Dorothy Lamour

 

Dorothy Lamour was an American actress, singer, and entertainer. She is probably best remembered for appearing in the “Road to…” movies, a series of successful comedies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. “I felt like a wonderful sandwich, a slice of white bread between two slices of ham.” said Lamour of working with Hope and Crosby, “I was the happiest and highest-paid straight woman in the business.”

 

Dorothy Lamour 1936

Dorothy Lamour was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton on December 10, 1914 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the daughter of Carmen Louise and John Watson Slaton, both of whom were waiters. Lamour was of French Louisianan, Spanish and Irish descent. Her parents’ marriage lasted only a few years, with her mother re-marrying Clarence Lambour, and Dorothy took his last name. Lamour was a beautiful child who turned heads as a teenager with her long dark hair and great looks, but her dream was to become a professional singer not actress. After she won a beauty contest as Miss New Orleans in 1931, she headed to Chicago to find her work as a singer. By 1935, Lamour had her own fifteen-minute weekly musical program on NBC Radio and also sang on the popular Rudy Vallee radio show and The Chase and Sanborn Hour. In 1936, she moved to Hollywood and began appearing regularly in films for Paramount Pictures. The role that made Lamour a star was as Ulah in “The Jungle Princess” (1936) opposite Ray Milland. The movie was a tremendous moneymaker as Lamour stole the show in her wrap-around sarong. Dorothy became an instant star as the child of nature, a female version of Tarzan, raised with a pet tiger among the tropical natives. The sarong she wore in “The Jungle Princess” would become her trademark and she went on to play similar parts in the sarong in productions including “The Hurricane” (1937), “Typhoon” (1940), “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (1942) and her final big-screen sarong feature, “Donovan’s Reef” (1963). Although Lamour actually only wore a sarong in six of her 59 pictures, it defined her career.

 

Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall in “The Hurricane” (1937)

 

The sarong stayed with her in the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” pictures for Paramount. The three starred in five “Road to…” films; “Road to Singapore” (1940), “Road to Zanzibar” (1941), “Road to Morocco” (1942), “Road to Utopia” (1946) and “Road to Bali” (1952). The movies were enormously popular and they regularly placed among the top moneymaking films each year. While the films centered more on Hope and Crosby, Lamour held her own as their ‘straight man’ and sang some of her most popular songs of her career. Her contribution to the films was considered by the public and theater owners of equal importance to that of Crosby and Hope. A final “Road” picture, “Road to the Fountain of Youth” was in the works in 1977, until Bing Crosby’s sudden death ended the movie plans. The final completed “Road” picture, “The Road to Hong Kong” in 1962 had Hope and Crosby in their usual roles, but Joan Collins had the female lead, not Lamour.

 

Dorothy Lamour with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in”Road To Bali” (1952)

 

While Lamour first achieved stardom in her sarong as a sex symbol, she also showed great talent as both a comic and dramatic actress and was among the most popular actresses in motion pictures from 1936 to 1952. Lamour starred in a number of movie musicals and sang in many of her comedies and dramatic films as well. She introduced a number of standards, including “The Moon of Manakoora”, “I Remember You”, “It Could Happen to You”, “Personality”, and “But Beautiful”. Some of Lamour’s other notable films include John Ford’s “The Hurricane” (1937), “Spawn of the North” (1938) with George Raft, Henry Fonda, and John Barrymore, “Disputed Passage” (1939), “Johnny Apollo” (1940) with Tyrone Power, “Aloma of the South Seas” (1941), “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (1942), “Dixie” (1943) with Bing Crosby, “A Medal for Benny” (1945), “My Favorite Brunette” (1947) with Bob Hope, “On Our Merry Way” (1948) and a supporting role in the best picture Oscar-winner “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952). Her other leading men during her career also included William Holden, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Jack Benny, and Fred MacMurray among others.

 

Dorothy Lamour in “Aloma of the South Seas” (1941)

 

During the World War II years, Lamour was among the most popular pinup girls among American servicemen, along with Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Veronica Lake. Lamour was also largely responsible for starting up the war bond tours in which movie stars would travel the country selling U.S. government bonds to the public. Lamour alone promoted the sale of over $21 million dollars’ worth of war bonds, and other stars promoted the sale of a billion more.

 

Dorothy Lamour ca.1935

 

Lamour’s film career slowed down in the early 1950s, and she began a new career as a nightclub entertainer and occasional stage actress. In the 1960s, she returned to the screen for secondary roles in three films, including John Ford’s “Donovan’s Reef” (1963) with John Wayne and Lee Marvin, and became more active in the legitimate theater, headlining a road company of “Hello Dolly!” for over a year near the end of the decade. Lamour’s good humor and down to earth personalty allowed her to have a remarkably long career in show business for someone best known as a glamour girl. She became a popular draw on the dinner theatre circuit of the 1970s. Lamour published her autobiography, ‘My Side of the Road’, in 1980, revived her nightclub act, and performed in plays and television shows such as “Hart to Hart”, “Crazy Like a Fox”, “Remington Steele” and “Murder, She Wrote” among others.

 

Dorothy Lamour 1938

 

During the 1990s, Lamour made only a handful of professional appearances but remained a popular interview subject for publications and TV talk and news programs. In 1995, the musical “Swinging on a Star”, a revue of songs written by Johnny Burke opened on Broadway and ran for three months with Lamour being credited as a “special advisor”. Burke wrote many of the most famous “Road to…” movie songs as well as the score to Lamour’s “And the Angels Sing”. The musical was nominated for the Best Musical Tony Award, and the actress playing Lamour in the Road movie segment, Kathy Fitzgerald, was also nominated.

 

Dorothy Lamour 1940

 

Dorothy Lamour was married twice. The first marriage was to Herbie Kay in 1935. The marriage ended in divorced in 1939.
Her second marriage was to William Ross Howard III in 1943. The couple remained married until his death in 1978.

 

Dorothy Lamour 1943

 

Dorothy Lamour died in her sleep from a heart attack at her home in North Hollywood on September 22, 1996 at the age of 81. She was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

 

Dorothy Lamour

 

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One Response to “Dorothy Lamour”

  1. […] Dorothy Lamour, Gracie Allen and Betty Hutton at the Brown Derby (November 1948) […]

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