Dotty Mack: Lip Sync Pioneer

Today we direct your attention to a beautiful eccentric of early television days, Dotty Mack (Dorothy Macaluso, 1929-2019).

Mack was a a Cincinnati shop girl and mannequin (live in-store model), who chanced to get a job organizing records for a local radio station. This led to appearing on-air with local celebrity Paul Dixon, first on his radio show, then on the TV version. Her specialities were “pantomime” and lip syncing to records. Both of these concepts needs some filling out to adequately convey, I think. By pantomime, I think what is meant is something along the lines of what Jimmy Savo used to do, artistically illustrate the stories of songs or scenarios with one’s hands, face, and whole body. Mack was 19 or 20 when she started doing this, and not trained, hence, she wasn’t working within in the tradition of French clowns like Marcel Marceau, or in the very different tradition of English Christmas shows. Her pantomime in fact was part and parcel with what she was best known for, her lip syncing, in which she silently mouthed performances to records by pop singers like Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Eartha Kitt, Patti Page, and Dinah Shore. Another way to think of her art was “silent impressionist” — he imitated the gestures of the singers, without the voice. Lip syncing is a unique 20th century art form (think about it; it wouldn’t exist without the recording arts). By now, quite a few people have made a name for themselves in this niche: including performers as diverse as Jerry Lewis, Andy Kaufman, Lipsynka, Anna Deavere Smith, and Sarah Cooper.

In Mack’s day, her act was novel. Some respected what she did; some did not. At any rate, she was able to parlay her popularity on Dixon’s program to her own local shows, which led to a national variety show, The Dotty Mack Show, which started on the Dumont Network, and then ran on ABC from 1953 to 1956. In 1960, she married broadcast personality (and Friars’ Club eminence) William B. Williams, now best remembered for nicknaming Frank Sinatra “The Chairman of the Board” and for John Candy’s hilarious send-up of him on SCTV.

For more on the history of variety entertainment, including television variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,