Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Album: Dorothy

Day Twenty of our Holiday ramble brings us to a meeting between Popeye the Sailor Man and Dorothy Lamour, just before a holiday parade was to commence outside Paramount Studios gates. Presumably, as the small fry enjoyed seeing those distorted forearms that one could develop from the ingestion of too much spinach, the adult males in the crowd could enjoy an eyeful of Miss Lamour wearing what appears to be some carefully arranged napkins. This face in the crowd found Dorothy a lovely sight and enjoyed the sound of her warmly honeyed voice in those Hope and Crosby "Road to..." movies between 1940 and 1952--even if she did play the straight woman to the pair. Particular favorites from that series might be Road to Morocco (1942), since it was one of the threesome's funniest, and Road to Utopia (1946) since Dorothy never looked more fetching than she did in the Gibson Girl era clothes in that Gold Rush tale.

The Louisiana-born girl, a former Miss New Orleans 1931, came to prominence on the radio as a singer on a radio program with the memorable name of "The Yeast Foamers", presumably because it was sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast. Lamour, who married the band leader on that show, Herbie Kay, heard the siren song of a New York cabaret career, appearing there with Rudy Vallee and eventually making a splash at El Morocco, where Louis B. Mayer's eagle eye fell upon her, and arranged a screen test, which eventually landed her at Paramount in 1935. Darkly exotic among the many bland blonde women who populate Hollywood in every decade, Dorothy or Dottie, as she insisted others call her, broke through in a movie called The Jungle Princess (1936) in which she played "Ulah", a distaff Tarzan who filled out a sarong nicely while Ray Milland and Ray Mala stood around in proper awe. This set Lamour on the path to more Gauguin-like fantasies in film, culminating in John Ford's The Hurricane (1937), a film that centers on the disastrous event of the title, but features a few truly ravishing shots of a natural looking beauty with little apparent artifice whenever Ford pauses to tenderly focus on her face.


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