Let's Not Forget
....showing her sultry side
She was beautiful and
could sing and act, too!
By RON MILLER
My friend and colleague Jim Bawden and I share the opinion that Dorothy Lamour is unjustly overlooked by movie fans today who seem only able to remember her for her subordinate role in the "Road" pictures with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
Though Lamour was certainly a vital presence as "the girl" in the majority of those zany comedies, she was a genuine star in her own right before Hope and Crosby started chasing her across the screen. She was also a very capable dramatic actress and a singer of exceptional quality.
If you want a demonstration of the latter claim, check out that still glorious wartime musical "The Fleet's In" (1942), in which Lamour was the first-billed star and sings one of her greatest songs, "I'll Remember You' with the Jimmy Dorsey band. She was top-billed over young William Holden, a future Oscar-winner, and Betty Hutton, who was making her sensational screen debut. Lamour was beautiful and sexy and every bit the star.
At left, the poster for "The Fleet's In,"
which showcased Lamour as a musical star of first quality. Above, the poster
from "Last Train From Madrid," a spy
drama which revealed her dramtic skills.
To see her in good form as a dramatic actress, try "Last Train From Madrid" (1937) or "Johnny Apollo" (1940) or "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), the Oscar-winning Best Picture in which director C.B. DeMille required Lamour to learn how to hang by her teeth on a high wire in a circus.
Lamour was a very shapely, dark-haired beauty with a sultry voice. She was the ideal comic foil for Hope and Crosby, starting first with Hope in "The Big Broadcast of 1938" and then with both stars in "The Road to Singapore" (1940). But if you want to see why Paramount studios first pushed her as a star attraction, look at her first starring role in "The Jungle Princess" (1936). This is still a very entertaining movie and Lamour was simply stunning in the sarong that became her trademark wardrobe item. Director John Ford followed that up by casting her as a South Sea island beauty in "The Hurricane" (1937) opposite virile Jon Hall, which was a sensational romantic epic.
Lamour's shapely form warmed the waters of a jungle pond
in her first starring role in "The Jungle Princess." As the song
went, "moonlight became her."
In her later years, Lamour didn't take very good care of her figure and became too portly too soon. When I finally met her in 1991, she was a little hardbitten and was a dreadful chain smoker who reeked of tobacco. However, she was still an engaging lady and enjoyed talking about her grand days of the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Over lunch near her San Fernando Valley home, Lamour talked about her many national war bond tours in which she reportedly helped raise more than $300 million for the war effort.
"I could have enlisted in the WACS or the WAVES," she told me, "but I didn't think I'd do as much good as I could if I used my name value to do somehing really constructive."
Lamour's mother reminded her that Mary Pickford had raised millions during World War I going on war bond tours and the idea appealed to Lamour, who had just married serviceman Bill Howard, who was likely to be shipped overseas at any time, and was expecting her first child. Lamour approached the government and soon was taking tours by train across the country, setting up a stage on street corners and using her star power to sell bonds.
In those days, I was a frequent visitor to Bob Hope's home in Toluca Lake and Bob often pointed out Lamour's house, which was less than a block from his. Hope and Lamour remained good friends through the years, but he did own up to doing something "neighborlyi he later regretted because it caused Lamour considerable embarrassment. I asked Lamour about it.
Dorothy Lamour with Bob Hope in "The Road to Morocco." Lamour and
Hope were not only good friends, but also were neighbors in Toluca Lake.
"One night around 11 P.M. Bob came by my house with five reporters, knocked on my door, stuck in his nose and said, 'What's the matter? Don't you recognize the nose?' Then he brought zll those people in."
When Hope told me the same story, he recalled that Dorothy came to the door in her bathrobe with her hair up in curlers and, even though she admitted Bob and his news hounds, she gave him a look "that was fit to kill."
Lamour had another funny story to tell about being Bob's neighbor. She wasn't keen on the fact that Bob notoriously cheated on his wife with other women and kept warning him he'd get caught someday.
"One day he stopped by the house on his way home and wanted to show me his new car," Lamour explained. "So I went for a drive with him and when we got back, he kissed me. I told him, 'Don't do it that way! The neighbors are watching!' So then I put my arms around him and gave him this really long kiss so the neighbors would really have something to talk about."
Lamour never actually told me if Hope or Crosby ever put the moves on her, but she acted as if she wasn't very tolerant of such behavior. For one thing, she wasn't very keen on the moral content of contemporary movies.
"In my day, the films were romantic," she said. "Now they're all raw sex. I don't know what I'd be doing if I was starting out in pictures today. I certainly wouldn't be doing most of the pictures they're making now. Wearing a sarong? Today that's like wearing long underwear."
Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour all started to get a bit
thick around the middle by "The Road to Bali" in 1952.
Lamour and her husband were married 35 years and were close until his death in 1978. She admitted to me that she had been very lonely ever since and was grateful for the fact that she still received lots of fan mail from moviegoers who had been writing her since the 1940s. Many of them had become her friends.
Amusingly, Lamour had never been to the South Seas, even though she was Hollywood's symbolic represenative of the island culture. Then, in her retirement years, she finally took a Princess cruise to the South Seas and visited Hawaii, Tahiti and Australia, among other stops in Polynesia. She was surprised to see her Hollywood influence had taken hold.
"You go to these places that look like Bali Hai and you see these little waitresses in sarongs, wearing flowers in their hair like I did," Lamour told me. "It looks like a whole bunch of Lamours running around."
©2012 by Ron Miller. This column first posted July 30, 2012.
You can comment on this column online via our TALKBACK page. Please address your message to either "The Editors" or Ron Miller care of Syndpack @ aol.com
HOME About Us Index To
Talkback Contact Us