Dinah Shore, the durable and phenomenally successful entertainer who moved gracefully from radio and recordings to television, cookbooks and her own celebrity golf tournament, capturing and keeping America’s heart along the way, died Thursday in her Beverly Hills home. She was 76.
Miss Shore died of cancer, with her former husband, film star George Montgomery, and their two grown children, Melissa Ann Hime and John David Montgomery, at her side, publicist Connie Stone said.
Over the long span of her career, the golden-haired Southern belle garnered nine gold records, 10 Emmys--more than any other performer in television history--and her most cherished award, a Peabody, which included the inscription, “What TV needs, obviously, is about 100 Dinah Shores.”
In observance of her death, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed flowers on one of Miss Shore’s three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded to her for outstanding achievement in radio, recording and television.
“We have lost one of the voices that defined an era for us,” said Hollywood billionaire and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis, who, with his wife, Barbara, was a friend of Miss Shore. “In many ways Dinah Shore set an example for us all to follow, not least in the areas of charity and fund raising for the less fortunate. Dinah was a joy to be around, independent and humorous. We should not mourn her death but rather celebrate her life.”
Miss Shore reigned over television for four decades from its infancy in the 1950s until the 1990s with a succession of shows built around her husky, sentimental voice, Southern comedic charm, cooking talent and ability to cajole celebrities to join her for whatever they wanted to say or do.
Her string of enviable successes on the small screen included the 15-minute musical program, “The Dinah Shore Show,” from 1951 to 1957; the Chevrolet-sponsored Sunday night hour, “The Dinah Shore Show” from 1957 to 1963; the 90-minute talk show “Dinah!” from 1974 to 1980; “Dinah’s Place” from 1970 to 1974; “Dinah and Friends” from 1979 to 1984, and from 1989 to 1991, a half-hour talk show on the Nashville Network, “A Conversation With Dinah.”
Even Miss Shore was a little nervous when she expanded her original television program from 15 minutes to an hourlong show on Sunday nights in which she sang “See the USA in your Chevrolet” and blew a huge kiss to TV viewers.
But Times entertainment editor Cecil Smith called that 1957-58 season “the year of Dinah Shore” and said Miss Shore “waltzed into the big color shows with the casual grace and warmth of a talented neighbor dropping in from next door to sing a little and show off some brilliant friends.
“And,” Smith added, “she won the nation’s Sunday-night hearts.”
Miss Shore also won her Peabody, an Emmy, and the Sylvania Award, and was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year.
Over the decades, she was amused by attempts to describe the character of her various shows and analyze their success.
“What we are is a ‘Do’ show,” she told The Times in 1972 when she was holding forth on “Dinah’s Place.” “Almost everyone who comes on has something they want to do. Ethel Kennedy played the piano, Joanne Woodward did some beautiful needlepoint. Burt Lancaster did a perfect Italian spaghetti sauce.”
With a sports enthusiasm based in a childhood bout with polio, Miss Shore became the first woman to earn the Entertainer of the Year Award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
The 22nd annual Nabisco Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, one of the richest on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour, will be played in March at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Jim Webb, deputy commissioner of the association, said Thursday that he was “shocked . . . deeply saddened. . . . We’ve lost a great friend and tremendous supporter of not only the LPGA but golf in general. It is like losing one of your very best friends.”
Miss Shore, with her well-known penchant for humor, recalled for The Times in 1992 how reluctant she had been to involve herself in the tournament two decades earlier:
“The Colgate Co. was sponsoring my television show, and I was a tennis player. I didn’t play golf. However, the powers that be decided they were going to sponsor a golf tournament. I said make it tennis; I didn’t want to look like a dummy in two sports. . . . I took a crash course in golf.”
But in no time, even Miss Shore was describing herself as “a real golf bum.”
The brown-eyed natural brunette who had been known for her honey-blond hair since 1942 was often on best-dressed lists and was known for her robust health, energy and verve that made her appear far younger than her actual years. She once described her formula for living as being able to “forget everything that happened yesterday and live in the present.”
Former President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, friends with the singer for 40 years, called her “a dynamic individual . . . talented, energetic (with) a sincere spark for life.”
“Dinah was five-star in every way,” said former President Gerald Ford, a neighbor of Miss Shore in Rancho Mirage. “Betty and I have lost a very dear friend, one of the finest, most generous and thoughtful persons we have been privileged to know.”
Actor Burt Reynolds, who had a celebrated love affair with Miss Shore in the early 1970s, said: “Hollywood has lost its greatest and only real angel. Dinah is what God meant when he strived to make perfection.
“She was the sunshine in my life and millions and millions of others,” Reynolds said. “She is the only person I ever knew who had nothing bad to say about anyone.”
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, called Miss Shore “the kindest and the gentlest and the most enduring of all the talented folks in our world.”
“It’s going to be hard to face tomorrow,” he said, “without Dinah.”
The multitalented Miss Shore, whose paintings have been exhibited at the California Museum of Science and Industry, was born Frances Rose Shore on March 1, 1917, in Winchester, Tenn.
Stricken with polio when she was 18 months old, she credited the experience with giving her an inferiority complex and for pushing her into sports and entertainment.
“That early experience made me shy and ambitious at the same time,” she said in 1972. “I wanted to run faster than anyone else, and jump higher. I knew I had to do something to prove myself.
“I wanted to act,” she said, “but there weren’t any Tennessee Williamses around in those days and it wasn’t easy for a girl with a Southern accent to get work. Luckily, I could sing.”
She started singing at Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, Tenn., giving up voice lessons to become a cheerleader. Nevertheless, she was soon singing on Nashville radio stations WSM and WLAC.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University with a degree in sociology, Miss Shore sold her camera and radio to finance a two-week job hunt in New York. It didn’t take that long.
She auditioned for disc jockey Martin Block at radio station WNEW, singing “Dinah.” In a historic lapse of memory, Block announced that “Dinah Shore” had won the audition. Disliking her own given name, she carried that one to fame.
Miss Shore worked as a fill-in singer at NBC radio on such shows as “Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street,” and found steady work on Eddie Cantor’s show. By 1943 she had her own radio show, and was recording with such famous bandleaders as Xavier Cugat.
She sold 1 million copies of “Yes, My Darling Daughter,” and that recording success was followed quickly by “Blues in the Night,” “Shoo Fly Pie,” and “Doin’ What Comes Naturally.” Other hits were “Buttons and Bows,” “Dear Hearts and Gentle People,” “It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House,” and “I’ll Walk Alone.”
A favorite on radio and jukeboxes and with GIs as America went to war, Miss Shore eventually got her chance to act. She didn’t like it.
She was in such films as “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” in 1943, “Up in Arms,” “Follow the Boys,” and “Belle of the Yukon” in 1944, “Make Mine Music” and “Till the Clouds Roll By” in 1946, “Fun and Fancy Free” in 1947, “and “Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick” in 1952.
“I hated it,” she said years later. “Making (movies) was so boring. You sat around interminably. And I never thought I was photogenic. I thought I looked horrible on the Technicolor screen.”
She said the experience also terrified her, and that she was afraid people would learn that she didn’t read music well.
Miss Shore found the small screen far more to her liking.
“I don’t know how to be afraid of that old red eye. It’s one person to me,” she told Associated Press in 1989. “I don’t visualize large numbers of people out there. I’m comfortable with it.”
In 1941, Miss Shore fell in love with Montgomery’s image when she went to see his film “The Cowboy and the Blonde” 15 times. Two years later, when she was playing the Hollywood Canteen, he attended the show and confessed that he was a fan of hers as well.
They were married in Las Vegas Dec. 5, 1943, and after one of Hollywood’s storybook marriages, were divorced May 9, 1962.
“In the end,” she said, “we just drifted apart.”
Miss Shore married Palm Springs contractor and tennis player Maurice Fabian Smith on May 26, 1963, but that marriage lasted less than a year.
She began her romantic liaison with Reynolds after he appeared on her television show.
An enthusiastic cook, Miss Shore wrote three best-selling cookbooks, “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah” in 1971, “The Dinah Shore Cookbook” in 1983 and “The Dinah Shore American Kitchen” in 1990.
She continued to give concerts, often benefiting her favorite philanthropies--the March of Dimes, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Junior Achievement, on whose national board she served.
In recognition of her business acumen and wide popularity and experience in entertainment, Miss Shore was appointed to the board of directors of MGM/UA Entertainment Co. in 1985--one of the few women entertainers, including Mary Pickford and Grace Kelly, ever to serve on motion picture boards.
Although she broke important ground for women in entertainment and sports and by opening up country club memberships to single women, Miss Shore spoke out against “women’s liberation in the early 1970s.
“It’s always been a man’s world,” she said in 1972, “and it probably always will be. I don’t want to change that. All of my career, on radio, in recording studios, in films and on television, men have made the decisions for me, and they’ve usually been the right ones.”
Among the accolades of a lifetime before microphones were nine Gold Medal Photoplay Awards, the Downbeat Pop-Jazz Award, the Golden Globe, and frequent listing on Gallup Poll’s 10 Most Admired Women in the World.
In addition to her children, Miss Shore is survived by three grandchildren, Jennefer, Adam and Alexander.
* APPRECIATION, In Calendar