Dorothy Lamour Biography

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Birth Name: Dorothy Lamour
Born: 12/10/1914
Birth Place: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Death Place: Los Angeles, California, USA
Died: 09/22/1996


Dorothy Lamour hailed from New Orleans, LA and was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton on Dec. 10, 1914. A native French speaker, she was revealed to be a natural singer at a young age and French/Spanish/Scotch/Irish roots gave her a unique look that earned her much attention. After leaving high school at age 15, she studied typing with the goal of becoming a secretary. However, that career path was soon forgotten after Lamour won the Miss New Orleans contest. She and her now-single mother relocated to Chicago, IL, where the teenager initially toiled as an elevator operator. Lamour's fine singing voice earned her an invitation to join the Herbie Kaye Band and she eventually made her way to New York City, performing in both nightclubs and on radio with Rudy Vallee. While appearing at the Clover Club in Los Angeles, she was spotted by a rep from Paramount Pictures and asked to take a screen test. The studio was impressed by her looks and potential, so Lamour was signed on as a contract player. By mid-decade, she was hosting her own 15-minute radio program and had taken Herbie Kaye as her husband, a union that would last until 1939. The actress' first starring role was as the titular character in "The Jungle Princess" (1936), which played out like a female variation on the "Tarzan" formula. The film was a success and Samuel Goldwyn borrowed Lamour for the female lead in John Ford's epic "The Hurricane" (1937). The big-budget South Seas adventure was also a hit, fully establishing its leading lady as the latest glamorous sensation. Publicity photos featured Lamour modeling flower print sarongs and with her lovely face and long black hair, she was soon tagged "The Sarong Girl."

That image helped earn her the female lead in "Road to Singapore" (1940), the first in what turned out to be a series of enjoyable comedies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as old friends in all manner of trouble in exotic locales. Acting as both object of desire and straight woman, Lamour managed to hold her own amidst the duo's relentless ad-libbing and was a vital component in the first five of the six "Road" sequels that followed. She also proved herself capable of dramatic duties via her performances in the crime thriller "Johnny Apollo" (1940) and "Chad Hanna" (1940), the latter of which cast the actress as circus trick rider. Pin-ups girls like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth were all the rage during this time, and Lamour also enjoyed much notoriety in this arena, with a shot of her lounging in a sarong proving especially popular. Her marriage to Kaye ended in divorce after he charged desertion and there was a widely circulated rumor that she was seeing J. Edgar Hoover. That liaison would be discounted in later years as one of the fronts used to hide Hoover's alleged relationship with F.B.I. colleague Clyde Tolson. Whatever the case, Lamour wed her second husband, businessman William Ross Howard III, in 1943 and the couple ultimately spent more than three decades together. In addition to her power as a box office draw, the tireless Lamour was credited with raising more than $300 million for the war effort, earning the actress a second nickname: The Bond Bombshell!

Temporarily breaking away from Paramount's "Road" series, Lamour and Bob Hope were borrowed by Samuel Goldwyn for the comic spy yarn "They Got Me Covered" (1943), while "Riding High" (1943) paired her with veteran song-and-dance man Dick Powell. The story of how an indolent man is elevated in the eyes of others following his death in combat, "A Medal for Benny" (1945) featured one of Lamour's strongest dramatic turns, but none of these pictures generated the response regularly enjoyed by the "Road" movies, which were quickly becoming one of the most popular series in movie history. In between her film commitments, Lamour continued to perform on radio, including a run as hostess of the musical-comedy program "The Sealtest Variety Theater" (NBC, 1946-49), which featured such entertainment heavyweights as Hope, James Stewart, and Gregory Peck on its guest list. Back on the silver screen, she joined Hope again in his solo vehicle "My Favorite Brunette" (1947) and essayed the title role in the period drama "Lulu Belle" (1948). After co-starring with Sterling Hayden in the film noir thriller "Manhandled" (1949), Lamour stepped out of the spotlight to devote time to her husband and two sons. She returned in Cecil B. DeMille's Oscar-winning epic "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) and also made occasional television appearances on programs like "Four Star Revue" (NBC, 1950-53), but kept a much lighter schedule than before. Later in the decade, Lamour made her Broadway debut as a replacement for original performer Abbe Lane in the musical comedy "Oh Captain!" (1958).

At the beginning of the 1960s, Lamour received stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her film and radio work, and headlined her own nightclub act. Joan Collins took over the female lead for the final "Road" entry, "The Road to Hong Kong" (1962), though Lamour cameoed as herself. She also essayed parts in the John Wayne picture "Donovan's Reef" (1963) and the American International drive-in comedy "Pajama Party" (1964), and returned to the stage in "DuBarry Was a Lady," the national touring company of "Hello, Dolly!" and a dinner theatre production of "Personal Appearance." Her small-screen credits of the time included a role alongside fellow vets John Carradine and Joan Blondell in the made-for-television mystery-thriller "Death at Love House" (ABC, 1976). During this period, there was talk of reuniting Lamour, Hope and Crosby for a new "Road" outing, but plans were quietly cancelled following the latter's death in 1977 and Lamour suffered another loss when her husband passed away the following year. She embarked on an autobiography and My Side of the Road hit bookstore shelves in 1980. The horror anthology "Creepshow 2" (1987) was Lamour's final film and a guest turn that same year on "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996) represented her last small-screen credit. In 1995, she served as special advisor for the "Road to" sequence in the Broadway musical "Swinging on a Star." Lamour succumbed to the effects of a heart attack on Sept. 22, 1996.

By John Charles




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