March 11, 2024 | Byron Fast

Alluring Facts About Dorothy Lamour, Hollywood’s Sarong Girl

Dorothy Lamour’s entire career and livelihood depended on one flimsy piece of fabric. 

1. She Was Between Bob And Bing

Most people know Dorothy Lamour as the third point of a never ending cinematic love triangle with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the beloved “Road to…” movies. The series made stars out of all three actors, but what many people don’t know is Paramount actually made the first “Road to…” movie just for Lamour. 

Dorothy Lamour helped turn Bob Hope and Bing Crosby into superstars—which makes it all the more cruel the way they dumped her. 

Dorothy Lamour - Studio Portrait - 1937Paramount Pictures, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Grew Up Poor

Dorothy Lamour was born on December 10, 1914 in the charity ward of the New Orleans East Hospital. Her real name was Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton, and her parents worked as waiters. They were so poor that when Lamour needed a dress for a high school dance, Lamour’s crafty and clever mom made one out of curtains. 

But that was just the beginning. Besides being poor, Lamour grew up in a very unstable home. 

Portrait Dorothy Lamour - 1938Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Took His Name

When Lamour was still a child, her parents divorced, yet father number two didn’t bring much money to the household either. Lamour did get something from him, at least. Later in her life, she’d use his surname to make her stage name. He was Lambour and, to make it sound like “love” she dropped the “B”. 

With no other choice, Lamour eked out her difficult existence in the Big Easy—even though her life was anything but. 

Dorothy Lamour - publicity photo - 1937John Irving, Flickr

4. She Was The Breadwinner

Lamour’s stepfather was soon history, and she was not about to count on whoever number three would be. Lamour needed to do something drastic. At just 14 years old, Lamour quit school and enrolled in a business course. Once she graduated, she began supporting both herself and mom working as a secretary

Life could have gone on like this to a rather bland end—but there was something about Lamour. Something that made fame seem inevitable. 

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour - 1939Laura Loveday, Flickr


5. She Was A Winner

The thing about Lamour was her beauty. People started noticing it, and that led to pageants. In 1931, Lamour won the Miss New Orleans pageant, and she also made an important friend. This was another Dorothy: Dorothy Dell. She was also a pageant queen, and when Dell won the Miss Universe pageant, all Lamour wanted to do was follow in her footsteps.  

Unfortunately, she made one fatal error. 

Portrait of Dorothy Dell - 1932Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

6. She Got The Boot

Lamour ended up getting disqualified from Miss Universefor a ridiculous reason: She put on lipstick. This loss was a major stumbling block for Lamour’s career, but her friend Dell had made her a promise. This promise would set Lamour on her path to fame.

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour - 1942BJ Alias, Flickr

7. She Had A Mentor

Dell had promised to use her Miss Universe winnings to help Lamour break into Vaudeville.  They went on tour together, and it was here that Lamour got the performing bug. After the tour, Dell was off to New York City, and Lamour was left with a heavy decision. She had an extremely difficult choice. She could stay in New Orleans or abandon her mom and follow her dream of fame in NYC. 

Portrait of Dorothy Dell - 1934Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

8. She Made A Move

Lamour decided to do neither of these. She packed up her mom and moved them both to Chicago instead. Once there, she quickly got a job at a department store—as an elevator operator—but was also auditioning for shows. She soon got a break. She was performing in a Chicago talent show and a big wheel happened to be in the audience. 

Someone who would make a huge change in her life, and he wouldn’t stop at just her career. 

Dorothy Lamour, image from ''Johnny Apollo'' - 1940John Irving, Flickr

9. She Got Hired On The Spot

Herbie Kay was a major band leader at the time, and he took one look at Lamour and hired her to sing with his orchestra. Lamour and Kay—and the entire orchestra—quickly embarked on a tour, and something happened while they traversed the country. They fell in love and in that same year, they became husband and wife. 

Singing with her husband’s orchestra wasn’t enough for Lamour. She felt a strong pull in another direction. Something she couldn’t ignore any longer. 

Dorothy Lamour hair shot.Allison Marchant, Flickr


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10. They Moved In Together

Kay found Lamour some work in radio, but Lamour had other plans. She wanted to be a Hollywood star. To make this happen, Lamour and Kay decided to move to California. There was also mom to think of. She was on to husband number three but that didn’t matter. All four of them packed up their belongings and set up house together in Los Angeles. 

This huge move put immense pressure on Lamour. She had to get an acting job, and she had to get it quickly. 

Conductor Robert Armbruster, Dorothy Lamour and W.C. Fields - 1937NBC Radio, Wikimedia Commons


11. It Happened Fast 

Things happened fast for Lamour in Hollywood. Within the first year she had a contract with Paramount PIctures for a weekly salary of $200. Sadly, their first offer was an uncredited role as a dancer in College Holiday. In a staggering turn of events, for her second film, Paramount offered her the lead. 

The title of the film was Girl of the Jungle, but there was something about Lamour that made the producer demand a change.

Dorothy Lamour advertises Overglo by Westmore Cosmetics, 1945Westmore Cosmetics, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Had A Garment 

In Girl of the Jungle, Lamour’s character was a sarong wearing wild girl who grew up alone in the jungle. When Paramount president Adolph Zukor caught a glimpse of Lamour’s curves in the revealing outfit, he knew they needed to change the title. Lamour was all woman, so they removed the word “girl” and called it The Jungle Princess. 

With the help of The Jungle Princess, Lamour would find fame—but not necessarily for her acting.  

Dorothy Lamour in Picturegoer, 1936, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Wanted Glamor 

The designer of the sarong that Lamour wore in Jungle Princess was none other than Academy Award winning costume designer Edith Head. For some reason, movie goers became fixated on this designer sarong. Lamour, on the other hand, didn’t like it. After all, she was in her first Hollywood role and expected glamorous gowns, not a glorified towel. 

Sadly, for Lamour, this fixation with her and sarongs was not going anywhere. It was becoming a national obsession, and audiences demanded more. 

Image of Edith Head, Hollywood costume diva - 1976Marianna Diamos, Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

14. They Made An Outrageous Promise

When Paramount saw the public salivating over Lamour and her sarong, they put their marketers to work. This sarong thing could make them money, and they needed to exploit it. One ad for a Lamour film laid it plainly on the line. They promised to show "as much of Lamour as the censors will permit—with or without the sarong." 

Well, in her next film Lamour delivered on this promise. 

Image of Dorothy Lamour - 1930s.Film Star Vintage, Flickr

15. She Dropped It 

Lamour’s next “sarong wearing” character was a Polynesian princess in 1937’s The Hurricane. So what’s better than Lamour in a sarong? Apparently, it’s Lamour out of one. In one scene, she drops the flimsy bit of clothing and takes a dip in her birthday suit. Lamour was getting a reputation, and then she got a nickname. They called her the “sarong girl”. 

As it turned out, there was a weird reason she was wearing a sarong in the first place. 

Screenshot of Dorothy Lamour - from The Hurricane - 1937Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Was “Ethnic”

The thing about Lamour was that she had what they then called “ethnic features”. Because of her slightly dark features she could play characters from many tropical countries. As everyone knows, women in these countries always walk around in sarongs, right?  

Hollywood’s tactics were pretty obvious, but some people believe it goes a lot deeper than that. 

Portrait of Actress Dorothy Lamour - 1945Studio Publicity, Wikimedia Commons


17. They Created An Icon 

Film researchers Sean Brawley and Chris Doixon say that Hollywood set out to create a specific icon with Lamour. Her characters were often from the South Pacific and didn’t come with the “restrictions” that American women had. I think that’s “college talk” for saying she was easy and probably a firecracker in bed. 

Of course this was pure Hollywood fantasy, and some US soldiers were about to find out the shocking reality. 

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour.oneredsf1, Flickr

18. She Didn’t Match

When US soldiers found themselves in the South Seas, you couldn’t blame them for expecting to see hundreds of Lamour clones on every island. Some soldiers described the women they actually met up with as having very short cropped hair, black teeth from eating roots, and skin disease. Doesn’t sound at all like Lamour to me. 

The real Lamour also didn’t fit the fantasy. As we’re about to see, she was a real woman with real problems. 

Dorothy Lamour advertises Woodbury Complete Beauty Cream - 1945Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

19. She Needed A Pair 

In 1940, fresh off of Lamour's first divorce, Paramount decided to poke fun at her “sarong girl” image. In Road to Singapore,  Lamour would play yet another sarong wearer who entices men, but the film was essentially a spoof.  Now they just needed two actors who had excellent comedic timing. Producers saw a couple of guys goofing around on the Paramount lot and introduced them to Lamour. 

This simple introduction would be the start of something big. Something that would last for over two decades. 

Image of Dorothy Lamour looking back.Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

20. There Was A Situation

The pair of actors who got the roles on Road to Singapore were Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Lamour soon found herself in a frustrating situation. As expert ad libbers, Crosby and Hope rarely stuck to the words on the page. They were talking circles around Lamour, who had dutifully memorized her lines. Lamour finally had had enough and said so. 

The guys’ reaction was off the charts. 

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby And Dorothy Lamour In Road To Bali - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

21. She Wanted In

When Lamour could finally get a word in edgewise, she asked Hope and Crosby when it would be possible to say her lines. The men immediately stopped. Her question was so absurd that they broke into squeals of laughter—which went on for 10 minutes. This was the way that Hope and Crosby acted, and Lamour was just going to have to adjust. 

It was sink or swim for Lamour. If she couldn’t keep up with her co-stars, she’d be out of a job. 

Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour And Bing Crosby In Road To Bali - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

22. She Just Watched 

Hope later described acting with Lamour and Crosby “like a tennis game with Dottie in the middle watching.” Surprisingly, Lamour had no hard feelings. She later said that playing the “straight woman” to these two comedic geniuses made her very happy. It certainly helped that she got a big fat paycheck for doing it. 

Fat paychecks aside, Lamour realized she needed something else for her career. She was ready to take a huge risk.

Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby And Bob Hope - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons


23. She Had Oscar Potential 

In 1940, Lamour took a risk and signed on for a serious acting role opposite Tyrone Power. It was the mobster film Johnny Apollo and there wasn’t a sarong in sight—and no Hope and Crosby either. Years later, Lamour would admit thinking that there was the potential for an Oscar win for this role. She also knew the reason why it didn’t happen. She actually didn’t know how to act. She’d never learned. 

She’d tried serious acting and failed, and Hollywood was going to punish her. 

Photo of Dorothy Lamour and Tyrone Power from the film Johnny Apollo. - 1949Hartford Courant, Wikimedia Commons

24. It Was The Same All Over Again

Lamour’s punishment was more sarong movies. It must have felt like insult added to injury when they offered Lamour Typhoon, which was so clearly a cookie cutter clone of her previous weather focussed film Hurricane. When she saw the title of the next film, Moon Over Burma, Lamour likely went ballistic. 

As it turned out, Moon Over Burma wasn’t a sarong picture, it was something totally different.  

Dorothy Lamour on the Argentinean Magazine cover - 1944CINELANDIA magazine, Wikimedia Commons

25. She Wanted A Big Change

Even though one of the taglines of this film was “Jungle love tease”, Moon Over Burma  was not going to be another sarong film. In it, she doesn’t play her usual jungle native, but a singer in a nightclub. Lamour was ecstatic with the change, and to make it very clear that she wasn’t a jungle native in this one, she called up her hairdresser for a makeover. 

Half way through the haircut, Lamour realized something awful.

Dorothy Lamour on the Argentinean Magazine cover - 1938Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

26. She Forgot To Ask

Lamour was getting her haircut just before filming a major motion picture and had forgotten to ask permission from the studio. This was a big deal, as back then the studio controlled everything about you, including your hair. With her coif half done, she nervously called up Frank Freeman, the director of Paramount. Freeman quickly suspected the truth. That she’d already had her hair cut. 

Lamour was in a whole lot of trouble. 

Portrait of Frank Freeman In 1910Students of the Georgia School of Technology, Wikimedia Commons

27. They Pulled A Felicity 

Instead of getting angry, Freeman saw an opportunity for some publicity. He immediately called for a photographer and sent him to where Lamour was getting her hair done. His idea was to make this haircut into a media sensation. He even wanted a name for it. They eventually settled on “the 10 million dollar haircut”. 

So, the haircut was going to be fine. What wasn’t fine was the behavior of some of the male cast members on Moon over Burma.

Photo of Dorothy Lamour from the New York Sunday News - 1949New York Sunday News, Wikimedia Commons

28. She Preferred Females

Once Lamour was working on Moon Over Burma, she immediately had trouble with some male members of the cast. These were elephants, and these boisterous males were quickly switched up for more docile female ones. Curiously, a similar thing happened for Lamour on a previous film.  Apparently she prefers female monkeys as well.  

Hopefully Lamour wasn’t put off acting with males altogether. Her next film featured two male primates she knew very well. 

Dorothy Lamour In Road To Bali - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

29. She Moved Down A Step 

The folks at Paramount suddenly remembered what a hit Lamour’s film Road to Singapore was and decided to try their luck again. This was Road to Zanzibar and Crosby and Hope were also along for the ride. There was one small change. In Road to Singapore Lamour’s name was above Hope but below Crosby. Now they’d stuck her clearly at the bottom. 

Of course one solution would be to get rid of Crosby altogether. Which she kind of did on her next film. 

Dorothy Lamour And Bing Crosby In Road To Singapore- 1940Trailer screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Went Behind His Back

In her next film with Hope, Lamour would be back to second billing. But this was only because Crosby wasn’t there at all. On Caught in the Draft, it was almost like Lamour and Hope were cheating behind Crosy’s back. This was not officially a “Road” film, but it did end up being the second most successful film for Paramount that year. 

On Caught in the Draft Lamour had Hope all to herself. Whether she wanted that or not remains a huge mystery. 

Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour from the film Road to Bali - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

31. He Was A Womanizer 

It came out later that Hope regularly cheated on his wife Delores. Apparently he preferred one night stands, but occasionally had affairs with co-stars. This could have been awkward especially if Hope was hoping something might happen between them. Some believe that there was an “encounter” between Lamour and Hope, but everyone involved kept a tight lip. 

Hope had yet another annoying habit. One that was a risk to Lamour’s safety. 

Publicity Photo of Bob Hope - 1969NBC Television, Wikimedia Commons

32. They Left Her

On one “Road” movie, Hope and Bing pulled a prank that was incredibly unkind. Back then, dresses were so tight that women sometimes couldn’t sit down, they had to lean on a leaning board. While Lamour was leaning, Hope and Crosby left to go golfing and “accidentally” forgot to help her out of it. 

This horrible situation may help explain Lamour’s next move. 

Bob Hope And Bing Crosby In Road To Bali - 1952Film screenshot, Wikimedia Commons

33. She Took A Risk 

Lamour said goodbye to tight dresses and hello again to the comfortable sarong. Two back to back sarong films were Aloma of the South Seas and Beyond the Blue Horizon. Sure she was comfortable in these films, but she also knew that as long as she was in a sarong, no one in Hollywood would take her seriously. 

Lamour wanted people to know her for something besides an item of clothing. She decided to take a chance and try something completely different. 

Portrait photo of Dorothy Lamour in white shirt.oneredsf1, Flickr

34. She Worked For Her Country 

At this time, the US had entered WWII, and Lamour stepped up. No, she didn’t enlist, she sold bonds for the government. In fact, she used her status as a pinup girl and sold bonds totalling a whopping $300 million. If you think she used her good looks to accomplish this, think again. 

In one crazy incident, her beauty actually got in the way. 

Dorothy Lamour looking at camera in yellow dress.oneredsf1, Flickr

35. She Did More That Turn Heads

Lamour’s incredible beauty usually opened doors, but in this one situation it slammed one right in her face. Lamour arrived at a Baltimore airplane factory in the hopes of peddling her US bonds. To her surprise, they wouldn’t let her walk through the door. It turned out that when a beautiful woman was in the factory, the men couldn’t focus on their work. Management thought that if a woman of Lamour’s beauty was there, it would “cost us half a bomber”. 

You could say that Lamour was smitten with Uncle Sam. Smitten enough for a romantic entanglement. 

Dorothy Lamour in shorts in the  1940sJohn Irving, Flickr

36. She Took On A New Role 

Okay, William Ross Howard III wasn’t exactly Uncle Sam, but he was a captain of the Air Force.  The two became husband and wife in 1943. Howard brought one son to the marriage, and by 1949, they had two boys of their own. Lamour’s new role was mother, and it led her to make  a drastic change. One that involved a fire. 

Image of Dorothy Lamour looking at camera.Isabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

37. She Got Rid Of It Forever 

Lamour was a parent now, and it may have been this that pushed her to carry out this flammable stunt. It happened in 1946, shortly after the birth of her first son. With the help of the studio’s publicity department, she got a crowd together and lit a match. What she was doing was lighting fire to a sarong, and ending her association with sarong films forever. 

Sarong films had been Lamour’s bread and butter for years. Now she was going to have to prove herself as a real actor. 

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour in red dress.oneredsf1, Flickr

38. She Showed Her Range 

Lamour’s sarong films had her playing characters from a huge selection of countries. In 1949’s Slightly French, Lamour got a chance to show off more of her multicultural skill. Here she plays a coarse American who must skillfully pass as a French, a Chinese and a Brazilian performer. It was a triumph for Lamour, who finally had the chance to prove she was more than just a talking sarong. 

Next, Hope and Crosby came calling for one last “Road” movie. Like the sarong, this series would crash and burn. 

Dorothy Lamour NYE Streamers - 1938Allison Marchant, Flickr

39. She Was Peeved 

Road to Hong Kong was certainly not Lamour’s favorite, and you can put that down to sour grapes. You see, in this one, the producers only offered Lamour a short cameo. For the female lead role they turned to the much younger Joan Collins. Lamour was quite rightly peeved. After all, Hope and Crosby had also aged, but no one was replacing them. 

Lamour aired her complaints to the producers, and then the most unexpected thing happened. 

Image of Joan Collins - 1954Simon, Wikimedia Commons

40. They Wanted A Younger One

When Lamour went to complain about Collins replacing her, she likely expected the producers to ignore her. Well, surprise, surprise, that’s not what happened at all. The truth was, funding for the Road to Hong Kong only came through if Lamour had a substantial role. In a last minute panic, the writers had to quickly beef up Lamour’s cameo

Sure Lamour had won, but as she got close to her 50s, something was dawning on her. Her days of being a screen goddess were over. She desperately had to find something else to do. 

Image of Dorothy Lamour wearing hat and looking at side.Isabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

41. They Ignored Her 

Watching Collins do her role in The Road to Hong Kong was painful for Lamour, but the hurt didn’t stop there. Suddenly, she couldn’t get through to certain Hollywood players on the phone. The people that mattered had decided that she wasn’t beautiful anymore. Weirdly, Lamour herself thought there were many wrong with her appearance. She even made a list. 

Dorothy Lamour in ''Caught in the Draft'' - 1941John Irving, Flickr

42. She Had A List Of Complaints

On Lamour’s list of things she didn’t like about her body there was her backside, her hips and mostly she hated her own two feet. While the rest of us just learn to live with life’s imperfections, Lamour had the resources to change things. She hired Edith Head to design fake feet made out of rubber. Not only did they cost $300, each pair only lasted a day. 

I’m sure when she got this next bad news, Lamour forgot all about her misshapen feet. 

Portrait of Edith Head - Ca 1955Rothschild Photo Los Angeles, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Called Him Her Boyfriend 

In 1978, Lamour had to face the sadness of losing a spouse. To deal with her grief, her stepson did something lovely. When he saw how much she was hurting, he bought Lamour a dog.  Lamour was at first resistant to the pet—who went by Coco—but she soon warmed up to the idea. Later she started calling the dog her boyfriend. 

Lamour took a break from acting, and then came back for a reason that stunned her fans. 

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour looking at side.Isabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

44. She Had A Final Role

By 1987, Lamour hadn’t acted since a small role in a made for TV movie. What brought her out of retirement was a cheesy horror movie called Creepshow 2. There’s no sarong, and there’s certainly no Hope and Crosby. And there’s something else missing. Any explanation as to why Lamour made this movie at all. 

After Creepshow 2, Lamour said goodbye to making movies. But there was one thing on her bucket list that needed her immediate attention. 

Image of Dorothy Lamour wearing dress, hat and smiling.oneredsf1, Flickr

45. She Finally Saw It 

Lamour had made a career out of providing a South Pacific fantasy. You arrive on a deserted island, and there’s a beautiful woman leaning against a palm tree and wrapped in a sarong. The sad truth was that Lamour had never even visited the South Pacific. Well, when she was in her 70s, she made the trip. I doubt she was sporting a sarong—and maybe leaning on a walker instead of a tree—but I’m sure the visit gave her some closure. 

Lamour was about to hear what Bob Hope really thought about her. But he was a little too late. 

Vintage Dorothy Lamour Arcade Card - 1950sJoe Haupt, Flickr

46. She Had Quality, Beauty And Class

At the end of the 1990s, health issues had slowed Lamour down. It was a heart attack that sent her to her final resting place on September 22, 1996. She’d outlived Crosby, but not Hope, who made a statement after her passing. He called her a “lady of quality, beauty and class, which always made me look good”. For her work on radio and in films, she received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Lamour had never won an award for her acting, and she’d be the first person to tell you why. 

Portrait of Dorothy Lamour wearing necklace and looking at side.oneredsf1, Flickr

47. She Was Not Deluded

The joke around Hollywood was that no one could accuse Lamour of doing any actual acting. Lamour herself knew this and explained. She said that when everyone just expects you to be young and standing under a palm tree, “Why should you want to act?” 

And then there was that darn sarong. It certainly didn’t help people see her as a serious actress, but it did end up in a very serious place. 

Dorothy Lamour smiling in red dress from  ''Hurricane'' - 1937John Irving, Flickr

48. She Needed It 

The original sarong made by Head, is prominently featured in the costume collection at the Smithsonian Institute. Lamour acknowledged that the sarong was sometimes a hindrance to her career. But she was also a realist. She had to admit that maybe, without the sarong, she wouldn't have had a career at all. She’s even quoted as saying, “I thank God for that little strip of cloth.” 

Dorothy Lamour - Publicity still for Slightly French.Maria Musikka, Flickr

49. She Had Intimate Evenings In Washington

One of Lamour's most controversial hookups had mystery written all over it. This was an alleged relationship with FBI director J Edgar Hoover. Hoover had no problem bragging about spending intimate evenings in Washington with Lamour, but she was more evasive. In her own memoir she called him “a lifelong friend”. Ouch. 

There was definitely something fishy going on here, and the rumor mill was swirling with accusations. 

J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Photos - 1930Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Was Cagey 

There may be a very good reason why Lamour was so cagey about what was going on with Hoover. Some say their relationship was a complete lie. Rumors at the time said that Hoover was actually gay. Just like a film star, Hoover may have hooked up with Lamour just to put an end to that career destroying gossip. 

Though one FBI official who was close to Hoover claimed they really WERE an item. Lamour wanted to get married, but Hoover was "already married to his job" so they called quits. Sure...

Dorothy Lamour, Laura Loveday, Flickr

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