That woman signing autographs in yesterday’s photo was indeed Dorothy Lamour.
As mentioned, her springboard into show business was as a beauty contest winner, Miss New Orleans of 1931. Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton (her given name) first turned big band singer, one who married her boss, bandleader Herbie Kay, at age 21 (it lasted four years).
Lamour was actually a pretty good singer as her early radio appearances proved — she performed with the likes of Rudy Vallee. Her first Hollywood movie appearance was an un-credited bit as a chorus girl in the 1933 Jimmy Cagney musical, Footlight Parade.
What converted her into a late-Thirties and Forties sensation was her role in 1936’s Jungle Princess, which introduced to the world Dorothy’s signature sarong. Say what you will, there’s no denying Lamour looked smashing in the garment. She instantly became a popular pinup.
But she dogged by the darned thing for the rest of her life. The fact is that she wore a sarong in only six of her 59 movies. In a publicity stunt with Freudian overtones, Dorothy once burned a sarong before assembled photographers.
In her autobiography, My Side of the Road, Dorothy covers her adventures with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, her costars in seven “Road To…” movies spanning a dozen years beginning in 1940. Although Dorothy was never particularly close to Crosby on a personal level, she and Hope (as well as his wife Delores) remained friends until the end.
Dorothy’s career as a leading actress ended after 1952’s The Road to Bali. Ten years later when Dorothy’s career was a fading memory to most movie fans, a final road picture (The Road To Hong Kong) was made with Hope and Crosby. But Joan Collins took the leading lady role, not Dorothy.
The by-then 48-year-old Lamour was incensed by what she regarded as a casting affront, and took her case to Hollywood columnist, Louella Parsons. To placate the public and because she was still a great friend of Hope’s, the studio carved out a cameo in Hong Kong, in which Dorothy played herself and sang a song in a nightclub setting.
The upside of all this was that Dorothy’s appearance in the movie drew the attention of none other than director John Ford, who a year later cast her in a supporting role in Donovan’s Reef, an action vehicle for John Wayne and Lee Marvin. And this movie appearance in turn led to some late-Sixties stage work.
Although she was a major Forties star known by just her surname, Lamour spent less time on her career after 1952 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.
The entertainment world was impressed with Lamour’s energetic re-emergence in the show biz world following her husband’s 1978 death. All of a sudden, she was all over the place – on television (Hope specials, “The Love Boat” 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?
The fact was that her 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. Dorothy needed the money.
Turns out her businessman husband wasn’t much of a businessman. Lamour 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.
Lamour died in her North Hollywood home of a heart attack on Sept. 22, 1996. She was 81.