton’s I Dood It. and 20th’s Four Jills in a Jeep.
The Dorsey brothers rift was patched up and used as material for a very fictionalized bio film, The Fabulous Dorseys in 1947.
The film is hokum, but worth watching to see the the bandleaders playing themselves and cameo performances by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, Charlie Barnet, Helen O’Connell, Bob Eberly and the superb jazz pianist Art Tatum.
The brothers formed a new orchestra in the 1950s and went on to further success on records and TV. Jimmy even had a number one hit with the song So Rare.
The Dorsey Bands were so successful that they endured even after Tommy’s death in 1956 (at 51) and Jimmy’s death a year later.
Billed as the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra starring Warren Covington they had a chart hit in 1958 with Tea for Two Cha Cha. When Covington died Sam Donahue took over. Frank Sinatra Jr. made his debut with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1963. Buddy Morrow took over the Orchestra in the 70’s and it continued right into the 21st Century.
The Fabulous Dorseys!