One of the more inspirational stories from the annals of show business belongs to singer Jane Froman (1907-1980).
Froman was raised in Missouri by a single mom who also instructed her in classical voice, both at home, and later at Christian (now Columbia) College, where she graduated in 1926. After this, she studied at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. While in Cincinatti, she also sang on local WLW radio, where she met vaudeville singer Don Ross in 1931. The pair married two years later, and often performed together. Ross also acted as Froman’s agent. Her rise was rapid. She was singing on national network radio and cutting records by 1931. 1933 was her breakthrough year: she sang regularly on the radio show Music That Satisfies with Bing Crosby; appeared in the musical film Kissing Time, and was cast in her first broadway show, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. She was voted most popular female radio singer in 1934. In 1935 she was in the movie Stars Over Broadway with Pat O’Brien and Frank McHugh. In 1937 she and Ross had their own radio program on NBC. In 1938 she sang in the film Radio City Revels, which also features Bob Burns, Ann Miller, and Jack Oakie. Then came the Broadway shows Keep Off the Grass (1940) and Laugh, Town, Laugh (1942).
In early 1943, disaster struck. Forman was touring Europe to entertain troops when her plane crashed in the ocean off Portugal. She broke multiple bones and clung to a portion of wreckage until rescue. The dance team of Lorraine and Rognan were also casualties of this crash. After convalescing for several months, and still wheelchair-bound, Froman returned to show business, appearing in the 1943 Broadway show Artists and Models. She subsequently graduated to crutches and a leg brace and returned to Europe to sing for the troops in 1945. In 1948 she returned to radio as a member of the cast of The Pause That Refreshes, sponsored by Coca Cola. That same year, she also divorced Ross. She was on to a new phase of her life.
In 1949, Froman began appearing regularly on television on such programs as The Milton Berle Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Paul Whiteman’s Goodyear Revue, and The Jackie Gleason Show. And then, nearly a decade after her accident: the biggest year of her career. In 1952, Susan Hayward played Froman in the musical bio-pic With a Song in My Heart, in which Froman supplied her own vocals, resulting in a hit soundtrack album.
That same year she launched her own tv variety program The Jane Froman Show, which was on the air through 1955. Through 1960 you could still catch her on such shows as The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and The Arthur Murray Party as well as in live performance in places like Las Vegas.
In 1961 Froman returned to Missouri, retired, and married a college sweetheart. But her many recordings continued to be resissued, recirculated and enjoyed down to the present day.
To learn more about show biz history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.