As the years passed, fewer and fewer people remembered the Dinning Sisters. Lou Dinning liked that. It was easier for her to remain anonymous.
Born with a honeyed, star-quality voice, the Burbank woman also is painfully shy. When she and her younger sisters, twins Ginger and Jean, performed and recorded throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s, Lou was torn between her pleasure in singing and her wish for the success to be over.
Lou quit the Dinning Sisters in 1952 and moved from Chicago to the San Fernando Valley, gladly allowing her public persona to fade. She always gave her married name, Robertson, even long after she and her husband had divorced.
"No one has any idea that I was one of the Dinnings, not my neighbors or anyone," the 66-year-old woman said. "I keep it quiet. I like to be left alone. Jean and Ginger love it, they love the notoriety, but I never have."
In Circulation Again
Through the tireless efforts of a Milwaukee man, however, the name Dinning (which rhymes with winning) and the trio's music are in circulation again. Frank Lenger, 59, first listened to the group on a radio show in 1941.
"I was 13, and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Andrews Sisters fan," Lenger remembered. "But when I heard the Dinnings, I said, 'These girls can sing circles around the Andrews.' Their harmony was so much better, and they didn't hit you over the head with it."
Although the Dinnings did not know it, Lenger became their biggest fan. He collected all their records, along with other memorabilia. One cherished item is an autographed photo given to him by Lou Dinning in 1946 after a performance at the College Inn nightclub in Chicago's Sherman Hotel.
"I have no memory of it," Lou says today. Nor did the 63-year-old twins--Jean, who lives near Nashville, Tenn., and Ginger, of Vernon, N.J.--recall meeting Lenger in their heyday.
But those were busy times for the Dinnings. In 1946 they won the Cashbox Magazine Award and placed first in the Billboard poll of jukebox operators. In 1947 they were Billboard's vocal group of the year. In 1948 they had their only million-seller, "Buttons and Bows," which appeared in the Bob Hope movie "Paleface" and won the Academy Award for best song.
"They never had the real popularity that the Andrews Sisters had," said disc jockey Chuck Cecil, whose syndicated radio show "The Swingin' Years" is in its 30th year. "But they had a very close harmony and a very pretty sound. I still play them. My favorite is 'Years and Years Ago.' I think it's their best song. They recorded it with the Art Van Damme Quintet."
Lenger is more effusive in his regard for the Dinnings.
"They were the best," he said. "I fell in love with them because they sang like angels."
After Lou moved west in 1952, Jean and Ginger limped along for a time with their younger sister Dolores (known today as Dolores Edgin, she is a singer on the Nashville edition of television's "Hee Haw"). But the group soon disbanded, and by the 1960s Dinning Sisters records were out of print.
Lenger, however, had struck up a correspondence with Ginger, and he met the sisters at a family reunion. He vowed to get their work reissued and, after "countless" letters to record companies, finally succeeded. In 1982, Capitol Records released "The Dinning Sisters," followed by a second volume two years later. In 1986 a German label, Cattle Records, released a collection of country songs by the trio. A delighted Lenger wrote the liner notes for the second two albums.
His crusade caught the attention of writer Bob Greene, whose story on Lenger and the Dinning revival appeared in the May issue of Esquire.
"The response has been unbelievable," Lenger said. "I've had letters or calls from 56 people who want to be on a Dinning Sisters mailing list."
Lou Dinning is less enthusiastic.
"I'm happy for Frank, because he worked so hard," she said, "and for the girls, because they're excited. But I don't want a fuss. I'm one of those people who couldn't wait to be old so that nothing would be expected of me."
Lou said she forced herself to be outgoing during the group's singing years.
The Dinnings were under contract to NBC much of their career and kept busy performing on such NBC radio programs as Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, Garry Moore's Club Matinee, the Roy Shields Review and the National Barn Dance. They also had their own daily "Dinning Sisters Show," cut records and performed in a few Hollywood "B" Westerns.
"You'd have thought I was the biggest ham in the world when I forced myself to be that way," Lou said. "But it just wasn't me. I've been shy my whole life, and I just can't tell you why."
Her reticence was apparent at the first-ever Dinning Sisters performance, an impromptu event in the family's Oklahoma farmhouse.