Dorothy Lamour was a singer before her career as an actress and was a singer still after her movie career had faded. She actually got her start as a singer (well, actually she got her start doing beauty pageants). She toured with bandleader Herbie Kay (whom she married) and performed frequently on radio and did some vaudeville. In the ’60s she became a nightclub entertainer and stage performer (touring with “Hello, Dolly.”). And she did television. She seems to have kept very busy. But one thing that remained constant on stage, on television, in her nightclub act, on radio and in her movies was that she sang.
The song she might be most associated with is “The Moon of Manakoora,” which was written for John Ford’s The Hurricane by Frank Loesser and Alfred Newman (who wrote the film’s score, as well) and in which Lamour had one of her best sarong roles. The song seemed to personify her sarong role.
But Lamour was not limited to sarong roles or sarong songs. She could also sing a pretty heartbreaking torch song. My favorite example of this is in the 1940 film Johnny Apollo, which she appeared in with Tyrone Power. She plays the hard luck girlfriend of gangster Lloyd Nolan, but falls in love with posh Power and tries to help him when he gets involved with the gangsters. Lamour was good at playing hard luck girls (her name in Johnny Apollo is even Lucky Dubarry), the kind of girl who stands by the man she loves no matter what, who’s been kicked around in life and is not necessarily destined for a happy ending (she played a similar role in Spawn of the North).
“This is the Beginning of the End” was written by Mack Gordon. I love how she sings this song. Her voice is rich, throbbing and gets in your chest and resonates. Classic torching singing – sitting by a piano, possibly amidst cigarette smoke, singing your heart out while sitting mostly still. It’s in the voice and in the eyes (Helen Morgan does something similar in the 1936 Show Boat with “Bill”).
On a side note, I always thought Johnny Apollo went slightly wrong in giving her a happy ending.
Here is another example of a torch song sung by Lamour in 1945, “Perfidia.” This one is about the betrayal of her lover. The song originally had Spanish lyrics and was written by Alberto Dominguez. Martin Leeds wrote the English lyrics. The song is most famous for being performed by Glenn Miller, here. But I don’t find the lyrics as sung in his version quite as heartbreaking as Lamour’s rendition.
Okay, so “I’m in the Mood for Love” isn’t a torch song, but a love song, which she sings so beautifully – intimate, sexy, sweet. The music was written by Jimmy McHugh and the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
Under this last youtube video was a comment by Wayne Brasler: “A wonderful singer though I think people just took that for granted, as they took her. She was so natural and so relaxed in front of the camera and in films the fact she was an outstanding actress and singer weren’t noted.” I think that’s true. In an industry where many people had their voices dubbed, the fact that she did her own singing – and did it well – largely goes unnoticed. Just as her singing in the Road series was taken for granted (partially because of the presence of Bing Crosby). But imagine, for a moment, a Road movie with a lead who couldn’t sing? Or had their voice dubbed? Some of the magic of the series would have been missing.
This post is part of my contribution to the “Dorothy Lamour Blogathon,” hosted by Silver Screenings and Front and Frock. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries, which will be posted as a recap at the end of the day.