At the height of their careers, most actresses dream of winning Oscars. Dorothy Lamour, however, set her sights on a much less glamorous reward. “She loved to collect S&H Green Stamps to paste into her stamp books,” son Richard Howard, 68, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “When they were filled, she’d take them to the five-and-dime redemption center to claim her prize, and she’d have coffee while she chatted it up with the locals.”
She may have achieved wealth and fame thanks to the popular Road to… films with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, but Dorothy never forgot her humble roots. “She was a true rags to riches success story,” Richard says of his mom, who was born in a Louisiana charity ward and died in 1996 at 81 from a heart attack. Dorothy’s own mother once used curtains off their windows to make her a dress for a high school dance. “I’m pretty sure [their poverty] inspired her to get the heck out of that environment,” he says. And Dorothy more than succeeded.
“I was Miss New Orleans of 1931! I then headed off to Chicago, determined to be a big band singer,” the beauty queen once recalled. She did a brief stint as an elevator operator at Marshall Field department store before winning an audition with band leader Herbie Kay, who became her first husband in 1935, a year before they headed to Hollywood. After the sarong she wore in 1936’s The Jungle Princess became as big a hit as she was, it earned her the nickname of “the sarong girl,” despite the fact she wore one in only six of her entire career’s 60 films. “Heck,” she once joked, “it’s better than being known as the sweater girl. I had my gimmick. Every gal has to have one to become a big attraction.”
Following her divorce from Herbie in 1939, Dorothy had a brief romance with J. Edgar Hoover before finding true love with Richard’s dad, Air Force Capt. William “Bill” Howard. By the time they wed in 1943, Life Magazine had already dubbed her the No. 1 Army pinup girl. She later earned another nickname, “the Bond Bombshell,” for selling $300 million worth of bonds for the war effort. “I collected $9 million in cash in the first six days and $31 million by the end of my first tour,” she proudly recalled.
“She loved this country and wanted to do what she could to help,” Richard says. “Selling those bonds and marrying my dad, those were the happiest times of her life.” Dorothy took her role as mom to Richard and his older brother, John, seriously. “She made us make our beds, clean the house, and do our chores,” Richard says. “My mom led by example, never acting like a pampered woman. She was even her own secretary and publicity agent! She managed her career, marriage, and children with grace, class, and dignity.”
Even with all her film success and counting Walt Disney as one of her neighbors, Dorothy’s greatest achievement, Richard says, was “having a family.” In fact, when asked during an interview why her career went inactive around the time she and Bill had their children, Dorothy was sure to set the record straight. “Inactive? Is that how you describe giving birth to two great sons?” she bristled. “What you call inactivity, I call maternity!”
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