Lamour, Dorothy

views updated

Dorothy Lamour

Born December 10, 1914

New Orleans, Louisiana

Died September 22, 1996

Los Angeles, California

Film actress

Dorothy Lamour was a famous Hollywood actress known as "the bond bombshell" because of her volunteer work selling U.S. war bonds during World War II (193945). The sale of war bonds became a patriotic way for those on the home front to contribute to the national defense and war effort. It was a unique combination of patriotism and consumerism that sold $185.7 billion in securities (bonds). Over the course of the war, Lamour sold some $300 million of the bonds around the country. Other members of Hollywood's entertainment community used their celebrity status to help sell war bonds, but Lamour was credited with being the first star to offer her services to do so.

The first U.S. Savings Bond was sold to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345; see entry) on May 1, 1941. There would be seven war bond drives in the series. On January 3, 1946, the last proceeds from the Victory Bond campaigns were deposited into the U.S. Treasury. Although the initial goal of the war bond campaign was to finance the war, its greatest accomplishment would be the positive boost it had on the morale of home front Americans.

Beauty queen

Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton was born in the charity ward of a New Orleans, Louisiana, hospital on December 10, 1914. Her parents, Carmen Louise La Porte and John Watson Slaton, soon divorced and her mother was briefly married to Clarence Lambour. Her stepfather's name was later adapted to create Dorothy's stage name, Lamour. Dorothy was a beautiful child who grew up to win the Miss New Orleans beauty contest in 1931. She and her mother then moved to Chicago, Illinois, to pursue Dorothy's singing career. Chicago was one of the music capitals of the world at the time. Dorothy had no formal training but dreamed of singing as a professional. A friend encouraged her to try out for a female vocalist's spot in the Herbie Kay band. Kay (19041944) was a bandleader with a national radio show. In 1935 he would become Dorothy's first husband, although they would soon divorce in 1939. While playing on tour in Dallas, Texas, Dorothy walked through the lobby with Kay and noticed the placards announcing the orchestra would feature Dorothy Lamour. The b had been left out of her name and Kay decided he liked it, so the change was made from Lambour to Lamour. Dorothy Lamour performed on stage and radio with Kay but soon decided to try her luck in New York City, so she and her mother made the move. While in Chicago she had become acquainted with the well-known singer Rudy Vallee (19011986), who was a friend of Kay's. He helped introduce Lamour around town. She soon found work at several clubs, including El Morocco and The Stork Club. She was singing at a cabaret (a restaurant that provides refreshments and entertainment) when Louis B. Mayer (18851956), a top Hollywood studio chief, heard her and offered her a movie screen test. The catch was that she had to get herself to Hollywood, California.

Jungle princess

Lamour was appearing on the NBC radio show Dreamer of Dreams in 1933 when the studio decided to move the show to its Hollywood studios. Lamour made the move to Hollywood, too, and received a bit part as a chorus girl in a musical. She eventually received a contract with Paramount in 1935 but didn't appear in films again until 1936. That was the year Lamour landed the part of Ulah, a female Tarzan type among tropical natives, in Paramount's The Jungle Princess. In the film, Lamour was featured in a wrap-around sarong costume. She became an instant star and although she wore a sarong in only six of her fifty-nine films, it was to define her career. With her long, dark hair and trademark sarong, Lamour was a favorite pinup of thousands of U.S. servicemen during World War II.

Lamour's recordings and musical numbers in her many films helped make her one of the top box office draws in the late 1930s and the 1940s. She was best known for a series of musical-comedy films she starred in with Bob Hope (19032003) and Bing Crosby (19031977). The seven "road" movies, as they were known, were Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946), Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and Road to Hong Kong (1962).

War bonds

When the United States declared war in December 1941, Lamour immediately contacted Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. secretary of the treasury, to volunteer her services in selling war bonds. He enthusiastically accepted her offer to sell bonds as well as to introduce a new government plan called "The War Bonds Savings Plan." Lamour would go into the war plants where aircraft, ships, and weapons were manufactured and ask the workers to invest 10 percent of their gross salaries in savings bonds. She was soon sent off in a government railroad car to collect money for the cause. Her first stop was New York City, and then she toured New England. She would travel over fifteen hundred miles through twenty-five cities in nine days. In each of these places she was greeted by thousands of people lined up on the streets. By the end of her tour, she had

Bette Davis and the Hollywood Canteen

Many members of Hollywood's entertainment community contributed to the war effort. Bette Davis (19081989) was among the first to volunteer her services to the U.S. State Department in order to help. She joined the "Stars Over America" program and traveled across the country to sell war bonds, raise money, and bring attention to the cause. Davis was so successful that the government requested a second tour, where she sold more bonds in one day than anyone else had in two months. At one point she sold two million dollars' worth of bonds in two days.

Davis would make a major wartime contribution when she helped establish a servicemen's club on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. The Hollywood Canteen was one of the entertainment clubs set up for soldiers who were either headed to war or home on leave. Davis leased a former livery stable just one block off Sunset Boulevard and persuaded dozens of guilds and unions to donate the labor and materials to renovate and decorate the building. She enlisted the help of her agent to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Canteen so that there was always a surplus of funds despite a weekly bill of three

thousand dollars for food alone. She called on the stars to donate money and time and she served as the Canteen's president. Davis was there on opening night, October 3, 1942, to give the welcoming speech to over three thousand soldiers, sailors, and marines.

The Hollywood Canteen provided music, dancing, fun, and good food at no charge to the servicemen. It was a place where they could mingle with movie stars who would serve their meals, sign autographs, and pose for an endless succession of photographs. The Hollywood Canteen, with its lineup of stars, brought glamour and excitement to thousands of fighting men as the war dragged on. Increasingly the Canteen would serve wounded and disabled servicemen. Davis put together a pamphlet of instructions to help volunteers deal compassionately with these men. The sign over the entrance to the Hollywood Canteen read, "THROUGH THESE PORTALS PASS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL UNIFORMS IN THE WORLD." Davis gave long hours to ensure the Canteen's success. In the spring of 1944 she made a cameo (very brief) appearance in Hollywood Canteen, a Warner Brothers' film about the club. Several stars played themselves in the picture, a story about two soldiers who are given the royal treatment and a glimpse of the backstage workings in the club. The star-studded film brought in $3.3 million in profits, most of it donated to the Canteen. Upon completion of the film Davis visited Washington, D.C., where she met President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

World War II ended with the Japanese surrender in August 1945. The Hollywood Canteen closed its doors on November 22 of that year. The five hundred thousand dollars in surplus funds from its budget was applied to a veterans' relief fund. Hundreds of thousands of men had passed through the Canteen in its three years of operation. The Canteen often entertained three thousand men a night, one thousand men in each of its three shifts. In James Spada's book More Than a Woman, Bette Davis said, "The servicemen were all so lonesome and sad. One Christmas Eve Bing Crosby came through the kitchen door with his four little boys. He said, 'Thought maybe we could help out tonight,' and he got on that stage with those four little boys. Everything those men were fighting for were those four little boys!"

Davis received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, awarded by the secretary of the army to civilians who made substantial contributions to the army's mission.

collected more than thirty million dollars in war bonds. As soon as her next film was completed, Lamour set off on her second bond tour, this time to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During World War II, Lamour became known as "the bond bombshell" because she dedicated so much of her time to selling war bonds ("bombshell" was a slang term for a very beautiful woman). While on a bond drive in 1943, Lamour met her second husband, William Ross Howard III, an Air Corps lieutenant. They would remain married for thirty-five years, until Howard's death in 1978.

Lamour's contribution to the war effort was also felt at the Hollywood Canteen (see sidebar), where she spent many hours entertaining servicemen who were on leave. One Christmas Eve she dressed as Santa Claus and played the part so effectively that no one knew she was female, let alone the famous Dorothy Lamour, until the evening was over. At the canteen, Lamour willingly took her turn serving meals to the soldiers and washing dishes when the meal was through. She could be found entertaining on the stage as well as taking a turn on the dance floor. Often servicemen just wanted to talk with her and the other celebrities they had seen so often in movies.

Live and in person

After the war ended, Lamour remained active in the entertainment world. She appeared in several films in addition to the "road" movies. She went on to tour nationally in a production of Hello Dolly and Dubarry Was a Lady in the late 1960s. In the 1980s she performed around the country in a one-woman show where she sang many of the songs from World War II and reminisced with her audience. After a long and successful career, Dorothy Lamour died in Los Angeles, California, on September 22, 1996.

For More Information


Hoopes, Roy. When the Stars Went to War: Hollywood and World War II. New York: Random House, 1994.

Lamour, Dorothy. My Side of the Road. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Spada, James. More Than a Woman: An Intimate Biography of Bette Davis. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Web sites

"Queen of the Road." People Weekly. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"World War Two Advertising HistoryWar Bonds." Ad-Access. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

About this article

Lamour, Dorothy

Updated About content Print Article