Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dorothy Lamour (1914-1996)

The New Orleans born beauty with her exotic good looks got her start by way of a New Orleans beauty pageant at the age of 17.   With her long dark locks and her flawless figure she headed to Chicago after winning the title of Miss New Orleans in 1931 to try her luck as a singer.  Her first break into "show business" was as a vocalist in the Herbie Kay Band.  While touring with the band she found her way to Hollywood where she got a guest appearance singing alongside Rudy Vallee then Eddie Duchin.  Her looks and stage presence didn't go unnoticed as they used their connections to get her a walk on role in her first film appearance in "Footlight Parade" in 1933.

Dorothy found love with her band mate Herbie Kay somewhere along the way and they tied the knot in 1935.  By 1936 she was back in Hollywood and trying her hand at acting full time.  Paramount signed her to a contract immediately and put her in her first full length picture "Jungle Princess" soon after.  This film would start a string of roles for Dorothy playing the sarong wrapped Island girl who finds love with the lucky, castaway, sailor, or the heroic rescuer for a few years to come.  Luckily for Lamour her talent allowed her to break away from being typecast and to move on to deeper roles but more on that later.

Beautiful "Island Girl"

Dorothy starred in five films in 1937 but her most recognized role was in "Hurricane" co-starring the gorgeous Jon Hall and Mary Astor.  The imprisoned Polynesian sailor falls for the exotic island girl, receives justice and lives happily ever after all while surviving a Hurricane.  The film stands out for it's stunning location shots and it's depiction of an actual Hurricane shown quite nicely for it's time with early special effects.  Notably Dorothy also appeared in "Swing High, Swing Low" in 1937 with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray.  Even though it involves getting stranded, a sailor, and love Dorothy is just the "Island Girl" in the background while Carole gets her man.

with the gorgeous Jon Hall in "Hurricane" 1937

In the beginning of 1938 Dorothy co-starred with W.C. Field, Bob Hope and Martha Raye in "The Big Broadcast of 1938".  A light musical, comedy that takes place aboard an Ocean Liner.  One of Bob Hopes first films and the first pairing of Hope and Lamour which would pave the way for their fun "road" films together with the equally talented Bing Crosby.  Even though Dorothy was finding her way in Hollywood her private life suffered in 1939 when she divorced her first husband and best friend Herbie Kay.  

with Jon Hall in "Hurricane"

with her adorable co-star in "Jungle Princess" 1936

By 1939 Paramount had Dorothy back in her sarong and on an island where she captures the heart of stranded aviator Ray Milland while this time surviving a typhoon in "Her Jungle Love".  She followed it up with "Tropical Holiday" with Ray Milland then "Spawn of the North" with George Raft and Henry Fonda. An action, romance picture where Dorothy actually gets to wear clothes.  The same year Dorothy appeared in the romantic comedy "St. Louis Blues" with Lloyd Nolan.  A vehicle which allowed her to show off her singing voice again and expand her comedic resume.  1940 brought us "Road to Singapore" which was Dorothy's first "road" film with the comedy duo Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  The premise, two playboys on the road trying to forget their lost loves until they run into the irresistible Mima, played by Dorothy Lamour.


Dorothy Lamour's autograph on a "Road to Morocco" promotional pamphlet from my collection. (Click on autograph and photos for a larger view)

After the success of "Road to Singapore", Dorothy starred in "Johnny Apollo" 1940 with Tyrone Powell and  Edward Arnold.  Dorothy was loaned out by Paramount for the picture under Darryl Zanuck in a vehicle meant to give Tyrone Power his chance to break away from period pieces in this crime drama.  Your typical gangster flick with the straight guy caught up in crime while making a play for the crime bosses girl.  Dorothy does do a great job with her two songs in the film and Tyrone gets great reviews which led to better roles (Stay tuned for my post on Tyrone Power coming up).  

I'm distracted by the eyebrows but she's stunning!

Just when you think Paramount was moving away from Dorothy's "island girl" character they put her in another "boy meets native island girl while searching for black pearls".  And the title, "Typhoon"! Obvious this lets us know the lovebirds survive a typhoon and live happily ever after!  Now I'm sure that this plot was a money maker for Paramount and it had everything, beautiful half naked girl, intrigue, action and romance.  Oh and Robert Preston was the lucky guy cast as her hero.  Dorothy appeared in two more pictures in 1940, one the period piece "Chad Hanna" with Henry Fonda and a young Linda Darnell then the adventure "Moon Over Burma" with Robert Preston.  In 1941 Dorothy reunited with Bob and Bing for "Road to Zanzibar", another box office success.

with "Go-Go" the chimp between takes

1941 also brought Dorothy and Jon Hall back together again for the adventure "Aloma of the South Seas".  I don't think they had to survive a hurricane, typhoon or even a monsoon but the film was nominated for two Oscars for Best Color Cinematogaphy and Best Special Effects.  Dorothy starred in three films in 1942, "The Fleet's In" with William Holden then "Beyond the Blue Horizon" where Dorothy's character is orphaned and left on an island to be raised by animals (her friend Go-Go the chimp) then she finds love with "Jackra the Magnificent" (you can't make that stuff up)! Jackra is played by Richard Denning.  Her final film of 1941 was the successful sequel "Road to Morocco".  

You hardly notice the horrendously over-sized prop vase! Thanks Dorothy

with Alan Ladd in "Wild Harvest"

Dorothy worked steadily throughout 1943 and married for a second time to William Howard III.  They would have two children together during their marriage that lasted until 1978 with his death.  Throughout the 1940's Dorothy continued working and starred in her now famous "island girl" films and her road films with Bing and Bob.  She would go on to star in "Road to Utopia" in 1946 and "Road to Rio" in 1947.  Her final road film was "Road to Bali" in 1952.  By the second road film Dorothy was actually as big of a draw and in demand for the sequels as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were.  Her final island film before retiring her sarong was "Rainbow Island" 1944 co-starring Eddie Bracken.  If you haven't had the chance to see any of Dorothy's island films or road films I hope you get the opportunity to catch one.  They really are quite fun and good for a few laughs on a quiet afternoon.  And for you guys I doubt Dorothy in her island attire will be something you soon forget!

For the guys! : )

Dorothy starred in the critical success "Wild Harvest" in 1947 with Alan Ladd and in the hit comedy "My Favorite Brunette" that same year before co-starring in the star studded classic "The Greatest Show on Earth" 1952 where she got to show off her singing talent once again.  By the end of the 1950's stars were taking television roles and smaller movie parts which Dorothy transitioned to easily.  She appeared in shows like "I Spy", Marcus Welby M.D.", "Love Boat" and "The Tim Conway Show" before retiring from acting in 1987.  Dorothy also did the occasional singing gig on the dinner circuit throughout the 1950's and 60's where audiences clamored to see her sing her hit songs from her previous films.  

with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in their hit "Road to Rio"

in "Road to Bali"

The beautiful and talented Dorothy passed away from a heart attack at the age of 81 and was interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles California.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  You can view a postcard of one of Dorothy's Hollywood homes HERE.  Dorothy starred in over 60 films during her Hollywood career that spanned five decades.

Dorothy Lamour Facts:

She was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton of Irish, French Louisianian, and Spanish decent.  

She dropped out of school at 15 to help support her newly divorced mother. After taking typing courses she gained work as a secretary until she turned 17 and entered the Miss New Orleans beauty contest in which she won.  Dorothy considered herself an excellent typist, insisting in later years once she became wealthy upon typing her own correspondence.

After winning the beauty contest and relocating to Chicago with her mother it wasn't all glamour and roses.  Dorothy found herself working as an elevator operator at Marshall Fields for $17 a week to make ends meet before joining the Herbie Kay Band.  

Early in her career she met J. Edgar Hoover who was the director of the FBI.  According to his biographer, Richard Hack, Hoover pursued Miss Lamour romantically but she was only interested in a friendship with him.  They remained good friends until the end of his life.  In the years after his death Dorothy did not deny an affair with Hoover in the years after her divorce from Kay. 

During the WWII years Dorothy was one of the most popular pinups for servicemen along with Betty Grable, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake.  (Every time I think of Rita Hayworth's famous black slip pinup I can't help but think of the movie "Shawshank Redemption").

Dorothy was largely responsible for starting up the war bond tours in which stars would travel around the country selling U.S. government bonds to the public.  Dorothy was responsible for selling 2.1 million war bonds herself.  Sadly actress Carole Lombard lost her life in 1942 when the plane in which she was traveling in crashed in Nevada during a war bond tour. 

She found success during the end of the 1960's traveling with the road company of Hello Dolly which lasted for a full year.  

Her sons John "Ridge" was born in 1942 and Richard "Tommy" was born in 1949.  

At the encouragement of Paramount she pulled a publicity stunt in 1946 by publicly burning her famous floral sarong that she had become so famous for.  (I think Ebay just let out a loud wince).

Her biggest hit and signature song was "The Moon of Manakoora" from the film "Hurricane".

She was known as the female Tarzan since she managed to survive year after year in film after film on deserted islands all alone.  All the while doing pretty much everything Tarzan could do, well except she managed to keep her sarong in place and her hair beautifully coiffed.  Her island name was Ulah.

Thanks for stopping by and please enjoy the below trailer for "The Hurricane" (Surprisingly years later Mary Astor and I have the same trench coat! I wonder if hers was baby pink too..)


  1. A CD of Dorothy's big band vocals was issued some years ago, and it's well worth a listen. The lady had a splendid voice.

    I should also note that while on "Swing High, Swing Low," Lamour and Lombard became friends, and when Carole left Paramount once her contract expired at the end of 1937, she made certain Dorothy inherited her dressing room.

  2. VP81955...Thanks for adding those fun facts about Dorothy. She really was a great addition to Hollywood and it's always nice to learn new facts on the stars. : )

  3. I saw her in person (along with Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and 70+ other classic celebrities) at Paramount during a dedication ceremony in 1995. She'd aged, of course, but there was no mistaking those big pretty eyes.

  4. That would be an amazing event to attend! I hope you blogged about it! Back to Hollywood homes.

    I read recently about Pickfair and Pia Zadora and hubby demolishing all of the existing structure except the entry hall and a couple of small rooms. I realize these homes are really in disrepair but it would be great if buyers would cherish homes like Pickfair for it's history and do what they can to restore them. It broke my heart when Mansfield's house was torn down recently. My parents drove us by her house when we were just kids.

  5. I didn't blog about the event because blogs didn't exist then lol. The event was totally by chance. I'd gone with a producer to the Paramount lot to meet with a guy on the foley stage, and when we got there they were setting up for the event. It was to dedicate their 'Streets of New York' sets to replace the old ones which had burned. They were also celebrating their ?85th? anniversary, so they brought out 85 past stars. I hadn't even brought a camera, which I kick myself for to this day. I also had a hangover.

    Sadly all that's left of Pickfair is the sign on the gatepost. I got to drive past it recently. Zadora claims the house had termites, but honestly... that place saw more world figures than the White House. Such a shame.

    Another disappointment was driving by Joan Crawford's remodeled Brentwood home. It used to be elegant, now it's just this big ugly brown stucco mess.

  6. Claros,
    I'm over on your blog and I'm already blown away by the colorized photographs! Absolutely stunning! I can't wait to look at every entry.