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Dorothy Dell Profile

Dorothy Dell
Dorothy Dell
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(Dorothy Dell Goff)
30 January 15 is born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the older of two daughters of Elbert / Elba L., a wealthy lumberman, and Lillian H. Goff. It is rumored that her great grandfather was a first cousin of Jefferson Davis. She is related to the late U.S. Senator Guy Shepard Goff of West Virginia and Judge John W. Goff of the Supreme Court of New York. In the family she is known as “Dot.”
16 wins her first beauty contest, a beautiful baby contest in Hattiesburg; it will be the first of many beauty pageant wins for her
25 moves with her family to New Orleans, where she becomes fast friends at Sophie B. Wright High School for Girls with another budding young actress, Dorothy Lamour. They become known as “The Two Dorothys” in New Orleans and put on neighborhood plays. The girls pledge to go on the stage someday; the first one to get a break will help the other.
? moves to Crescent City, Louisiana
25 wins a Gulf Coast bathing beauty contest in Ocean Springs, Mississippi
? continues winning beauty pageants such as “The Girl with the Perfect Back,” and “Miss Biloxi.” She stands five feet six inches tall, weighs 122 pounds, and has blue/gray eyes and golden curls. Her measurements are 34-26-36. Ankles of only eight inches in circumference rise out of 2AA slippers. She has eschewed rouge throughout her 17 years, and pink is her favorite color.
28 - 30 appears in amateur theatricals and sings over the radio. She has a rich contralto voice—almost a baritone.
29 is crowned “Miss American Legion” in Louisiana from a large field of contestants. To meet contest regulations, she claims to be a year older than she really is. She wins $50, a silver loving cup, a cruise through the tropics and a visit to Havana.
30 is crowned “Miss New Orleans” from a field of 75 contestants, which includes her friend Dorothy Lamour. Next year Lamour will win the title.
1 August 30 departs New Orleans at night bound for Galveston, Texas, with a heart full of hope, her mother, and a $3 bathing suit to compete in the “Miss America” pageant. Nobody is at the station to see them off. Mother and daughter scraped together enough money to cover their traveling expenses, the bathing suit, and a $15 evening gown. The rest of her wardrobe consists of her everyday clothes.
5 August 30 at age 15 she is crowned “Miss America” / ”Miss United States” in Galveston, Texas. She also enters the finals with foreign beauties and emerges as “Miss Universe,” wearing a $2.98 blue bathing suit with white belt and a $3.75 cotton dress. She receives $2,000 in cash and a silver plaque.
interviewed after the contest, she tells: “For years I have been working toward this goal, and I was confident of winning. The old bunk about loving housework gives me a pain. I hate it. I couldn’t broil a steak to save my life, and the very thought of it gives me the creeps. Of course, I have a career in mind. I am going to be a real actress, not ‘just one more actress,’ but a real, honest-to-goodness actress like Marie Dressler. I hate mushy motion pictures and saccharine plays, and if I thought I couldn’t do something better, I’d have no ambition to perfect myself for the stage.”
“If I were going to advise any girl as to how best to retain or improve her beauty, I’d tell her to limit her food to fresh fruit and vegetables, plenty of milk, and to get plenty of sleep... No drinking and smoking… For her exercise, she won’t find anything better than dancing and swimming.”
“Boys?,” she repeats, “Boys are all right in their place, but the girl who has a career ahead of her can’t afford to waste her time in parties and automobile rides and late dances—she has to work.”
8 August 30 she and her mother are welcomed back to New Orleans by a huge crowd, state and city officials included. She is paraded to a suite in a hotel and feted for days.
9 September 30 is photographed with her mother and members of the American Embassy at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she will compete in the International Beauty Contest, in which will be chosen “Miss Universe”
30 - Early 31 receives offers from Earl Carroll and Florenz Ziegfeld, but turns them down when she is told Dorothy Lamour is not tall enough for the chorus and won’t be able to go along. So, she accepts a Fanchon and Marco vaudeville contract, providing that her mother, kid sister Helen, and pal Dorothy Lamour can accompany her on a tour of the country, which lasts six months.
30 October 30 appears at the Fox-Wilson Theater in Fresno, California, with the Fanchon and Marco act. She is a guest of the Fresno Optimists Club at a luncheon at the Hotel Fresno.
? her father, a New Orleans businessman, retires in order to accompany her to New York
? changes her professional name to Dorothy Dell
4 January 31 is officially welcomed to St. Louis by Mayor Victor J. Miller. She and eight other beauty contest winners tour various U.S. cities on the Fox circuit, following intensive training at the Fanchon and Marco studios in California under the direction of Jack Loeb, vice president of Fanchon and Marco, who was one of the judges in the 1930 Miss America / Miss Universe pageant.
Early 31 accepts an offer to appear in what will be the last edition of the Ziegfeld Follies. The show will open at the Ziegfeld Theater on July 1 and run through November 21, after which it will tour. Ruth Etting revives “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” Hal LeRoy and Mitzi Mayfair tap dance, and Helen Morgan sings. Ziegfeld places Dell in the "Piccadilly" sketch, a playlet written by Mark Hellinger. Hellinger likes her but is not convinced she is destined for stardom. After her death he will say: “I found her pretty, very pert and had a sweet smile. Everything she said and did was offered in a Mae West sort of way—a very young Mae Westish sort of way. And Mae didn’t reach the screen until long after that Follies had closed.” She sings a very lewd and funny song purchased for her by Ziegfeld from Chick Endor entitled “Was I Drunk? Was He handsome? And Did My Ma Give Me Hell?” It includes such lines as, “I said, ‘stop, please behave!’ But what’s the use of ravin? He said, ‘Give,’ so I gave—After all, what was I savin?” She even makes a recording of it.
periodically she is reported engaged to or married to Mike Durse, Delmonico’s bandleader
her name is linked in newspaper and magazine articles with crooner Russ Columbo. The powers that be don’t want the marriage to happen. Marriage supposedly would spoil Columbo’s romantic image. Columbo’s friend and song co-writer and publicist Paul Yawitz created the romance and now is charged to end it. Further articles state that Dell gallantly agreed to step aside for Columbo’s career.
back in New York after 42 weeks with the Follies (including filling in for an ailing Ruth Etting), she is tabbed for three Vitaphone musical shorts, and it isn’t long before studios call for her
2 August 31 Ziegfeld says she’s the only beauty prize winner he ever engaged who could do anything on a stage except win medals
4 September 31 it’s reported that she’s strictly chaperoned by her mother, who is determined to keep her daughter away from the contaminating influences that sometimes beset young stage stars
32 while driving through Central Park with a friend, she suffers fractures to the right arm, wrist and ankle and passes several weeks in a hospital. After the recovery, she refuses to drive anymore.
7 March 32 the Ziegfeld Follies opens at Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore for a one-week engagement. Orchestra seats will go for $3.85 (tax included).
? when the Follies goes to Chicago, she looks up her friend Dorothy Lamour. Lamour went to Chicago to work as a model at Marshall Field’s. When the models were let go, Lamour continued on, working in various departments and even taking a turn at running the elevator. Dell introduces her to a woman hotel executive, who books Lamour to sing at the hotel’s regular “theatrical night.” Herb Kay is in the audience and signs Lamour to sing with his orchestra.
8 April 32 Walter Winchell reports in his column: “…Dorothy Dell and Kenneth (NBC) Dolan have resumed heartaches…”
14 April 32 makes her network radio debut over NBC stations with Ray Perkins and Rudy Vallee. The program originates in Philadelphia, where Vallee is crooning on a road tour.
10 August 32 is back in Winchell’s column: “Dorothy Dell is now among the eyefuls at the Riviera across the Bridge…”
Early 33 dates Jack Dempsey
1 - 24 June 33 is on Broadway in Frank Fay’s Tattle Tales at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show will run for 28 performances.
19 September 33 Winchell reports: “…Edward Blatt, the Paramount tester, and Dorothy Dell are uh-huh…”
28 September 33 Louella tells: “…the very new and much discussed Earl Carroll stage play, Murder at the Follies, will not be put on the screen until the New York play closes. That has not kept Paramount from going ahead and casting. Cary Grant will be starred with Dorothy Dell and Lanny Ross in featured parts.
17 October 33 signs a long-term contract with Paramount
? is also known as Mickey Bell
10 December 33 is assigned a feature roll in the Sylvia Sidney-Frederick March Paramount film Good Dame, her first film role
18 December 33 poses for newspaper photographers holding a bouquet of poinsettias
19 December 33 she, who is said to have the world’s most nearly perfect figure, gives her advice for a nice, slender figure with just the right amount of curves—take to walking. Walk from 5 to 7 miles a day, and if that doesn’t work, go on a liquid diet for two days out of every week.
December 33 heads to Los Angeles with her family and settles in at Paramount, where various projects are announced for her, Come On, Marines; Good Dame; and The Search for Beauty
27 December 33 Louella tells: “In Hollywood Rudy Vallee put on a $5 show at Winifield Sheehan’s dinner party; as impromptu master of ceremonies, he started the ball rolling with entertainers you would pay top prices for in New York. Dorothy Dell sang her famous “Was I Drunk and Was He Handsome?” Alice Faye sang one of her numbers from the George White Scandals. Florence Desmond did her imitations of Janet Gaynor’s Hollywood party; Janet hearing them for the first time was a grand sport. Aunt Jemima sang a great number. Present were Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, George White with three blonde beauties in tow, the Jimmy Gleasons, Margaret Lindsay, the Robert Kanes, Ray Long, the Russell Pattersons, Heather Angel, Monte Bride, the Frank Lloyds, Vivienne Segal, and Jess L. Lasky.
4 January 34 her first role turns out to be that of a dockside saloon girl in Wharf Angel, a role she won from contenders Mae Clarke, Helen Mack and Isabell Jewell. She and starlet Grace Bradley, old friends from her Broadway days, play a practical joke on the crew, pretending to insult each other’s singing and dancing and engaging in a cat fight until they both fall over laughing.
28 February 34 battling laryngitis, she begins shooting as the female lead in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker. She and Temple become fast friends.
6 March 34 her first film, Wharf Angel, opens, and she is proclaimed the find of the season. Hard-to-please critic Richard Watts Jr. writes that she provides the only “directness and compassion” in the film and that “with proper guidance she may develop into one of the important recent finds of the cinema.”
May 34 her slim, dark-haired mother, speaking with a Mississippi drawl, gives an interview from her daughter’s studio dressing room—not yet on the ground floor where the stars are. She talks about early struggle and sacrifice with which she is credited in Dorothy’s rise. She says she told her contest-winning daughter “to keep her chin up.” “Like any mother, I’ve tried to make my children happy. Since Dorothy was a little baby, she’s had her heart set on being an actress. If it had been something else she wanted to do, I’d have encouraged her in that, too. I knew she wanted to be an actress. She was just a tiny tyke when I found her one day ‘acting’ in front of a mirror. After she saw Valentino in The Sheik, she and Helen enacted it at home. Dorothy, with a sheet wound around her head, played the sheik, and abducted Helen, who was Agnes Ayres.” Mrs. Goff does without to give her daughters pretty things. “The most I’ve done for her was to give up my home and travel with her. I’ve tried not to be a ‘stage mamma.’ Oh yes, I’ve had to encourage her when she was down, tell her to keep her chin up when she was frightened, like the time Mr. Ziegfeld told her to take Ruth Etting’s place in the show. I thought that was too much for my girl to undertake, and I went to Mr. Ziegfeld. He smiled and just asked me if I didn’t think he knew his business.” When Dorothy was in New York, Helen worked in a nightclub at the same time. Mrs. Goff would collect Dorothy and take her home and then pick up Helen. Not much sleep in those days. “But I never minded that—I wanted to be with my girls.”
1 June 34 Little Miss Marker is released, and she appears on the cover of Paramount magazine
? fan magazines quiz her on various subjects including her love life: “When I do marry, I want to fall in love so hard that I shall give up my career for it. Otherwise, it’s no-go. I do not want to fall in love with an actor,” she added, “because they make boring husbands.” The only man known to be in her life is 28-year-old dentist / oral surgeon Carl Wagner, who recently performed surgery on her mother.
? advance word on her next and last film, Shoot the Works, is good. Film writer Edwin Schallert writes that “she is a sort of younger Mae West type which is something in discoveries. There have been several actresses so nominated, but they haven’t fulfilled the idea. It looks as if Miss Dell were really it.” In the film she sings the haunting hit song “With My Eyes Wide Open I‘m Dreaming.”
? lives in Hollywood with her family. A self-imposed curfew rings at 11 o’clock or earlier some nights. “When you’re working in pictures, you’re too tired at night to do anything but to go to bed. So I put my two ducks to bed, put the cat our, and then put Dell to sleep.” She has been to movieland nightclubs once or twice but wasn’t impressed. They’re no fun if you don’t drink, and avers, she doesn’t. So family gatherings win favor instead. For wild diversion, her favorite is the old southern pastime of "coon-hunting." Those expeditions into Griffith Park, however, are a thing of the past. The first time they captured a ‘possum; the second, unhappily for all concerned, ensnared a skunk; and the third, Dot’s only trophy was laryngitis. It kept her in the hospital several days and “For once in her life, Dell couldn’t talk,” Dell said.
? wants to send her sister to art school
Early June 34 attends the wake of actor Lew Cody, who also was in Shoot the Works. She is heard to remark about the recent deaths of Cody and actress Lilyan Tashman: “The old theater superstition says death strikes in threes.” A friend remembered her saying, “I wonder who’ll be next?”
7 June 34 she and Dr. Carl Wagner attend a party at an Altadena inn. Wagner is an oral surgeon / dentist, who operated on her mother a few months ago / saved her mother who was critically ill with pneumonia, and is socially prominent in Pasadena. Several months ago he figured in the police probe into the mysterious, still unsolved murder of Dr. Leonard Siever, a leading Pasadena dentist and socialite, who was killed in December 1933.
8 June 34 shortly after 2:00 a.m., along the highway leading to Pasadena at Lincoln Avenue, the large sedan driven by Dr. Wagner at a high rate of speed hurtles from the road. It shears two telephone poles at their bases, toppling them over street car tracks in the center of the street, and then crashes into a concrete light standard, also breaking it off. The auto is telescoped to about half its normal length / the car skids off the road at a curve, bounces off a tree, and smashes into a boulder in a ditch. There are no witnesses. Dr. Wagner is thrown clear; Dell is pinned among the wreckage. She is dead when other motorists on the highway reach the wrecked auto. Her body is extracted from the car with difficulty. The two are rushed to Pasadena Hospital. Surgeons say she apparently lived but a few minutes after the crash. Wagner dies several / 6 hours later. He suffered a basal skull fracture and severe leg/internal injuries. She is identified by Dr. Ralph M. Tandowski of Altadena, her physician and a close friend of Dr. Wagner / by Dr. Wagner’s mother, Mrs. L. O. Playter. Mrs. Playter met Dell only the night before when her son brought her to the house. Her parents and sister Helen rush to the hospital as soon as they are informed; her mother collapses.
her final film, Shoot the Works, is previewed at Paramount studios at night
9 June 34 her memorial service is held at a Los Angeles mortuary, the same chapel used for actor Lew Cody’s service one week earlier. Police are forced to push back hundreds of morbidly curious persons who seek to enter the chapel. The crowd inside is younger and more emotional than the one at Cody’s service. Most sob unashamed, some almost hysterically. Arlene Judge, Wesley Ruggles, Alan Roscoe, Randolph Scott, and Jack Oakie are some from Filmland in attendance. The blue velvet curtain is drawn back, revealing Dell in a gray satin casket. Ruth Etting, one of her idols, sings “The Rosary” and “Ave Maria” and then collapses. Services are conducted by silver-haired Dr. Willsie Martin of the Wilshire Methodist Church. “She lived a rich full life and had much more before her.” He repeats the 23rd Psalm and prays. He says everyone should remember that the door opened and she had gone on through to what lay ahead.
10 June 34 it is announced that burial will be a few days later in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Military honors will be accorded when her body is moved from train to train in New Orleans. The Timothy Lynch post of the American Legion, composed of policemen who served in the world war and who started her on her career to fame, will be at the Union Station to escort the body across the city to another railway station, where it will be placed aboard a train bound for Hattiesburg. A special police motorcycle squad will be part of the escort.
11 June 34 in the evening, the final trip back home begins. Police are called to handle the crowd of curious that congregate outside the mortuary when the body is moved to the railway station for its journey to Gulfport / Hattiesburg to be buried in the family plot. Miss Zee Silvoni, a friend of Dot’s, accompanies her parents and sister.
14 June 34 her body arrives in New Orleans, and her grief-stricken mother announces a change of plans. Dell will be buried in New Orleans. American Legion sentinels are posted as a guard of honor at the funeral home.
Shirley Temple is told of Dell’s death. The child bursts into a fit of hysterical weeping and is unable to go on with gay scenes in Now and Forever. Gary Cooper and others try to comfort her, but she is inconsolable. The director calls a hurried conference. Costs are mounting fast. They switch the shooting schedule so as to photograph scenes where welling tears would fit the script. Afterwards, Temple, a trouper, carries on and goes before the camera.
16 June 34 funeral services are held in New Orleans, and she is taken to Metairie Cemetery by a squad from the American Legion. The New Orleans mayor and city council members are honorary pallbearers. The American Legion writes a final prayer: “We recall your faithfulness to us and your loyalty to the tradition and ideals of the American Legion and we bid you, Dorothy, a last farewell.”
29 June 34 her last film, Shoot the Works, premiers. Her next scheduled film was to be with Gary Cooper and, again, Shirley Temple in Now and Forever. The role is eventually given to Paramount newcomer Carole Lombard.
1 July 34 a final interview is printed in newspapers: “A beauty contest is the only avenue open to unknown girls starting on their theatrical careers. Naturally every girl can’t win. But such contests give a girl a chance, anyway. I don’t care who the girl is, somewhere in her makeup she has tucked away a secret longing for the stage. Rich girls, poor girls, girls in large cities, small towns and farms—they all want to be stage stars. Girls in large cities have more opportunities. But how about the small town? For those, beauty contests offer the sole opportunity they ever get for a chance at stage work. Even though they don’t all win, they at least are given newspaper publicity. The winners are photographed. Usually local theaters present them for a time as a special attraction. If they have talent as dancers or singers, they are featured and in that way their theatrical career is launched. Girls with beauty, brains and talent are more readily brought to the attention of producers by means of beauty contests than you’d imagine. I, for one, hope the custom is kept going or years. Give the gals a chance, that’s my motto.”
24 March 36 columnist Paul Harrison interviews Thomas Shipman, 37-year-old mail sorter at the Hollywood Post Office. Shipman says people keep writing to players who are dead. Letters still come in for Dorothy Dell, Lew Cody, and Lilyan Tashman.
10 December 36 Dressing Room Number 101, the “Disaster Hall” in makeup row at Paramount Studios is still untenanted today. It’s the most sumptuous of all the dressing rooms in the row. But neither Gladys Swarthout nor Irene Dunne, to whom it was offered recently, would move into it. All the actresses who inhabited it had bad luck. It was built for Pola Negri and furnished to her taste. It’s richly appointed and larger than any other cubicle where the stars make up. Negri was stricken with a serious illness and eventually left the studio. Clara Bow was the next occupant, and her retirement came soon after she moved in, along with illness and a plethora of lawsuits. Sylvia Sidney followed. She escaped serious trouble but did have a few minor difficulties. The last occupant was Dell.
29 January 40 Jimmie Fidler reports that Dorothy Lamour is trying to persuade her protégé, Helen Dell, a stage actress, to go to Hollywood. Dorothy says Helen, who is currently on the stage in Yokel Boy, is a natural for pictures and one of the best bets thus far overlooked.
Sources:
"Dorothy Dell, The Last Ziegfeld by Girl" by Eve Golden in Classic Images, Nov. 1998, "Russ Columbo, Hollywood's Tragic Crooner" by Max Pierce in Classic Images, April 1999, The Abilene Daily Reporter, The Abilene Morning News, Centralia Daily Chronicle, The Charleston Gazette, The Chronicle Telegram, The Circleville Herald, Daily Kennebec Journal, Denton Journal, Dunkirk Evening Observer, The Evening Tribune, Fitchburg Sentinel, The Fresno Bee Republican, The Galveston Daily News, Jefferson City Post-Tribune, The Key West Citizen, The Lowell Sun, The Modesto Bee and News-Herald, New Castle News, New York Herald Tribune, The News-Palladium, The North Adams Transcript, Oakland Tribune, The Port Arthur News, The Portsmouth Times, Reno Evening Gazette, San Antonio Express, The San Antonio Light, Sunday Journal and Star, Tyrone Daily Herald, Waterloo Daily Courier, www.Ancestry.com, www.IMDb.com, www.IBDB.com, www.Findagrave.com
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