Concealing a leg crippled by childhood polio but refusing to let Hollywood correct her distinctive Southern accent, Tennessee-born Dinah Shore symbolized small-town American sweetness during World War II, as a U. S.O. songbird for lonely servicemen stationed overseas. A discovery of Eddie Cantor, Shore made her film debut alongside the radio star in Warner Brothers' wartime morale-booster "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (1943), but it was as a recording artist that she achieved true fame. A chart-topper for RCA Victor, Columbia, and Capitol Records, Shore transitioned easily from radio to live television. Between 1951 and 1992, she was rarely off the air, hosting a variety of talk shows that emphasized her front porch folksiness while making it seem as if she were every Hollywood A-lister's next-door neighbor. Quietly divorcing two husbands, including actor George Montgomery, Shore settled for single life in her fifties - a solitude broken by an extended involvement with younger man and then-reigning box office star Burt Reynolds. Though she had never so much as knocked a golf ball into a Dixie cup, Shore loaned her name and prestige to an annual tournament sponsored by the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the long-running Dinah Shore-Colgate Invitational. Poised, approachable, and serene even through the diagnosis of ovarian cancer that claimed her life in 1994, Dinah Shore remained for her legion of fans a touchstone to a more genteel America and a symbol of downhome values uncorrupted by upward mobility.
Frances Rose Shore was born on Feb. 29, 1916, in Winchester, TN. The second and youngest child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Fannie Shore grew up in an atmosphere of Southern prejudice, where Ku Klux Klan members were regulars at her father's dry goods store. When she was 18 months old, Shore contracted poliomyelitis and was nursed by her parents through a long convalescence and six years of physical therapy that left her with a crippled foot and a noticeable limp. From her mother, a gifted amateur contralto, Shore developed an interest in singing, a talent she used to entertain customers at her father's department store in McMinnville, where the family relocated in 1924. Shortly after enrolling in Nashville's Hume-Fog High School, Shore lied about her age to work as a singer in a downtown nightclub. The 14-year-old made $10 for her first professional performance but her parents, who had found out about the deception, put a temporary end to her dreams of becoming a professional singer.
During her high school years, Shore auditioned as a singer in Nashville and made her radio debut at WSM, an AM station that broadcast the weekly Grand Olde Opry country music revue, the longest-running radio program in history. When she was 16, Shore's mother died suddenly, of a heart attack, a tragedy that fortified her resolved to follow her dream of singing professionally. Though she studied sociology at Vanderbilt University - where she was the school's only Jewish cheerleader - and earned a degree in 1938, Shore headed to New York City, where she worked odd jobs before making her national radio debut in 1939. The following year, Shore won a spot as a vocalist on WNEW in Manhattan. Singing the Harry Akst-Sam M. Lewis-Joe Young song "Dinah," Shore became known via one prominent disk jockey as Dinah Girl, which prompted Fannie Shore to adopt the professional name by which she would be known for the rest of her life.
Dinah Shore's popularity on the radio led to her signing a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1940. Gaining an advocate in radio and film star Eddie Cantor (a fellow Russian-Jew, who had changed his surname from Iskowitz), Shore became a regular on his weekly program, "Time to Smile." Buying the rights to "Yes My Darling Daughter," a Ukrainian folk song adapted and translated into English, Cantor encouraged Shore to record the single for RCA Victor's subsidiary label Bluebird; the record became a hit, selling more than 500,000 copies. Traveling to Europe with the U.S.O. during World War II, Shore was also popular with American troops, taking care to hide her warped leg under long skirts and dresses. In 1943, she hosted her own radio program, whose title would change due to the influence of various sponsors from "Birds Eye Open House" and "The Ford Show" to "Call to Music" and "The Dinah Shore-Harry James Show" before its cancelation in 1948. Shore made her feature film debut alongside a parade of film and radio stars in Warner Brothers' morale-boosting revue "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (1943).
Having transitioned from New York City to Hollywood, and enjoyed romances with drummer Gene Krupa and actor James Stewart, Shore eventually settled into a relationship with actor George Montgomery, whom she lured away from the exquisitely beautiful actress Hedy Lamarr and married in 1943. In 1944, Shore had her first No. 1 hit with Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "I'll Walk Alone." For producer Samuel Goldwyn, she played Danny Kaye's leading lady in the wartime comedy "Up in Arms" (1944). Shore was squeezed into dancehall duds and paired with cowboy actor Randolph Scott for "Belle of the Yukon" (1944), a Western drama with songs courtesy of Shore and co-star Gypsy Rose Lee. The same year she turned up in a guest appearance in MGM's Technicolor Jerome Kern biopic "Till the Clouds Roll By" (1946) Shore signed with Columbia Records, for whom she had hits in "Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy" and "Buttons and Bows." A natural brunette, she made the professional choice at this time to dye her hair a honey gold, which helped put her across to fans as a bright ray of Tennessee sunshine - a look and an aspect she would maintain for life.
Focused on her recording career and in making inroads into live television, Shore stepped into a one-off leading role in Paramount's disposable hayseed musical comedy "Aaron Slick from Pumpkin Crick" (1952), playing a rural songbird exploited by big city mobsters and redeemed by the love of farm boy Alan Young. By 1950, Shore had returned to RCA, with whom she brokered an unusual business deal - agreeing to record 100 sides for $1,000,000. She enjoyed two popular duets with crooner Tony Martin in 1951 but after 1954, she would never again chart above No. 10. Shore remained with RCA until 1959 before switching to Capitol Records for several collaborations with composer Nelson Riddle. Beginning in November 1951, Shore hosted the 15-minute "The Dinah Shore Show" (NBC, 1951-56), branching out in the final season to headline the hour-long "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" (NBC, 1956-1963), whose guests included Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Nat King Cole and Boris Karloff.
Despite aging into her middle years by the mid-Sixties, Shore retained a youthful aspect, a charming Southern softness - topped off by a singing voice rooted in a seductive lower register - and a broad-based appeal that made her a welcome guest star on the small screen. She played herself in two episodes of "Make Room for Daddy" (ABC/CBS, 1953-1965) and a 1971 episode of "Here's Lucy" (CBS, 1968-1974) while guesting on "The Danny Kaye Show" (CBS, 1963-67), "The Ed Sullivan Show" (NBC, 1948-1971) and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" (NBC, 1967-1973). In 1971, Shore hosted the daytime magazine-style "Dinah's Place" (NBC, 1971-74), on which she encouraged such Hollywood friends as Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Jack Benny, and Vincent Price to share special talents or abilities with her viewing audience while also welcoming such sports figures as Billie Jean King and Wilt Chamberlain, as well as then-sitting Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. "Dinah's Place" was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive, with whom Shore would enjoy a long and lucrative association. Despite an Emmy win in 1974, NBC dropped the show from their morning line-up to make room for a game show.
Rebounding from her 1963 divorce from Montgomery, Shore wed Palm Springs building contractor Maurice F. Smith but the union was short-lived. She would never again remarry, but in 1972 began a high-profile romance with actor Burt Reynolds, 19 years her junior and a top-ranking box office star and sex symbol. In the ensuing years, Shore would host two more talk shows - the syndicated "Dinah!" (later, "Dinah and Friends") (1974-1980) and "A Conversation with Dinah" (1989-1992), which ran on The Nashville Network. Shore also headlined a number of hour-long network specials and the summer replacement series "Dinah and Her New Best Friends" (CBS, 1976). She contributed a fun cameo to "Peewee's Playhouse Christmas Special" (1988), on which her exhausting rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was a running gag.
Though she had never played golf in her life, Shore gave the loan of her name to the Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament known as the Colgate Dinah Shore Invitational (later the Kraft Nabisco Championship) and cracked the publishing world with a series of cookbooks. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dinah Shore died on Feb. 24, 1994, less than a week before her 78th birthday. Recipient of three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - for her accomplishments in recording, films, and television - nine gold records, 10 Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award, Shore was also honored with streets named after her in Cathedral City, CA, and her birth place of Winchester, TN. A month after her death, Shore was also elected posthumously into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
by Richard Harland Smith.