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Dorothy Lamour, Sultry Sarong Girl of ‘Road’ Movies, Dead at 81

September 23, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Dorothy Lamour, the sultry, sarong-wearing sidekick of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby when they went on the ``Road,″ died Sunday. She was 81.

Miss Lamour’s cause of death was not immediately determined, said longtime friend and former publicist Frank Liberman. He said she had been ill and died at her North Hollywood home.

Bob Hope said he and his wife, Dolores, grieved the death. ``She was one of the grandest ladies on screen, in life,″ Hope said in a statement. ``She was a lady of quality, beauty and class, which always made me look good. She was my No. 1 leading lady.″

Hope said Miss Lamour was not just a colleague, but a personal friend. ``She was not only a wonderful actress and a great performer but a dear lady.″

Miss Lamour was often typecast as a sort of female Tarzan in a string of island-theme movies in the late 1930s and early ’40s.

She first donned the wraparound garment that made her famous in her very first film, the 1936 movie ``Jungle Princess.″ She went on to play similar parts in the 1937 John Ford spectacular ``The Hurricane,″ ``Typhoon″ and ``Beyond the Blue Horizon.″

She also wore her sarong in the first of the Hope-Crosby ``Road″ pictures, ``The Road to Singapore,″ in 1940. It was the start of a fertile comic relationship.

The trio went on ``The Road to Zanzibar,″ 1941; ``The Road to Morocco,″ 1942; ``The Road to Utopia,″ 1945; ``The Road to Rio,″ 1948; ``The Road to Bali,″ 1953; and ``The Road to Hong Kong,″ 1962. (She liked to quip: ``We only count six, because `Hong Kong’ created a bomb.″)

The films combined adventure, slapstick, zany ad libs and inside-show-biz satire. Miss Lamour played the exotic brunette who fell in league with the playboy with the ski-jump nose and his smooth-voiced pal who vied for her attentions.

``It’s a picnic working with Bob _ and Bing, too,″ she said in a 1942 Associated Press interview. ``I never know what’s going to happen next. They’d rather tease me than eat, and anything goes.″

``Once I decided to top one of their gags. It was kind of dirty, but I let fly. You should have seen them. They nearly sank through the floor. They’ve been pretty good ever since then.″

``I was the happiest and highest paid straight woman in the business,″ she recalled years later.

She saw herself as more than a sarong-wearer, though.

``I made 60 motion pictures and only wore the sarong in about six pictures, but it did become a kind of trademark″ she said. ``And it did hinder me. They expect you to always be the young girl leaning against the palm tree. Why should you want to act?″

Among her more serious films were the 1940 crime melodrama ``Johnny Apollo″ and the 1945 film ``A Medal for Benny.″

More recently, in the 1987 film ``Creepshow 2,″ she played a sloppily dressed housewife who gets murdered. ``Well, at my age you can’t lean against a palm tree and sing `Moon of Monakoora,‴ she said. ``People would look at that and say, `What is she trying to do?‴

Describing a similarly downbeat guest part in a television series, she commented, ``I’ve always wanted a part like this. Either they didn’t come up with one or people thought I couldn’t handle it.″

While ``Creepshow 2″ was her only film role in two decades, she was frequently seen on television, doing guest shots such shows as ``The Love Boat,″ ``Murder, She Wrote″ and, naturally, a few Bob Hope specials.

She also toured in stage shows such as ``Hello, Dolly!″

Miss Lamour was born in New Orleans in 1914. She got her start in show business as a singer before going into movies in the mid-’30s.

Her first husband was bandleader Herbie Kay; her second was businessman William Ross Howard III. She and Howard had two sons, and the marriage lasted for 35 years until his death in 1978.

She once said that she saw the South Seas for real only in 1984, when she went on a cruise. ``I had a ball, an absolute ball,″ she said, recalling how she met a couple of princesses and the woman who inspired the ``South Pacific″ character Bloody Mary.

In the 1980s, Miss Lamour performed around the country in a one-woman show in which she sang, reminisced and answered questions from the audience.

``When I sing `Moonlight Becomes You’ or `Tangerine’ or `Personality,′ I can look in the audience and see smiles on people’s faces,″ she said. ``I feel I’m bringing back happy memories. That’s the great thing about show business.″

``There is a big, big senior citizen audience,″ she said. ``They are so happy to remember the good times.″

Miss Lamour is survived by her two sons, Ridgely and Tom Howard, and two grandchildren.

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