Shore, Dinah (1917–1994)
Shore, Dinah (1917–1994)
Shore, Dinah (1917–1994)
Popular American singer and television personality. Born Frances Rose Shore on March 1, 1917, in Winchester, Tennessee; died of ovarian cancer on February 24, 1994, in Beverly Hills, California; elder of two daughters of Samuel Shore and Anna Shore; attended Vanderbilt University; married George Montgomery (an actor), in 1943 (divorced 1962); married Maurice Smith (a businessman), in 1963 (divorced 1964); children: (first marriage) Melissa Montgomery (b. 1948); John David (adopted, 1954).
Pursued a singing career on radio (from 1930s), becoming one of the country's most popular entertainers throughout radio's Golden Age; though an effort to expand her talents to musical films (1940s) was mainly unsuccessful, her transition to television (1950s) resulted in a 40-year, Emmy Award-winning career as a variety and talk show host; also known nationally as an accomplished golfer and promoter of the sport.
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943); Up in Arms (1944); Follow the Boys (1944); Belle of the Yukon (1944); (voice only) Make Mine Music (1946); Till the Clouds Roll By (1946); Fun and Fancy Free (1947); Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952); (cameo only) Oh, God! (1977); Health (1979).
"The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" (1951–61); "Dinah Shore Specials" (1964–65 and 1969); "Dinah's Place" (1970–74); "Dinah!" (1976); "A Conversation with Dinah" (1990–92).
The birthday celebration at a Beverly Hills restaurant one March night in 1994 was a quiet affair, despite a guest list that included some of Hollywood's best-known celebrities and power brokers. A birthday cake had been placed at the head of the table, its single candle left burning in front of the empty seat of honor which would have been occupied by Dinah Shore, who had passed away just a week before. She had been a best friend not only to those present but to the millions of Americans she had entertained during a remarkable 50-year career.
Although Shore had harbored a childhood dream of becoming famous, she kept it to herself during those years growing up in Winchester, Tennessee, a small town just outside of Nashville. She had been plain Frances Rose Shore back then. Born in 1917, she was the elder of two daughters of Samuel and Anna Shore . Samuel owned the only department store in Winchester, the first of what would become a modest chain of stores throughout greater Nashville, and would often provide free entertainment for his customers by standing little Fanny Rose up on the counter and making her sing "America the Beautiful." The Shores were one of a handful of Jewish families living in and around Nashville, and some said that Fanny Rose's singing ability came from a granduncle who had been a cantor. Shore would often point to the Sunday evening gospel services to which she was taken by an African-American nanny as one of her earliest musical influences.
Whatever the source of her show-business inclinations, it was plain to everyone that Dinah felt entirely at home in front of an audience when, at age four, she appeared in a local production called "A Tom Thumb Wedding" as a Japanese girl, bundled into a kimono and with an ornamental comb stuck in her hair. When the comb fell out during a particularly deep bow to the boy playing her husband, Dinah ran across the stage after it, provoking peals of delighted audience laughter. "I didn't mind," she once remembered. "I said to myself, 'Gee, they're laughing with me.'" Later, Shore found an outlet for her talents by becoming a cheerleader at Hume-Fogg High School, where her warm personality and good humor placed her consistently in the "most popular" category. During her high school years, she sang at local charity affairs and school programs, still keeping her dream of a show-business career to herself and, in fact, announcing she wanted to be a social worker when she was accepted at Vanderbilt University in 1934. Even so, she found work singing with Nashville dance bands on weekends and was thrilled when Nashville's WSM offered her a part-time job on one of its musical programs. Even better, New York's prestigious WNEW offered her a two-week contract, at five dollars a week, to sing on the station during her summer vacation. She had auditioned for them by performing one of her favorite songs, Dinah. "That Dinah girl," with her silky combination of Southern sweetheart and blues-struck lover, proved a popular attraction with WNEW's audience, as did another young singer just starting out on the station, Frank Sinatra, who dubbed her "the Dixie Flyer." Encouraged, little Fanny Rose from Tennessee moved to New York City the next year and began auditioning as Dinah Shore.
Be sure to have a dream.
It seemed at first as if her decision might have been hasty. She was turned down as a vocalist by both Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, and she could find only sporadic employment in radio, despite the response she had received a year earlier. She was not yet well known enough to be offered nightclub dates, and even Shore would admit that she wasn't the most graceful of dancers and wouldn't do credit to any chorus line. It was the recording studio that came to her rescue after two years of struggle. Shore won recording contracts with both NBC and RCA as a "sustaining artist," meaning she was paid nothing for her actual recording work but would be paid royalties on any of her records that sold more than a certain number of copies. She found additional employment cutting audition disks of new songs for music publishers. Finally, in 1939, she appeared on her first album as a "girl" singer with a long-forgotten group called "The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street" and, more important, had her first hit single, "Yes, My Darling Daughter." But it was one of her low-paying audition disks that propelled Shore into the medium that would make her childhood dream come true, radio.
One of her audition disks had been "Havana for a Night," done as a test recording for Xavier Cugat's band not long after arriving in New York. Late in 1939, as Variety's music editor Bernie Woods once recalled, Eddie Cantor was looking for a female vocalist for his new radio show. Woods brought the talent scout Cantor had hired to a record shop on Seventh Avenue and played the Cugat record for him. "At first, the only ones aware of [Shore's] great talent were the music publishers… and trade paper men," Woods recalled. "But word slowly got around about her and she got better and better jobs." Cantor agreed to audition this new young vocalist from Tennessee, and in 1940 Shore had her first job on national network radio. Cantor's audience was immediately taken with Shore's style. "Dinah made it big because she was… a class act," Woods wrote in his memoirs. "She handled herself well and avoided the pitfalls that tripped up so many female vocal aspirants of the time. She persistently rejected jobs that did not appear to further her career." One of those jobs was an eager offer from Tommy Dorsey, who had turned her down only a few years before, but Dinah, sensing that her future lay in radio and in recording, turned the tables and refused Dorsey's proposal. As if to prove her right, her 1942 recording of "Blues in the Night" quickly sold a million copies.
Cantor moved his show to California in 1941, and Shore soon found herself in the company of film stars and movie moguls. She was particularly taken with a dashing young actor named George Montgomery, whom she had first seen in the 1941 Western The Cowboy and the Blonde. Although Montgomery had enlisted in the Army by the time Shore arrived in Los Angeles, most of his time was served doing domestic duty and the opportunity soon arose for the two of them to meet. "I saw him, I wanted him," Dinah once said. "I despaired of him, but I finally married him." The nuptials were performed in Las Vegas on December 5, 1941, portrayed in
fan magazines as a fairy-tale union of two of Hollywood's most beautiful people. The picture seemed even more perfect when a daughter Melissa was born to the couple in 1948. During the '40s, Shore tried her hand at filmmaking, appearing in a series of bland studio musicals and quickly discovering that no one considered her particularly photogenic or glamorous enough for the big screen. She fell back on her radio and record work, hosting her own radio show sponsored by General Foods in 1943, and entertaining troops at training camps around the country and in Europe during World War II. After the war, Shore returned to her busy radio schedule, although a new medium was by now attracting everyone's attention.
Shore's neighborly, girl-next-door demeanor may not have been suited for movies, but it was perfectly matched for the more intimate television screen. The spontaneity of early television especially appealed to her. "Live TV has that little element of human fallibility," Shore once said. "If you make a mistake, you can use that ol' hambone and capitalize on it." After several appearances on variety shows hosted by friends she had made in radio—Kate Smith , Perry Como, and Patti Page , among them—Shore was offered her own show, to be sponsored by General Motors. "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" premiered on NBC in 1951, and no Sunday night was complete unless Shore sang the show's theme song, "See the USA in your Chevrolet," and blew her audience her trademark goodnight kiss.
Although Shore and Montgomery adopted a son, John David, in 1954, Shore had time for little else but her show during its ten-year run, winning two Emmy Awards along the way. By the late 1950s, the strains on her family life began to show. "I've always lived for whatever I'm doing at the moment," Shore once said. "When I work, I love every minute of it. That's probably why I didn't realize how much time my career took away from my family." The truth came as a hard blow when, after 22 years together, Shore and Montgomery were divorced in 1962, a year after "The Chevy Show" had ended. Although little was said publicly by either of them about the reasons for their separation, she and Montgomery managed to remain close friends after their divorce. Montgomery even made sure to point out, when asked about Shore's success, that "she projects just what she is—a simple, good woman."
After her divorce, Shore temporarily gave up television and retired to Palm Springs with her two children, where she took up tennis and was often seen playing doubles with her partner, a businessman named Maurice Smith, whom she married that same year. Little more than a year later, however, she and Smith were divorced—again, with little publicity or comment from either partner. Shore would remain single for the rest of her life, with her divorce from Smith marking the beginning of her most prolific period. In addition to a series of popular television specials during the mid-1960s, Shore made her debut in the world of professional golf. Colgate, one of the sponsors of her TV specials, had plans to extend its visibility into professional sports by sponsoring a major golf tournament on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour and proposed using Shore as the tournament's celebrity host. Shore had been enjoying the sport ever since her move to Palm Springs in the 1950s, and her acceptance of Colgate's suggestion led to the Dinah Shore Classic, which soon became a major televised event on the tour. Shore's trim figure, in pleated golf skirt and sun visor, remained a fixture of the sport for some 30 years, and the Dinah Shore Classic over which she presided each year is still an important stop on the LPGA professional tour.
Shore managed to combine her active show-business career with a rich social life, counting some of the nation's most influential people among her close friends. Her dinner parties were known for an eclectic mix of guests, ranging on any given evening from Esther Williams and Rosemary Clooney to Joe Namath and famed agent Irving Lazar. Although a loyal Democrat throughout her life, Shore often entertained Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Palm Springs and accepted invitations to White House affairs after the couple moved to Washington. "Whenever you saw her, she was happy and upbeat," remembers Lee Minelli , the widow of director Vincente Minelli. "We used to kid her and say: 'Here comes Miss Sunshine.' But we meant it." Shore meant it, too. "I know I'm gushy," she once told an interviewer. "I guess it's a carryover from my cheerleader days."
By the early 1970s, television's pervasive influence had grown beyond the evening hours. Advertisers were quick to realize the potential of daytime TV, and especially the waiting audience for the format which became so ubiquitous, the daytime talk show. Shore's homespun style and spontaneous humor were a perfect match. "Dinah's Place" premiered in 1970, the first in a string of such shows stretching over the next 20 years, earning Shore three more Emmy Awards. Among her guests on "Dinah's Place" during 1971 was actor Burt Reynolds, then at the height of his film career and, at 38, nearly 20 years Shore's junior. "I felt a pull on my heart immediately," Reynolds later remembered, and shocked the audience by asking Shore on the air if she would go to Palm Springs with him that weekend. The ensuing four-year-long affair was a public one, especially attracting attention when the two began living together in Shore's Palm Springs home, but ended badly when Reynolds left Shore for actress Sally Fields in 1976. "If I have any class," Reynolds now admits, "it came from Dinah. In terms of preparing for the rest of my life, I was so damn lucky to have been with her." Characteristically, Shore kept her anguish to herself and never spoke publicly about the affair. Lee Minelli says simply, "He was the love of her life."
Despite a certain amount of negative publicity surrounding her affair with Reynolds, Shore's popularity never wavered. In addition to her television work, she published the first of three cookbooks, Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah; gracefully assumed the role of grandmother when her daughter married and started her own family; and proudly attended her son's graduation from college when he earned a degree in forestry. In 1990, at 73 years of age, Shore was still energetically hosting a talk show, "Conversation with Dinah," on cable TV's Nashville Network and regularly playing golf and tennis. But in 1993, she confided to her friend Angie Dickinson that she had been having trouble with stomach pains and was consulting a doctor. The diagnosis was ovarian cancer. "Even after she told us about her illness," Dickinson says, "she felt she would get well." Only her closest friends knew of Shore's situation until it became evident later that year that there was little hope of recovery. Shore died peacefully at home in Palm Springs on February 24, 1994, with George Montgomery and her two children at her bedside. Her death came just one week shy of her 77th birthday.
With her passing, some of the sunshine seemed to go out of American show business. Despite her success, Shore never seemed to forget that she was just Fanny Rose from Tennessee, the hometown girl with a dream who always blew her national audience a big kiss after entertaining them with songs, stories, and easy, front-porch conversation. She was Hollywood's "greatest and only angel," as Burt Reynolds sadly commented, speaking for millions by adding, "Dinah was the most wonderful friend I ever had."
Anderson, Nancy. "Look Who's Back," in Good Housekeeping. Vol. 210, no. 1. January 1990.
Goodman, Mark, and Doris Bacon. "No One Finah," in People Weekly. Vol. 41, no. 10. March 21, 1994.
Reynolds, Burt. My Life. NY: Hyperion, 1994.
Woods, Bernie. When the Music Stopped: The Big Band Era Remembered. NY: Barricade, 1994.
Norman Powers , writer-producer, Chelsea Lane Productions, New York, New York