Dorothy Lamour

The Sarong Girl of Old Hollywood

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For more than 20 years Dorothy Lamour was one of the most successful and famous stars of Hollywood. Especially her continued work with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made her a Hollywood icon. As the „Sarong Girl“ she has written fashion and film history. 



Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton was born on December 10, 1914 in New Orleans. Her parents Carmen Louise and John Watson Slaton were both restaurant waiters. Their heritage was of Spanish, English, French and Irish descent. Her parents divorced when Dorothy was still a kid and her mother got married again shortly after to Clarence Lambour. But this marriage also only lasted for a couple of years and the couple divorced when Dorothy was a teenager. But, Dorothy keep a token when she changed her name for the stage into Dorothy Lamour – just committing the „b“ in her stepfather’s name. 

Dorothy quit school at the age of 14 – apparently after forging her mother’s signature on the permission to do so that Dorothy handed in at school. So, she started a business course and trained to be a typist – which she got so skilled at that she would always type her own letters, even at the height of her fame. At the same time, she started to take part in beauty pageants and became Miss New Orleans in 1931 at age 16. As her mom was a second-time divorcee back then, Dorothey supported the two of them with her prize money and they moved to Chicago. Here, Dorothy found work at Marshall Field’s department store and worked as an elevator operator. Her boss allowed her to go out for auditions around Chicago. At one point, Dorothy performed at a talent show at the Hotel Morrison in Chicago by orchestra leader Herbie Kay. She got an audition with him the next day and he hired her on the spot as a singer. So, in 1935, aged 21, Dorothy toured with Kay and the orchestra and her work with him got her into vaudeville as well as radio work. For example, she starred in her own weekly musical program on NBC Radio as well as in the famous Rudy Vallée radio show as well as „The Chase and Sanborn Hour“. 

Instant Success

In 1936, when Lamour was 25 years old, she and her mother, who got married for the third time moved to Los Angeles. She did a screen-test for Paramount Pictures and signed a contract with them right away. Her first uncredited role was in that very year in „College Holiday“ with George Burns and Gracie Allen. 

But already her second movie established her a star: It was „The Jungle Princess“ with Ray Milland. The three most important things happening in this movie: First, Lamour plays an exotic woman – a role that she would take on many times in the following years, she sang the song „Moonlight and Shadows“, which showed off her singing chops and was the beginning of her singing movie roles, and, third, Lamour wore a Sarong during the filming designed by famous costumer Edith Head. She would wear this particular piece of clothing in multiple films during her career. The next was John Ford’s „The Hurricane“ in 1937 with Lamour’s hit song „The Moon of Manakoora“ and a risqué diving scene that was done by her stunt double Lila Finn. It was followed by „Her Jungle Love“ and „Tropic Holiday“ in 1938. She also starred in other movies – sans Sarong – opposite Henry Fonda, George Raft, Irene Dunne, Jack Benny and Randolph Scott. 

But her most memorable appearances were probably in the „Road“ movies with Bob hope and Bing Crosby. 

Road Movies

The series of movies started in 1940 with „Road to Singapore“. Lamour, of course, was back a in a sarong. The most challenging part of „Road to Singapore“? The fact that Hope and Crosby did not stick to the lines of the script – instead they ad-lipped. Dotty, as Lamour was called by Hope, persevered though, learned to go with the flow and the audience’s response to the team of three was enthusiastic .“Road to Singapore“ became a solid hit and was followed one year later by „Road to Zanzibar“, which was even more successful, and another year later by „Road To Morocco“. In 1945, the three reunited for „Road to Utopia“ and 1947 for „Road to Rio“. In between filming with Hope and Crosby, Lamour starred acting and singing in several movies opposite leading men such as Tyrone Power, Robert Preston, Henry Fonda, Eddie Bracken, William Holden, Betty Hutton, Dick Powell, Fred MacMurray, Arturo de Cordova and Alan Ladd. Some of them in a skin-baring two piece, some of them in quite normal clothes. In 1947, Lamour left Paramount. 

Later Life

Her work in the 1950s included several different films – including comedies, melodramas, film noirs. She starred in Cecil B DeMille’s „The Greatest Show on Earth“ as well as „Road to Bali“ in 1952. But none of these movies could reach her former levels of success. Thus, she concentrated on TV and stage work, appearing on Broadway. In 1962, she returned to the movies with a cameo in „Road to Hong Kong“ – she was no longer the main love interest, Joan Collins had snapped this part, but Hope did not want to do the film without Lamour, who had been an integral part of the team since the beginning 20 years earlier. She mainly did cameos, TV appearances and theatre work after that – for example touring with „Hello Dolly!“. „Barefoot in the Park“ and „Personal Appearance“ and appearing on shows like „Love Boat“, „Hart to Hart“, „Murder She Wrote“ and „Marcus Welby M.D.“ 

Her last screen appearance was in 1987 on „Creepshow 2“ alongside George Kennedy as an elderly couple that gets murdered and revenged. Her final stage appearance was in the 1990 production of Stephen Sondheim’s „Follies“. 

On September 22, 1996, aged 81, Dorothy Lamour died from a heart attack at her home in North Hollywood. She is one of the few stars that actually has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for her radio contributions, one for her motion picture contributions.

War efforts

Dorothy Lamour was one of the many Hollywood stars that actively helped in the war effort with selling war bonds. Alongside Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Veronica Lake,  Lamour was one of the most asked for pin-up girls and sold war bonds worth $300 million, which earned her the nickname „The Bond Bombshell“ and she received a citation from the US Department of the Treasury. She also worked at the Hollywood Canteen.


Two important friendships in Dorothy Lamour’s life were those with Dorothy Dell and Carole Lombard.

Lamour and Dell had known each other from the early days in New Orleans, where they both grew up. Dell was actually a descendant of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, so the South, during the American Civil War. Dell desired to become a singer and signed a radio contract. At the same time she entered beauty pageants and won „Miss New Orleans“ in 1930, one year before Lamour. She was well-known and got many offers – but decided to start in vaudeville, to get her best friend Dorothy Lamour also started there. But, Dell moved to New York, got discovered by Florenz Ziegfeld, appeared on Broadway and made her way to Hollywood, where she signed with Paramount and was set to be built into a star. Dell died at age 19 in a car crash. Lamour followed her steps – from New Orleans and vaudeville and radio to Hollywood and Paramount. Where her second great friendship was formed – with Carole Lombard.  

Lombard was the one that got offered the role in „Now and Forever“, when Dell had prematurely died. The two became friends fast and when they were both cast for „Swing High, Swing Low“, Lombard made sure that Lamour’s part got extended by some pages of script. When Lombard left Paramount in 1938, she made sure that Lamour would be given her dressing room on the Paramount lot. In return, after Lombard’s death, Lamour would became active in the war bond effort. Lombard had been one of the most outspoken and active members of the initiative. 

Love Life

Lamour married orchestra leader Herbie Kaye in 1935. This was also the year in which Kaye had discovered her. The marriage lasted only four years and the couple divorced in 1939. Subsequently, Lamour had love affairs and relationships with James Stewart, John Howard, Greg Bautzer, Cary Grant’s roommate Randolph Scott, Philip Reed and director Frank Borzage. The most random but also scandalous affair though was with J. Edgar Hoover. Apparently, these two spent a night together in Washington. When asked about whether they had a sexual relationship, Lamour would later answer „I cannot deny it.“ 

In 1943, Lamour got married for a second time to William Ross Howard II. He was an Air Force captain and advertising executive. They had two sons (Richard Thomson Howard and John Ridgley). They relocated to Baltimore in 1957 until her husband’s death in 1978.

With all my love!




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