In Praise of Dinah Shore

I have been impatient to do a post on Dinah Shore (Fannye Rose Shore, 1916-1994) for years. She’s a Leap Year baby, and I normally do biographical posts on birthdays. Though a creature of the Big Band era, Shore was still a huge pop cultural force when I was a kid growing up in the ’70s, largely because of her syndicated talk shows. In format, her show was not unlike those of Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas, however Shore was a much bigger star and a much bigger talent than either of those guys. She was more at a Perry Como, Andy Williams, or Nat King Cole level, if such comparisons aren’t unfair.

Both my parents loved her, my mom because of the hit songs of her youth, my dad because to him she was a local gal, born a half hour from his Tennessee hometown. She was born in the town of Winchester, then moved to McMinnville (where I have many relatives and ancestors), and finally to Nashville, where she graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in sociology and got her first professional experience as a singer. Something else I cherish about her is that she is JEWISH, a fact that sort of got swamped by her Southern identity. Think about it — it’s the same surname as the Comedy Store family Sammy, Mitzi and Pauley Shore (although apparently not a close relation). Later Eddie Cantor was to be a mentor to her and helped boost her career. So there’s an element of vaudeville to her career, though she was a little bit late for that. Shore’s theme song “Dinah”, from whence she took her name, had been featured in Cantor’s Broadway show Kid Boots, although it was also covered by many other singers.

Shore moved to New York City and began her career in earnest in the late 1930s, singing with the likes of Frank Sinatra (whom she is rumored to have had an affair with), Xavier Cugat, Paul Whiteman, Ben Bernie, and others in nightclubs and on radio. As a recording artist she charted 80 hit songs between 1940 and 1957. She also dabbled a little in films in the 1940s: among others, you can see her in Follow the Boys (1944), ‘Til the Clouds Roll By (1946) and the very interesting Belle of the Yukon (1944) with Randolph Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Bob Burns, one of the few times she was called upon to act. In 1948 she got her own radio show. Television stardom followed. She had her own prime time variety show, sponsored by Chevrolet, from 1951 to 1961. Those ’70s talk shows I mentioned were Dinah’s Place (1970-74), Dinah! (1974-79) and Dinah and Friends (1979-80).

Something else worth mentioning is that she was gorgeous, although it is interesting to note that she was one of those women whose beauty blossomed in middle age. In the first boom in her career (1943-63) she had been married to Hollywood actor George Montgomery. In later years she had relationships with Andy Williams, Burt Reynolds, and Wayne Rogers. 

Dinah Shore died of ovarian cancer at the relatively young age of 78 in 1994.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, including television and radio variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.