Shore, Dinah (1917-1994)

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Shore, Dinah (1917-1994)

A sultry-voiced pop singer with Southern charm, Dinah Shore recorded 75 hit records between 1940 and 1955. After a modest career in the movies, Dinah found her niche in television, making her debut in 1951 as the cheery host of a fifteen-minute variety show, which aired twice a week. She became even more popular with The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1956-63), singing the jingle "See the USA in your Chevrolet," and smacking a signature sign-off kiss to the audience. Like another of that era's television singers, Kate Smith, Dinah quickly became a national institution.

Born in Winchester, Tennessee, Dinah graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in sociology. Moving to New York City after graduation, she sang on radio with Frank Sinatra—who nicknamed her "Magnolia Blossom"—and tried out unsuccessfully as a vocalist for several top dance bands. Eddie Cantor's daughters heard her singing on WNEW, and she successfully auditioned for Cantor's radio show, which had been a career springboard for singers Deanna Durbin, Margaret Whiting, and Bobby Breen. Within weeks of her debut she had a Columbia recording contract, and Cantor put up $750 of his own money to buy her the rights to the song, "Yes, My Darling Daughter," which became her first hit. By the end of 1940, she was voted Outstanding New Star of the Year by six hundred radio editors.

Shore made her movie debut in the Eddie Cantor musical, Thank Your Lucky Stars, perhaps best remembered for a decision made by Warner Brothers' make-up artists to lighten Shore's dark hair to an off-blond color. Samuel Goldwyn chose Dinah to co-star in Danny Kaye's 1944 debut film, a GI comedy, Up in Arms, in which she introduced two Harold Arlen songs, "Now I Know" and "Tess's Torch Song." In the few movies that followed (Belle of the Yukon, Follow the Boys, Till the Clouds Roll By, and Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick), Dinah was featured in guest-singing spots or given minor roles. "I bombed as a movie star," she candidly admitted, but she soon became a superstar on television.

Dinah's warm, friendly manner with her top-name guest stars made her one of the few women to achieve a major success as a variety-series host, and the Chevy Show ran for seven seasons as a highlight of NBC's Sunday night schedule. The program allowed Dinah to display a variety of talents in skits and production numbers, in addition to singing such perennial favorites as "Blues in the Night," "I'll Walk Alone," and "Buttons and Bows." In 1961 NBC moved Dinah to Friday nights to give a new Western show, Bonanza, the Sunday slot, but her popularity continued.

During her years on television, Dinah received ten Emmy Awards and was regularly named to the list of the nation's most admired women. Making the transition from variety show to talk show host, she continued to win fans with Dinah's Place (1970-74), Dinah and Her Friends (1979-84), and A Conversation with Dinah (1989-91).

In the early 1970s, Dinah's six-year romance with Burt Reynolds, who was 18 years her junior, made big news in the tabloids. A UPI reporter called it "one of the most tastefully handled Hollywood love affairs in recent memory." Both Burt and Dinah openly conversed about it on talk shows and saw no problem with the age difference. They remained good friends after the break-up, and he often appeared on her television shows.

In 1981, at the age of sixty-four, Dinah boldly signed a contract for a series of live stage performances, her first in over thirty years. Although accustomed to television cue cards, she was able, after a few rehearsals, to remember all her new lyrics and arrangements, and the shows went smoothly. During her last years she was an avid tennis player and golfer, also sponsoring a tournament on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour.

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946 to Present. New York, Ballantine, 1981.

Hemming, Roy, and David Hajdu. Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop. New York, Newmarket, 1991.

Inman, David. The TV Encyclopedia. New York, Perigee, 1991.