A brief sketch on the husband-wife eccentric dance team of Lorraine and Rognan, best known for their appearances in two Hollywood musicals, and the spectacular, tragic end of their act during World War Two.
Roy Rognan (1910-43) was the son of Norwegian immigrants. He was born in Sandpoint, Idaho; the family later moved to Washington State. The earliest professional credit for Rognan I have been able to find is a gig as an acrobat in the 1935 Broadway production of The Taming of the Shrew with Lunt and Fontanne. Given his western origins, it’s logical to speculate that he began his show biz career in Chicago or Seattle and worked his way east, or perhaps began with traveling circuses, but I’ve not yet uncovered anything prior to Broadway.
Jean Lorraine (Jean O’Rourke, 1906-69) was from California. She first turns up in the silent Fox shorts Dizzy Dancers (1926) and Twenty Legs Under the Sea (1927). You can also see her in walk ons and chorus parts in The Wild Party (1929) with Clara Bow; Words and Music (1929) with Lois Moran, Tom Patricola, Frank Albertson, and Helen Twelvetrees; The Great Divide (1929) with Dorothy Mackaill, Myrna Loy, and Creighton Hale, Love Detectives (1934, short) with Frank Albertson and Betty Grable, Turn off the Moon (1937) with Charles Ruggles, and Wells Fargo (1937) with Joel McCrea.
The earliest references to Lorraine and Rognan as a team I have found are in 1938. By this late stage, vaudeville was no longer a going concern. They would have gotten their start in night cubs, presentation houses, and/or traveling revues. I see a Variety reference to them appearing on a bill with Eddie Garr, the Berry Brothers, Ming and Toy, and others. They danced on bills with the Ink Spots in 1940 (the Buffalo Theatre) and 1941 (the New York Paramount).
The two Hollywood musicals they danced in as a team were The Fleet’s In (1942) with Dorothy Lamour, William Holden, Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Cass Daley, Gil Lamb, Jack Norton, Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, and Betty Jane Rhodes. Rhodes also appears in their next film Salute for Three (1943), along with MacDonald Carey, Cliff Edwards, and Dona Drake.
Sadly this promising beginning was cut short by a World War Two tragedy. In early 1943 the pair were touring Europe with the USO when their plane crashed in Lisbon, killing Rognan, and badly injuring Lorraine as well as fellow passenger, singer Jane Froman, whose ordeal was dramatized in the 1952 bio-pic A Song in My Heart starring Susan Hayward. More on the team, including a clip of them dancing, and more description of the crash, can be found on All Fall Down, the excellent website of my friend John Towsen.
Following the crash, Lorraine worked primarily as a singer, and had walk-on roles in the films Mildred Pierce and Weekend at the Waldorf, both in 1945.
To learn more about show business history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.