Forrest, Helen (1918–1999)

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Forrest, Helen (1918–1999)

American popular singer of the big-band era whose signature song was "I Had the Craziest Dream." Name variations: sang under Helen Trees, Helen Farraday, Fran Helene, Hilda Farrar, and Bonnie Blue. Born on April 12, 1918, in Atlantic City, New Jersey; died of congestive heart failure on July 11, 1999, in Los Angeles, California; married drummer Al Spieldock (divorced); married actor Paul Hogan (divorced); married businessman Charlie Feinman, in 1959 (divorced); children: (third marriage) one son.

Epitomizing the big-band singer of the swing era—the years during and following World War II—Helen Forrest was a vocalist for three of the top bandleaders of her day: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. Known for her warm, flexible voice, Forrest could handle any expressive mood or rhythmic style and was one of a handful of band singers who could project the lyric of a ballad without losing the dance beat. Forrest reached the peak of her career in the early 1940s with hits such as "I Had the Craziest Dream," "Skylark," I Cried for You," "I've Heard That Song Before," and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You," and won both the Down Beat and Metronome polls as the number-one female singer in the country in 1942 and 1943.

Helen Forrest was born on April 12, 1918, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and started her career in her hometown, singing with her brother's small band and on local radio stations. In 1939, she was Artie Shaw's lead vocalist for 15 months, until he suddenly decided to disband and quit the business. Ten days later, she was hired by Benny Goodman, who, according to Forrest, was a cold and difficult man to work for. She left him after two grueling years and went to work for trumpeter Harry James, who had also deserted Goodman to form his own band. Forrest and James were romantically involved for most of the two years she was with his band and were engaged to be married at one point. But then, as she explained later to columnist Earl Wilson, "He met Betty Grable—and how could I compete with the pinup girl of the world? The next thing I knew I was standing outside the window of my apartment on a ledge about three stories high and people were yelling at me not to do anything foolish." In her 1982 autobiography, I Had the Craziest Dream, Forrest says she is glad she did not jump. "I've had a pretty good life and a lot of laughs since then."

Forrest left James' band and went out on her own in 1943. Despite a thriving radio show with Dick Haymes from 1944 to 1947, she was not as successful as other erstwhile band singers, such as Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee . She blamed it on not being beautiful enough and the coming of rock and roll. Forrest, who was married and divorced three times, quit show business in the mid-1960s, when she moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in hopes that a dryer climate would help her son's sinus condition. After running an Indian jewelry shop for a time, she made a brief comeback in 1979, participating in big-band fundraisers for public-television stations and rejoining Haymes for a tour of The Fabulous '40s. After suffering a mild stroke in 1980, she returned to singing two months later on a limited schedule. "I think every time I step on a stage I am young again," she once said. "I think my performances prove I can still sing with anyone, even those many years younger. What scares me is being alone."

sources:

Clarke, Donald, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. NY: Viking, 1989.

Hemming, Roy and David Hajdu. Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop. NY: New Market Press, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts