Born in 1914 she lived modestly with her mother and step father at 2652 Lepage. Until she started school, French was the only language she could speak.
She became the first “Miss New Orleans.” After winning the initial competition in a bathing suit, she sailed through the finals in a blue linen dress that cost all of $2.98. The annual pageant continues to this day.
She began her career in the 1930s as a big band singer in Chicago and then New York teaming with Rudy Vallee and Eddie Duchinand. In 1936 she moved to Hollywood and began appearing regularly in films for Paramount Pictures.
Samuel Goldwyn, then filming “The Hurricane” heard about her, borrowed her from United Artists and arranged for her to replace his original leading lady. The great John Ford directed. “The Jungle Princess” and “The Hurricane” made her an international star overnight.
Starring in over 50 films, more than any other New Orleanian, she appeared in the classic series of “Road to…” movies, such as “Road to Morocco”, also starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the 1940s and 1950s. The movies were enormously popular during the 1940s, and they regularly placed among the very top moneymaking films each year as a new one came out.
Then, during World War II, she decided that she would like to do something important for her country. Her position as Number 1 “pin-up” girl with the Armed Forces and one of the Top Ten at the box-office made her the likely candidate to be approached by Secretary of the Treasury Morgantheau to lead a war bond tour. On January 2, 1942, just three weeks after Pearl Harbor, she embarked on her first bond tour. Her wartime tours are credited with selling more than $300 million worth of bonds, a figure unmatched by any other individual. She has received many citations and letters of commendation from the U.S. Government for her work in this field, which prompted new titles- “The Bond Bombshell” and “Miss Wartime America.”
It was also during the war that she met and married her husband, William Ross Howard who was an Air Force Lieutenant at the time. They had two sons and were very happily married for many years.
Her hand and footprints are preserved in cement at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, along with the other greats of motion pictures. Her name is engraved in two stars in the Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame as well and was listed in the Baltimore Blue Book where she lived for many years. In 1951 she debuted on Broadway in “Oh! Captain.” She made a comeback to films in 1952 with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” During the 1950s she also made several guest appearances on television shows such as “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “Damon Runyon Theatre.” In 1961, she toured with her own nightclub act, and later with the plays “DuBarry Was a Lady” (1963) and “Hello, Dolly!” (1967).
In a career that spanned more than six decades in radio, movies, the theater and as a homemaker, she will be remembered not only for her unique beauty and charm, but also for the talent and versatility she displayed in every role she undertook.
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