Dinah Shore, the durable and phenomenally successful entertainer who moved gracefully from radio and recordings to television, cookbooks and her own celebrity golf tournament, capturing and keeping America's heart along the way, died Thursday in her Beverly Hills home. She was 76.
Miss Shore died of cancer, with her former husband, film star George Montgomery, and their two grown children, Melissa Ann Hime and John David Montgomery, at her side, publicist Connie Stone said.
Over the long span of her career, the golden-haired Southern belle garnered nine gold records, 10 Emmys--more than any other performer in television history--and her most cherished award, a Peabody, which included the inscription, "What TV needs, obviously, is about 100 Dinah Shores."
In observance of her death, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed flowers on one of Miss Shore's three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded to her for outstanding achievement in radio, recording and television.
"We have lost one of the voices that defined an era for us," said Hollywood billionaire and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis, who, with his wife, Barbara, was a friend of Miss Shore. "In many ways Dinah Shore set an example for us all to follow, not least in the areas of charity and fund raising for the less fortunate. Dinah was a joy to be around, independent and humorous. We should not mourn her death but rather celebrate her life."
Miss Shore reigned over television for four decades from its infancy in the 1950s until the 1990s with a succession of shows built around her husky, sentimental voice, Southern comedic charm, cooking talent and ability to cajole celebrities to join her for whatever they wanted to say or do.
Her string of enviable successes on the small screen included the 15-minute musical program, "The Dinah Shore Show," from 1951 to 1957; the Chevrolet-sponsored Sunday night hour, "The Dinah Shore Show" from 1957 to 1963; the 90-minute talk show "Dinah!" from 1974 to 1980; "Dinah's Place" from 1970 to 1974; "Dinah and Friends" from 1979 to 1984, and from 1989 to 1991, a half-hour talk show on the Nashville Network, "A Conversation With Dinah."
Even Miss Shore was a little nervous when she expanded her original television program from 15 minutes to an hourlong show on Sunday nights in which she sang "See the USA in your Chevrolet" and blew a huge kiss to TV viewers.
But Times entertainment editor Cecil Smith called that 1957-58 season "the year of Dinah Shore" and said Miss Shore "waltzed into the big color shows with the casual grace and warmth of a talented neighbor dropping in from next door to sing a little and show off some brilliant friends.
"And," Smith added, "she won the nation's Sunday-night hearts."
Miss Shore also won her Peabody, an Emmy, and the Sylvania Award, and was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year.
Over the decades, she was amused by attempts to describe the character of her various shows and analyze their success.
"What we are is a 'Do' show," she told The Times in 1972 when she was holding forth on "Dinah's Place." "Almost everyone who comes on has something they want to do. Ethel Kennedy played the piano, Joanne Woodward did some beautiful needlepoint. Burt Lancaster did a perfect Italian spaghetti sauce."
With a sports enthusiasm based in a childhood bout with polio, Miss Shore became the first woman to earn the Entertainer of the Year Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
The 22nd annual Nabisco Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, one of the richest on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour, will be played in March at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Jim Webb, deputy commissioner of the association, said Thursday that he was "shocked . . . deeply saddened. . . . We've lost a great friend and tremendous supporter of not only the LPGA but golf in general. It is like losing one of your very best friends."
Miss Shore, with her well-known penchant for humor, recalled for The Times in 1992 how reluctant she had been to involve herself in the tournament two decades earlier:
"The Colgate Co. was sponsoring my television show, and I was a tennis player. I didn't play golf. However, the powers that be decided they were going to sponsor a golf tournament. I said make it tennis; I didn't want to look like a dummy in two sports. . . . I took a crash course in golf."
But in no time, even Miss Shore was describing herself as "a real golf bum."
The brown-eyed natural brunette who had been known for her honey-blond hair since 1942 was often on best-dressed lists and was known for her robust health, energy and verve that made her appear far younger than her actual years. She once described her formula for living as being able to "forget everything that happened yesterday and live in the present."
Former President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, friends with the singer for 40 years, called her "a dynamic individual . . . talented, energetic (with) a sincere spark for life."