Dorothy Lamour (December 10, 1914 – September 22, 1996) was an American film actress. She is probably best-remembered for appearing in the Road to... movies, a series of successful comedies co-starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Lamour was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Carmen Louise (née LaPorte) and John Watson Slaton, both of whom were waiters. Lamour had French Louisianan, Spanish and Irish descent. Her parents' marriage lasted only a few years, with her mother re-marrying to Clarence Lambour, and Dorothy took his last name. The marriage also ended in divorce when Dorothy was a teenager. The family finances were so desperate that when she was 15, she forged her mother's name to a document that authorized her to drop out of school. Later, however, she did go to a secretarial school that did not require her to have a high school diploma. She regarded herself as an excellent typist and usually typed her own letters, even after she became quite wealthy.
After she won the 1931 Miss New Orleans beauty contest, she and her mother moved to Chicago, where Lamour earned $17 a week as an elevator operator for the Marshall Field department store on State Street. She had no training as a singer but was persuaded by a friend to try out for a female vocalist's spot with Herbie Kay, a band leader who had a national radio show called "The Yeast Foamers", apparently because it was sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast.
She left Kay's group and moved to Manhattan, where Rudy Vallee, then a popular singer, helped her get a singing job at a popular night club, El Morocco. She later worked at 1 Fifth Avenue, a cabaret where she met Louis B. Mayer, the Hollywood studio chief. It was Mayer who eventually arranged for her to have a screen test, which led to her Paramount contract in 1935.
In 1935, she had her own fifteen-minute weekly musical program on NBC Radio. She also sang on the popular Rudy Vallee radio show. When she was at her zenith as a star, her fans suggested that an agent had adopted her last name from the French word for "love" as a box-office ploy. In fact, the name was close to one in the family; Lamour adapted it herself from Lambour, which was the last name of her stepfather, Clarence.
Early in her career, Lamour met J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Hoover's biographer Richard Hack, Hoover pursued Lamour romantically, but she was initially interested only in friendship with him. Hoover and Lamour remained close friends to the end of Hoover's life, and after his 1972 death, Lamour did not deny rumors that she'd had an affair with him in the years after she divorced Kay.
In 1936, she moved to Hollywood and began appearing regularly in films for Paramount Pictures. The role that made her a star was Ulah (a sort of female Tarzan) in The Jungle Princess (1936). She wore a sarong, which would become associated with her, and captivated many viewers with her sensuous exotic attractive appearance. While she first achieved stardom as a sex symbol, Lamour also showed talent as both a comic and dramatic actress. She was among the most popular actresses in motion pictures from 1936 to 1952.
She appeared in the classic series of "Road to..." movies, such as Road to Morocco, also starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the 1940s and 1950s. The movies were enormously popular during the 1940s, and they regularly placed among the very top moneymaking films each year as a new one came out. While the films centered more on the talents of Hope and Crosby, Lamour held her own as their "straight man", looked beautiful, and sang some of her most popular songs. Her appearance in the films was considered by the public and theater owners of equal importance to the contributions of Crosby and Hope during the series' golden era, 1940-1952. It was only after the series was essentially over with the release of Road to Bali in 1952 and her career declining while co-stars Hope and Crosby remained major show business figures that her contributions to the series began being downplayed by journalists. During the World War II years, Lamour was among the most popular pinup girls among American servicemen, along with Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner. Lamour was also largely responsible for starting up the war bond tours in which movie stars would travel the country selling war bonds for the U.S. Government 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.
Some of Dorothy Lamour's other notable films include John Ford's The Hurricane (1937), Spawn of the North (1938), Disputed Passage (1939), Johnny Apollo (1940), Aloma of the South Seas (1941), Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942), Dixie (1943), A Medal for Benny (1945), My Favorite Brunette (1947), On Our Merry Way (1948) and the best picture Oscar-winner The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Her leading men included William Holden, Tyrone Power, Ray Milland, Henry Fonda, Jack Benny, George Raft, and Fred MacMurray.
Dorothy Lamour starred in a number of movie musicals and sang in many of her comedies and dramatic films as well, introducing a number of standards including "The Moon of Manakoora", "I Remember You", "It Could Happen to You", "Personality", and "But Beautiful". Lamour's film career petered out 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 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 lack of pretension allowed her to have a remarkably long career in show business for someone best known as a glamour girl. She was a popular draw on the dinner theatre circuit of the 1970s. In the 1960s and 1970s, she lived with her longtime husband William Ross Howard III (whom she married in 1943), in the Hampton suburb of Towson, Maryland. He died in 1978. 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, and Murder She Wrote.
During the 1990s, she made only a handful of professional appearances but she 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; Lamour was 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 "Dorothy Lamour" in the Road movie segment, Kathy Fitzgerald, was also nominated.
Lamour died at her home in North Hollywood, California at the age of 81 from a heart attack. She was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, after a Catholic funeral service.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by Artist Margaret A. Rogers