The hard-luck story of a Hollywood star's childhood is nothing new, but few overcame their difficult childhood with as much grace, style, and good humor as Dorothy Lamour.
Her parents, a waiter and waitress in New Orleans, divorced when Dorothy was very young. Her mother remarried (Dorothy would take her step-father's name, Lambour) but divorced again when Dorothy was in her early teens, forcing survival on a meager waitress's salary. At fifteen, Dorothy dropped out of high school and begin working. She got a big break in 1931 when she won the Miss New Orleans pageant (in a blue linen dress that cost $2.98). Her exotic looks, the result of her Louisiana-French, Spanish, and Irish heritage, represented the city's cultural heritage, and had to be a help launching her singing career.
Still it was a slow launch. She moved to Chicago and started as an elevator operator while making the rounds of local vaudeville revues. An audition for bandleader Herbie Kay's national radio program landed her, not just the job as the orchestra's female vocalist, but also a short-lived marriage to the band leader! The couple moved to New York where Dorothy began performing in nightclubs. There she was spotted by studio magnate Louis B. Meyer, who offered her a screen-test, contract, and her trademark costume.
Her breakout role was in the starring role of The Jungle Princess (1936), for the first time wrapped in the sarong which would become her trademark. (In actuality, Lamour wore the sarong in only six of her 50+ films, but those six films left a significant impression.) By the end of the 30's, Paramount recognized that their most bankable stars were Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. It made complete sense to cast all three into the same film. The Road To Singapore proved that the chemistry between Hope and Crosby was magical but that Dorothy had the comedic chops to stand with them. She quipped "I felt like a wonderful sandwich, a slice of white bread between two slices of ham." Running gags built on the patter and ad-libs between Hope and Crosby filled the "Road To" films, but the crew realized they had found magic during the filming of Singapore. The ad-libs had been flying when Dorothy looking into the camera and said "Hey fellas, I haven't had a line for ages!"
During the war, Lamour was one of the most popular pin-up girls, but she also did her part by starting the movie star War Bond Tours. Lamour personally promoted the sales of more that $21 million in War Bonds.
Lamour had a long association with radio. Her first husband was a fraternity brother of Rudy Vallee's, who helped her get started on his own program, as well as The Chase and Sanborn Hour. NBC put her under contract for The Dreamer Of Songs about the time her movie career started. After the War Dorothy became the hostess of Front And Center. The variety program was a summer replacement for The Fred Allen Show, with the Army Air Force recruiting as sponsors. The military connection gave the show its title; the hostess and her guests were called to report "front and center". The Air Corp connection also gave the show's male quartet, The Crew Chiefs, their name.
The biggest attraction of this old time program is more than the talent of the guests or even the considerable comic and singing talents of the hostess. It is the genuine fun that Lamour seems to be having during the performances. The program was successful enough to relaunch for the 1948 season as The Sealtest Variety Hour.