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TV Pioneer, Entertainer Dinah Shore Dies at 76 : Show business: Friends remember winner of 10 Emmys, Peabody award for her charm and grace.

February 25, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Dinah was five-star in every way," said former President Gerald Ford, a neighbor of Miss Shore in Rancho Mirage. "Betty and I have lost a very dear friend, one of the finest, most generous and thoughtful persons we have been privileged to know."

Actor Burt Reynolds, who had a celebrated love affair with Miss Shore in the early 1970s, said: "Hollywood has lost its greatest and only real angel. Dinah is what God meant when he strived to make perfection.

"She was the sunshine in my life and millions and millions of others," Reynolds said. "She is the only person I ever knew who had nothing bad to say about anyone."

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, called Miss Shore "the kindest and the gentlest and the most enduring of all the talented folks in our world."

"It's going to be hard to face tomorrow," he said, "without Dinah."

The multitalented Miss Shore, whose paintings have been exhibited at the California Museum of Science and Industry, was born Frances Rose Shore on March 1, 1917, in Winchester, Tenn.

Stricken with polio when she was 18 months old, she credited the experience with giving her an inferiority complex and for pushing her into sports and entertainment.

"That early experience made me shy and ambitious at the same time," she said in 1972. "I wanted to run faster than anyone else, and jump higher. I knew I had to do something to prove myself.

"I wanted to act," she said, "but there weren't any Tennessee Williamses around in those days and it wasn't easy for a girl with a Southern accent to get work. Luckily, I could sing."

She started singing at Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, Tenn., giving up voice lessons to become a cheerleader. Nevertheless, she was soon singing on Nashville radio stations WSM and WLAC.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University with a degree in sociology, Miss Shore sold her camera and radio to finance a two-week job hunt in New York. It didn't take that long.

She auditioned for disc jockey Martin Block at radio station WNEW, singing "Dinah." In a historic lapse of memory, Block announced that "Dinah Shore" had won the audition. Disliking her own given name, she carried that one to fame.

Miss Shore worked as a fill-in singer at NBC radio on such shows as "Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street," and found steady work on Eddie Cantor's show. By 1943 she had her own radio show, and was recording with such famous bandleaders as Xavier Cugat.

She sold 1 million copies of "Yes, My Darling Daughter," and that recording success was followed quickly by "Blues in the Night," "Shoo Fly Pie," and "Doin' What Comes Naturally." Other hits were "Buttons and Bows," "Dear Hearts and Gentle People," "It's So Nice to Have a Man Around the House," and "I'll Walk Alone."

A favorite on radio and jukeboxes and with GIs as America went to war, Miss Shore eventually got her chance to act. She didn't like it.

She was in such films as "Thank Your Lucky Stars," in 1943, "Up in Arms," "Follow the Boys," and "Belle of the Yukon" in 1944, "Make Mine Music" and "Till the Clouds Roll By" in 1946, "Fun and Fancy Free" in 1947, "and "Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick" in 1952.

"I hated it," she said years later. "Making (movies) was so boring. You sat around interminably. And I never thought I was photogenic. I thought I looked horrible on the Technicolor screen."

She said the experience also terrified her, and that she was afraid people would learn that she didn't read music well.

Miss Shore found the small screen far more to her liking.

"I don't know how to be afraid of that old red eye. It's one person to me," she told Associated Press in 1989. "I don't visualize large numbers of people out there. I'm comfortable with it."

In 1941, Miss Shore fell in love with Montgomery's image when she went to see his film "The Cowboy and the Blonde" 15 times. Two years later, when she was playing the Hollywood Canteen, he attended the show and confessed that he was a fan of hers as well.

They were married in Las Vegas Dec. 5, 1943, and after one of Hollywood's storybook marriages, were divorced May 9, 1962.

"In the end," she said, "we just drifted apart."

Miss Shore married Palm Springs contractor and tennis player Maurice Fabian Smith on May 26, 1963, but that marriage lasted less than a year.

She began her romantic liaison with Reynolds after he appeared on her television show.

An enthusiastic cook, Miss Shore wrote three best-selling cookbooks, "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah" in 1971, "The Dinah Shore Cookbook" in 1983 and "The Dinah Shore American Kitchen" in 1990.

She continued to give concerts, often benefiting her favorite philanthropies--the March of Dimes, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Junior Achievement, on whose national board she served.

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