Dinah! – With a song, a kiss & a smile she won the hearts of America… By Susan Calter

How clearly I remember being surprised to see Dinah Shore in an old film on late night television in the early 70s. At first I thought I was mistaken, I only knew Dinah to be a singer and talk show hostess? The film was “Belle of the Yukon” (1944) and she played “the other woman” Lettie Candless opposite Gypsy Rose Lee. Both women were after the dashing “Honest John Calhoun” played by Randolph Scott. 57image01
It was not a great movie, thankfully the musical numbers made it a pleasant experience. After doing some research, the fact that Dinah Shore’s movie career faded by the early 50s was not surprising because it never amounted to much just like other female singers of that era. She was in 9 films from 1943 to 1952 and in most them she was only given bit parts. The movie moguls of the 1940s put all of their performers to work by placing them strategically in films to promote their careers and to give a boost to the war effort.
As a performer, the name “Fannie” worked well for the comical Miss Brice but not for Frances “Fannie” Rose Shore who was born on February 29, 1916, a leap-year. My guess is that Fannie Shore’s parents, who were Russian-Jewish immigrants named their second daughter after the Jewish comic who was celebrating a brilliant career in vaudeville. Young Fannie Shore would soon find out how cruel people could be in the Deep-South when she tried to assimilate into a world where Jewish people were not accepted.
Just before her second birthday Fannie was stricken with poliomyelitis. Polio was quite common in the United States in the 1920s and it was one of the most feared diseases during the first half of the 20th Century. In fact, the year Fannie was born the polio epidemic killed 6,000 and paralyzed 27,000 more. She beat the odds when her family was determined to obtain the best medical care and made sure that it was followed up by extensive therapy.
57image02 Fannie’s leg was damaged from the virus but through her determination and with the help from her loving parents the injury never became a permanent handicap. With perseverance and resolve Fannie used exercise to help beat her deformity becoming an excellent swimmer and tennis player in years later.
Anna Shore encouraged her little girl to sing and hoped that Fannie would experience the success that she was never able to pursue as a singer. Solomon Shore would play “proud Papa” taking Fannie to their dry goods store so she could sing for his customers.
When their youngest daughter turned eight, the Shore’s moved their growing family from rural Winchester, Tennessee northwest to Nashville long before the capital became a “Mecca” for musical talent. The family prospered there with Sol opening a successful department store and everything seemed to be going well.
Her parents and sister Bessie, who was much older than Fannie, encouraged her in every way they could making sure they did not miss any of her singing performances from grade school to graduation. Fannie experienced her first brush as a radio performer on a five-minute program at a Nashville radio station WSM-AM while still in her teens. It was the money earned doing her radio gig that paid for college.
Before Fannie finished high school her beloved mother died suddenly of a heart attack. The family was devastated and her father immediately wanted Fannie to give up her hopes and dreams of becoming a singer. Knowing how much a musical career would have meant to her mother she was not ready to give it up.
She continued her education and her love of singing at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University as a sociology major. While enjoying college she was popular and social. Cheerleading became a passion and she was determined to be great at it even with her shortened leg. During this time she studied music and sang with the well-known Francis Craig orchestra.
With the success she experienced with a professional orchestra Fannie traveled for the first time to New York before the start of her senior year at Vanderbilt. She was given the opportunity to audition with a few orchestras and radio stations. Knowing how important education would be for his daughter, Sol Shore insisted Fannie would finish her last year of college and receive her degree before perusing her dream. Before her father could blink, Fannie graduated in 1938 and moved to New York City. 57image03
Almost immediately the 22 year old graduate found herself working as a singer on the radio. After hearing this southern belle sing the song “Dinah” many times, New York disc jockey, Martin Block started calling her “Dinah girl” when he could not remember her name. It stuck and Fannie decided to take the name and become Dinah Shore.
By 1940 Dinah found herself recording with bandleader Xavier Cugat, the song they was “The Breeze and I,” a tune that was a hit for Bob Eberly. Before the end of the year, she became a regular on Eddie Cantor’s weekly radio show “Time to Smile.” along with another young singer, Frank Sinatra. Dinah felt blessed with her good fortune and she had great respect for Mr. Cantor who taught her comedic timing. She also credited “Old Banjo Eyes” for teaching her self-assurance and how to bond with an audience.  
Dinah auditioned for Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey but was not hired by either so she decided to be a solo singer. She signed a recording contract with RCA Victor on their Bluebird label. “Yes, My Darling Daughter,” “I Hear a Rhapsody” and “Jim” were just a few of her hits from 1940 to 1941.
Dick Haymes was one of Dinah’s favorite male singers, in fact she would find him where ever he was performing in New York City. The only time she had was after she finished work as it was ususally very late at night. She even traveled to Flushing Meadows to see him perform with Harry James at the New York World’s Fair in 1940
By 1942 Dinah celebrated her first million seller with “Blues in the Night.” In 1943, she had her own radio program sponsored by General Foods, “Call to Music.” By 1944 Dinah’s recording of “I’ll Walk Alone” became her first #1 hit on the charts. Critics described Dinah’s voice as “silky and light-as-air.”
Oddly enough most of the negative comments about her singing came from Dinah’s own admission, she knew that she did not have a great voice. Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday were her idols. She knew if she explicitly enunciated the lyrics and sang the tune without disquieting embellishment it would result in the classification of “easy listening.”
Dinah was lucky enough to work again with Eddie Cantor in 1943 in her first film, “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” It was one of those “everyone jump in the pool films” with guest appearance by oodles of Warner Brothers contract players. At this same time she starred on “Paul Whiteman Presents” radio program.
57image04 Romance came into Dinah’s life when she met a young actor who was about to enter the service at the USO Hollywood Canteen. On December 5, 1943 she married this shamefully handsome actor, George Montgomery. They were both 27 years old.
George’s parents were also immigrants from Russia but unlike Dinah he came from a huge family. George was the youngest of 15 children. His movie career was extensive, from 1935 to 1967 he was in 87 films. In fact from 1953 to 1955 he was ranked as one the top five box-office movie idols.
The Montgomery’s were the “hot” new Hollywood couple. They were so popular as husband and wife that Whitman Publishing Company published “Dinah Shore and George Montgomery Cut-Outs,” a book of paper dolls. Strange to think that George who usually played a macho character was a paper doll on the side?
When George returned from the service they settled in the San Fernando Valley. Their first child Melissa Ann was born on January 4, 1948. In March of 1954 the Montgomery’s adopted a son John “Jody” David and moved to Beverly Hills. Their union faired better than most famous couples, lasting 19 years, divorcing in 1962. 57image05
During World War II, Dinah became the first woman entertainer to visit our servicemen on the front lines. Little did she know that with every visit she was winning the hearts of thousands of our men in uniform. She spent so much in her early career entertaining the troops that Bob Hope commented “Dinah Shore has been sent to more bases than chipped beef.” She was so adored that she was nicknamed “V-2” and a bridge in France was named after her. Dinah made more than 300 performance broadcasts between 1940 and 1945 for the Armed Forces Radio Network. She received the USO Medallion Award for all of her diligent efforts.
In 1946 Dinah changed recording companies and signed with Columbia. Between 1946 and 1949 Dinah experienced great success with her records. She had six songs that hit #1 on the Hit Parade and stayed there for more than a month …”The Gypsy,” “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons,” “Anniversary Song,” “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” “Buttons and Bows” and “Dear Hearts and Gentle People.” From 1940 to 1950 Dinah had 67 chart hits. She was selling roughly two million phonograph records per year.
During her recording career Dinah Shore earned nine gold records. As rock’ n’ roll became the music of the day, Dinah like others singers from her era started to feel the pinch with declining record sales. The era of sweet music was ending abruptly.
In 1950 she debuted on television on the Ed Wynn Show and was a guest on Bob Hope’s first show. At this point, little did Dinah know how much television would change her career and her life forever…she started small …but with a big punch.
NBC along with Chevrolet decided to take a chance and develop and produce a 15 minute musical show that premiered November 27, 1951. The show was broadcast on Tuesday and Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. and it was called the “Dinah Shore Show.” At the end of each show she would sing “See The USA In Your Chevrolet,” and throw a kiss to her audience, this became part of her persona. In 1952, she was chosen most popular female vocalist by the Gallup poll and in 1955 she won her first of 9 Emmys she would win by the end of her career.
By 1956 NBC felt it was time to overhaul the “Dinah Shore Show” by making it a hour long variety program called “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.” This decision in part was based on two successful specials Dinah did for Chevrolet earlier that same year not to mention a Peabody Award and another Emmy.
Expanding to an hour gave their creative team lots to think about. Now the show could feature choreographed musical numbers and sketches. Special guest stars were picked strategically and were very well received by the viewers. The vocal quintet, the Skylarks along with the Harry Zimmerman Orchestra worked with Dinah to make the transition a winner. Various dancing groups were also featured, and during a couple of seasons (1961-62), The Frank DeVol Orchestra substituted for Zimmerman’s. This union lasted until 1961 when Dinah changed sponsors and continued her show for another two years.
Perry Como was the only other singer hosting a television show at this time to get better ratings than Dinah. Perry’s show often ranked in the Nielsen’s top 25.
Shortly after her divorce in 1962, Dinah married tennis player, Maurice F. Smith in 1963 and divorced him a year later. Now with her television show over, Dinah still kept busy doing guest appearances and playing nightclubs in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. She changed her record label again to Capitol and produced several albums. The recordings prompted her to do concerts across the country. 57image06
In 1970 television watchers were thrilled to see the return of Dinah Shore but this time is was for daytime viewers. Again NBC designed another show for their special star called “Dinah’s Place.” The half hour show had Dinah singing and sharing homemaking hints with her audience. Besides guests she even did a little cooking (pre Martha!). Even though she won another Emmy for “Dinah’s Place,” NBC decided not to renew the show after the fourth year. Before the end of that year CBS offered her a 90 minute daily show entitled “Dinah!”
At this time Dinah started dating Burt Reynolds after he appeared as a guest on her show. The scandal was, of course, that Dinah was 19 years older than Burt. Thankfully the press was not as invasive then as they are today so the coverage of their affair was vague. In 1994 Burt Reynolds tearfully stated after hearing of the death of Dinah, “Hollywood has lost its greatest and only real angel. Dinah is what God meant when he strived to make perfection.” To this day, Reynolds still says that Dinah was the big romance of his life.
The show was a huge hit with great guests, wonderful music and interesting conversation (pre Oprah!). Dick Haymes was on her show twice and they enjoyed singing duets together. Dinah had many interests and she made sure she brought them into focus on her show. She loved entertaining, photography, painting and cooking. Her cooking segments were so well received that she published three books on the subject …”Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah,” “The Dinah Shore Cookbook” and “Dinah Shore’s American Kitchen.” “Dinah!” ended in 1980.
Andy Kaufman as “Tony Clifton” was a guest on “Dinah!” At this point in his career no one really knew what “Tony” was about and why Dinah had him on her show is still a mystery. During the interview, Dinah asked him some questions that he did not want to answer. Annoyed and offended “Tony Clifton” tipped a pan of eggs over Dinah’s head on “live television! The producers cut to an unscheduled commercial and Kaufman was removed from the studio…Dinah was humiliated.
In 1972 Dinah was asked to host the Colgate golf tournament for lady golfers and she enthusiastically accepted. After accepting the honor she thought that it would be a good idea to take up the sport. One of the most prestigious golf tournaments on the LPGA tour, the Colgate/Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle Golf Championship is now the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Now 33 years later, it is still being held at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs California.
In 1979 Dinah once again had a new show on the air called “Dinah and Friends.” It was the basic format of her other successful programs. This incarnation ended in 1984. Cable’s Nashville Network asked her to return to television in 1989 with “Conversation with Dinah.” Again she was hostess to many top celebrities engaging them in interesting conversation. In 1992 Dinah was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in Orlando, Florida.
“Dinah Shore – loved by all who knew her and millions who never did.” These are the words etched into Dinah’s grave marker at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California. Even though she fought polio as a young child she lived a very healthy life until 1993 when she experienced stomach pains. The news was not good, after extensive tests she was given the grave news that she had ovarian cancer. She kept the news quite and on February 24, 1994, the announcement was made, Dinah died in Beverly Hills 5 days before her 78th birthday.
George Montgomery remained close to Dinah and guest-starred on many of her television programs. After his acting career was over George became a very successful designer. Upon Dinah’s death he designed and created a bronze sculpture from their favorite family portrait. The statue stands at the entrance to the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Dinah Shore held American television viewers in the palm of her hand for over 40 years, yet she was humbled by it. Is it any wonder that she was named “Most Admired Woman” by the Gallup poll four times? We knew immediately that she was the real thing. She knew how hard it was to fit in as a young child so she made sure everyone else who she came in contact in her life would never feel like they were out-of-the-loop …