Monday, November 28, 2016


Little is know about the forgotten brother of Joan Crawford, Harry LeSueur (1903-1963). He tried his hand in acting but finished out his life in obscurity as a motel clerk. When he died in 1963, Crawford did not attend his funeral. 

The following are comments that Joan Crawford made about her brother that were published after she had died...they are telling but not necessarily true...

On her brother Hal LeSueur (from "Conversations," 1980):

"Let's start with Hal, my dear, sweet brother, first. To tell you the truth, I think he was my half-brother; Mother married so many times, and shacked up with so many men in between, I doubt we were one hundred percent brother and sister. People would look at us, after he came out to Hollywood, and wonder how the hell we could even be related.

He was chronically mean. He was older than I, and as kids he wasn't just the type of kid that would pull wings off butterflies, he'd pull the arms and legs off my dolls. When my mother needed help in the house, did she ever ask him to do anything? Hell, no! I waited on him hand and foot, and he was one of the big reasons why I wanted to get the hell out of the whole situation. Hal was bad news, all the way around. But because he was a boy he was always favored, and it was Lucille who had to do all the dirty work. And you know what happened? As soon as I had a few options renewed at Metro, Hal appeared. One afternoon I came home and found him sitting on my sofa, smoking a cigarette, half-bombed, telling me that since I'd become a movie star he was going to live with me. Like an idiot, I let him stay, but finally I sent for Mother and let those two live together so I could have a place of my own where I could maintain my privacy...and my sanity.

Hal was a louse, an out-and-out bastard. He could charm the skin off a snake, but nothing, not his jobs, not the men and women in his life, lasted long. Liquor, then drugs, and always his distorted ego, took over. I supported that son-of-a-bitch until the day he died. Now, do you call that being cruel and inhuman? At least Norma Shearer's brother, Douglas, was brilliant and self-sufficient, and made his own career at Metro. But I was stuck with a schmuck. That man -- or did he ever become a man -- was a monster. God, I hated him."

Friday, November 25, 2016


Florence Henderson, who went from Broadway star to become one of America's most beloved television moms in The Brady Bunch, has died, her manager and her publicist said. She was 82.

Henderson died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after being hospitalized the day before, said her publicist, David Brokaw. Henderson had suffered heart failure, her manager Kayla Pressman said in a statement.

Family and friends had surrounded Henderson's hospital bedside, Pressman said.

On the surface, The Brady Bunch with Henderson as its ever-cheerful matriarch Carol Brady, resembled just another TV sitcom about a family living in suburban America and getting into a different wacky situation each week.

But well after it ended its initial run, in 1974, the show resonated with audiences, and it returned to television in various forms again and again, including The Brady Bunch Hour in 1977, The Brady Brides in 1981 and The Bradys in 1990. It was also seen endlessly in reruns.

"It represents what people always wanted: a loving family. It's such a gentle, innocent, sweet show, and I guess it proved there's always an audience for that," Henderson said in 1999.

Premiering in 1969, it also was among the first shows to introduce to television the blended family. As its theme song reminded viewers each week, Henderson's Carol was a single mother raising three daughters when she met her TV husband, Robert Reed's Mike Brady, a single father who was raising three boys.

The eight of them became The Brady Bunch, with a quirky housekeeper, played by Ann B. Davis, thrown into the mix.

The blonde, ever-smiling Henderson was already a Broadway star when the show began, having originated the title role in the musical Fanny. But after The Brady Bunch, she would always be known to fans as Carol Brady.

"We had to have security guards with us. Fans were hanging on our doors. We couldn't go out by ourselves. We were like the Beatles!" she said of the attention the show brought the cast.

Like the Beatles, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon version called Brady Kids, although Henderson was not in that show.

She and Reed did return, however, for The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Brides and The Bradys. So did most of the original cast.

She was also back again in 1995 when a new cast was assembled for The Brady Bunch Movie, a playful spoof of the original show. This time she was Grandma Brady opposite Shelly Long's Carol. Numerous memoirs also kept interest in the show alive, as cast members revealed they were more than just siblings off camera. Barry Williams, who played eldest son Greg Brady, would confess to having a crush on his TV stepmom. Henderson, in her own book, denied having any relationship with Williams, but did acknowledge a fling with former New York City mayor John Lindsay.

Henderson was a 19-year-old drama student in New York when she landed a one-line role in the play Wish You Were Here.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were so impressed they made her the female lead in a 1952 road tour of Oklahoma! When the show returned to Broadway for a revival in 1954, she continued in the role and won rave reviews.

"She is the real thing, right of of a butter churn somewhere," wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune.

To broaden her career, Henderson took acting, dancing, singing and guitar lessons, even studying French and Italian.

She went on to play Maria in a road production of The Sound of Music, was Nellie Forbush in a revival of South Pacific and was back on Broadway with Jose Ferrer in The Girl Who Came to Supper in 1963.

Her career nearly came to an end in 1965 when she suddenly lost her hearing while appearing in The King and I in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with a hereditary condition called osteosclerosis.

"Corrective surgery in both ears restored my hearing," she said in 2007.
As her TV career blossomed with The Brady Bunch, Henderson also began to make frequent TV guest appearances. She was the first woman to host The Tonight Show for the vacationing Johnny Carson.

For eight years she also commuted to Nashville to conduct a cooking and talk series, Country Kitchen, on The Nashville Network. The show resulted in a book, Florence Henderson's Short Cut Cooking.

Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in the small town of Dale in southern Indiana. She was the 10th child of a tobacco sharecropper of Irish descent.

In grade school, she joined the choir at a Catholic church in Rockport, Ind.
After high school she moved to New York, where she enrolled in a two-year program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, her studies financed by a theatrical couple who had been impressed by her singing when they saw her perform in high school.

She dropped out of the program after one year, however, to take the role in Wish You Were There.

Henderson married theater executive Ira Bernstein and the couple had four children before the union ended in divorce after 29 years.

Her second husband, John Kappas, died in 2002.

Pressman said she is survived by her children; Barbara, Joseph, Robert and Lizzie, their respective spouses, and five grandchildren...

Thursday, November 24, 2016


To anyone in 2016, if they hear the name Shirley Ross, I almost guarantee that 90% of the time - the person will say "Shirley Who?". Ross has been gone for over 40 years now, but she was such a treat to see in many movies of the 1930s, namely the ones she made with Bing Crosby. She appeared in 25 feature films between 1933 and 1945, including singing earlier and wholly different lyrics for the Rodgers and Hart song in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) that later became "Blue Moon."

Shirley Ross was born Bernice Maude Gaunt in Omaha, Nebraska on January 7, 1913, the elder of two daughters of Charles Burr Gaunt and Maude C. (née Ellis) Gaunt. Growing up in California, she attended Hollywood High School and UCLA, training as a classical pianist. By age 14, she was giving radio recitals and made her first vocal recordings at 20 with Gus Arnheims’s band. Here she attracted the notice of the up-and-coming songwriting duo Rodgers and Hart, who selected her to sell their latest offerings to MGM. One song, which was later re-written as "Blue Moon," led to a successful screen test in 1933 and then to a number of small parts in films that included Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell in which, made up to look black, she sang "The Bad in Every Man," the original version of "Blue Moon," in a Harlem nightclub.

In 1936, MGM loaned her to Paramount, and she was paired with Ray Milland in The Big Broadcast of 1937. Although this was officially a leading role, the Big Broadcast format included a busy programme of musical comedy sketches with big-name performers who somewhat overshadowed her. But one press review declared that she had ‘one of the sweetest voices of any actress on the screen and predicted a big future for her. Paramount signed her to a five-year contract; meanwhile her introduction to the songwriting team of Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger would prove significant.

Her duet with Bing Crosby in Waikiki Wedding was a Robin-Rainger number titled "Blue Hawaii." Thus began a three-year period during which Ross was cast opposite either Crosby or Bob Hope on five occasions.

After a career interruption in the making of This Way Please with Buddy Rogers, when she walked off the job, alleging that Jack Benny's wife, Mary Livingstone, was trying to sabotage her scenes, she was cast opposite Hope in The Big Broadcast of 1938. Their duet, "Thanks for the Memory", became a huge hit and a defining moment for two careers headed in opposite directions – for Hope, a springboard to bigger and better things; for Ross, the pinnacle. It would prove to be her sole enduring claim to fame.

The duet's great success sparked spin-off movies with Bob Hope, Thanks for the Memory (1938) and another called Some Like It Hot (1939; later renamed Rhythm Romance to avoid confusion with the unrelated 1959 feature). Although Thanks for the Memory did produce another hit song, "Two Sleepy People", the films themselves made little impact, apparently reflecting Paramount’s declining interest in musical comedy. Although Ross would have been willing to play straight drama and had performed well in Prison Wife, Paramount relegated her to supporting roles in two minor romantic comedies, which did nothing for her career, even though one of them (Paris Honeymoon) teamed her once more with Crosby. Her extremely promising career suffered a steep decline and never recovered.

Although Ross knew that her understated appeal was better suited to the screen than the stage, she played the lead in Rodgers and Hart’s Broadway musical Higher and Higher (1940), featuring the song "It Never Entered My Mind." The show was a critical failure. After a few forgettable movies and some radio work, Ross increasingly attended to her terminally ill husband Ken Dolan, which became an early retirement.

Ross died from cancer on March 9, Menlo Park, California, aged 62. As her married name, Bernice Dolan Blum, was not well known, her death was not widely publicized. But Hope, with whom she had an enduring real-life friendship, did not fail to commemorate her death. He and Crosby sent a 5-foot tall cross with white carnations and a spray of red roses to her funeral...

Monday, November 21, 2016


Jackie Gleason is one of my favorite entertainers - the man could do it all from acting to comedy and from composing to writing. He also could advertise anything. Below is a colorful ad for Nescafe. I am guessing it is from 1953, when he was considered one of the greatest talents in television...

Friday, November 18, 2016


Anyone who knows me, knows that my love of classic movies basically started with watching Bing Crosby movies. Years ago I was watching the Bing Crosby-Carole Lombard film We're Not Dressing from 1934, and what I liked about the film, (next to Bing's singing) was the comedic appearance of character actor Leon Errol. His bits were sort of corny, but I found myself laughing at some of them! Errol was born Leonce Errol Sims in Sydney in 1891, Errol had toured Australia, New Zealand and the UK in a variety of theatrical settings, including circuses, operettas, and Shakespeare, by the time he arrived on the west coast of the U.S. in 1905. In Portland, Oregon he managed a touring vaudeville company troupe, giving an early boost to the career of a young comedian named Roscoe Arbuckle.

By 1911 Errol had graduated to the New York big time in the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, notably in two skits with the legendary Bert Williams. Errol's sister, Leda Errol (née Sims) was a personal friend of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, and she appeared with him in the Ziegfeld Follies doing one and two act plays. He appeared every year in the Follies through 1915, when he is also credited as director of the show that included W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, as well as Marion Davies as one of the Ziegfeld Girls.

Errol made his first film, a comic short subject called Nearly Spliced, in 1916 (it was not released before 1921), for pioneering east-coast producer George Kleine. By 1930 he'd left Broadway and turned his full attention to movies, third-billed for Samuel Goldwyn's One Heavenly Night in 1931. The box-office for that film was disappointing, but overall Errol made a smooth transition to films in a variety of comedy roles. His comic trademark was a wobbly, unsteady walk, moving as though on rubber legs; this bit served him well in drunk routines.

Errol starred in a long string of two-reel comedy shorts, which began at Columbia Pictures in 1933. He also starred in two early three-strip Technicolor shorts made at Warner Brothers, Service With a Smile (released 28 July 1934) and Good Morning, Eve! (released August 5), just beating the RKO Radio Pictures release La Cucaracha (31 August) as the first live action, wholly Technicolor release.

Moving to RKO Radio Pictures in 1934, he continued to make six shorts per year until his death in 1951. Most of these were marital farces in which Leon would get mixed up with a pretty girl or an involved business proposition, and face the wrath of his wife (usually Dorothy Granger); the theme tune to the series was the nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down.

Leon Errol is well remembered for his energetic performances in the Mexican Spitfire movies opposite Lupe Vélez (1939–43), in which Errol had the recurring dual role of affable Uncle Matt and foggy British nobleman Lord Epping. Monogram signed Errol to appear as fight manager Knobby Walsh in the eight entries of their "Joe Palooka" sports comedies (1946–50). Leon Errol's most famous non-series appearance is in the nonsensical comedy feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), starring fellow vaudeville and Ziegfeld alumnus W. C. Fields. Errol's next-to-last film, Lord Epping Returns in 1951, reprised his famous characterization (and some of the gags) from Mexican Spitfire.

Footage from Errol's short subjects was incorporated into RKO's compilation features Variety Time, Make Mine Laughs, Footlight Varieties, and Merry Mirthquakes. RKO kept Leon Errol in the public eye by reissuing his older comedies through the mid-1950s. His RKO shorts soon became a staple of syndicated television.

Errol married Stella Chatelaine in Denver, Colorado in 1906. She died on November 7, 1946 in Los Angeles. Five years later Errol suffered a fatal heart attack, on October 12, 1951, aged 70. They had no children. Leon Errol never received the fame of some character actors did, but his comedic timing highlighted many great films of the 1930s....

Friday, November 11, 2016


John Wayne is not exactly someone I would picture cooking or even entering the kitchen, but this recipe actually looks pretty good. If John Wayne says it is good enough to eat, then you damn well better sit down and eat!


2 (4 oz.) cans green chilies, drained
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
4 egg whites
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Combine chilies with cheese in a large bowl and turn into a well-buttered shallow 2-quart casserole dish. Beat the egg whites until peaks form. Mix egg yolks, milk, flour, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Fold egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. Pour over the cheese and chili mixture. Comb through with a knife and fork gently until combined. Bake for 30 minutes. Arrange tomatoes on top, and bake another 30 minutes. Garnish with extra chilies, if desired. Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Here is a charming article that appeared in the New York Times on  January 14, 1945. It detailed actor Barry Fitzgerald's rise in fame and how he dealt with it...

Fitzgerald Meets Fame — and He Frowns

HOLLYWOOD — In Hollywood these days everyone, it seems, is excited about Barry Fitzgerald - except Barry Fitzgerald. On the basis of his performance as the whimsical, petulant old parish priest in Paramount's ''Going My Way,'' the New York critics have just given him their award for the best film acting of the year.

Today Barry Fitzgerald is in greater demand by the studios than any character has ever been in the history of the film city. One conservative estimate, by people who figure such things out, has it that if the 56-year-old Irish actor accepted all of the parts that have been offered to him in the past four months he would be working in front of the cameras, night and day, for the next two years. Film producers calculate that Fitzgerald's name in the cast of one of their products now means increased returns at the box office. That fact explains an increase in his ''per picture'' pay to $75,000 more than three times his pre-''Going My Way'' rate.

To all of which Barry Fitzgerald says: ''I am now just another Hollywood celebrity and that's downright boring.'' He doesn't understand why being a successful actor should mean that he can, per se, set the general public an example by smoking so and so's cigarettes or wearing this or that brand of underwear.

Gone are the days, he will regretfully tell you, when he could walk down the street unrecognized and just watch people go by. Now the people watch Barry Fitzgerald go by. In Hollywood he is too easily recognized, pointed out, stared at and besieged by that curious American phenomenon, the autograph seeker.

He finds it all rather bewildering. He resents the disruption of his previously inconspicuous private life. He can't even browse in Los Angeles book shops or join in a discussion with strangers at some out-of-the-way barroom or drug store without being tagged as Father Fitzgibbon. His old clothes and cloth cap, which once kept him inconspicuous, now make him a marked man.

And along with fame have come obligations - obligations which are particularly distressing to Mr. Fitzgerald, who cheerfully admits to being a ''very lazy man.'' Fame has brought sacks full of fan mail to be answered. It has resulted in invitations to parties and social events - for he is now being recognized, even by some of the town's so-called ''greats.''

Friday, November 4, 2016


Here is a great story about one man's experience with a living legend...

Flying as much as I do, it is really the only time I actually sit back and watch a movie. I recently watched a classic "Andy Hardy" film with Mickey Rooney on a flight to Las Vegas, and it reminded me of the time I got the privilege of spending time with the Hollywood icon.

Being in awe my entire life of classic Hollywood and those legendary performers on the silver screen, it was no accident that I acquired a 1926 vaudeville theater, The Arcada in St. Charles, 10 years ago. And as the theater has enjoyed tremendous success evolving into a top live-music venue the past few years, it has also been host to some of the biggest, most recognizable names in show biz. From Debbie Reynolds to Shirley MacLaine, Don Rickles to Joan Rivers and Hugh Jackman to Kevin Costner, many A-listers have appeared on the historic stage once graced by Edgar Bergan & Charlie McCarthy, George Burns & Gracie Allen, the Little Rascals, the Three Stooges, Duke Ellington and so many more.

But one figure stands out, who, ironically, was larger than life despite his famously small stature: Mickey Rooney.

Up until just a few years before his passing, Rooney was doing a multimedia musical career retrospective show with his eighth wife, Jan. When the opportunity to host his show was offered to me, I think it was exactly 12 seconds later when I signed on the dotted line committing to the booking. This was going to be truly something special … talk about Hollywood royalty!

What put the experience over the top was when his wife Jan called me and asked if she and Mickey could come in a few days earlier to do press. This guy was a true pro! Once the word got out that not only was he coming, but he was also taking requests from the press, it became complete craziness just managing the literally 200 interview requests from all over the world.

He was a bit standoffish when we first met. But I went down on one knee as if to kiss his ring, and he warmed up pretty quickly. He had this warm, grandpa-ish demeanor, with a 24-carat smile. Once in a while he would kind of venture off in another direction with either his conversation or his attention span, be he came back pretty quickly.

So we visited television studios, phoned into radio stations and lunched with journalists. It was a press junket frenzy! He was tired, but was tireless when it came to giving the people what they wanted.

"I never want to disappoint people. I've been in more major motion pictures than anyone else in history -- the only actor to have appeared in at least one film for eight straight decades, and that doesn't happen if you disappoint the fans," he proudly belted out.

"We were making a movie a month sometimes, especially during the Andy Hardy years" he said. "We were all exhausted, but we just kept going. We (young actors) were taught to stick it out and that stayed with me my whole life. So let's get going!"

After a while, I let my bold side take over and during dinner, I thought the time was right to cautiously bring up Judy Garland.

"The biggest loss of my life, of all of our lives," he said. "Such a tragedy. She really was the most marvelous entertainer in the history of show business."

I asked why she wasn't one of the eight women he ultimately married. "She was the sister I never had," Rooney said as he glanced up to the sky. "She had this major insecurity that frankly, endeared me to her. It was tough on all of us. I tried to be there for her as much as I could. But those early years were especially tough on her. We worked countless hours a week and slept when we could. Ya know, we barely made $5,000 each for most of our films! And we were the biggest stars of our time!"

Part of my promotion of his live show that we were presenting at the Arcada Theatre was to take him to visit a few special events and active senior communities. He loved it! It was hysterical because it was all impromptu. I would walk in with Mickey and he would just start shaking hands with the residents. Those people could not believe he was there! Many of them would have tears running down their faces as smiles were exchanged. But the disbelief factor was way off the charts.

One of my fondest memories was when I took him to a meeting of Italian American War Veterans. I went to pick him up at the hotel and he walked out of his room with an actual war veterans hat on. He actually traveled with it!

We arrived at the meeting to a hero's welcome. There were about 200 former soldiers, some in their 80s, who stood at attention and saluted Mickey as we walked in. It was very reverent and emotional.

The commander of the veterans' post welcomed Rooney and thanked him for his service in World War II. "Mickey, what you and your Hollywood friends did for the soldiers overseas, entertaining them and keeping up their morale, was nothing short of heroic," the commander said.

At that statement, Mickey jumped out of his seat. "Wait a minute," he said. "I served in the Army under Patton. I wasn't telling jokes and singing songs -- I was fighting, just like all you guys." He then folded back the lapel of his jacket to display his Bronze Star for Meritorious Service, which he received in the war. A quiet but very noticeable gasp filled the room.

"I lost friends and I saw a lot of death out there. That is why I am such a proud American. That is why I came here tonight. To thank all of YOU! You are the heroes, we veterans are who saved America."

So after a few days of these tremendous experiences, I thought I would host a dinner in honor of his 89th birthday. I had an upscale, Las Vegas-style supper club at the time, and it was packed. I reserved my biggest table, right in the center of the room. Nobody knew he was coming, so as we walked in, you could hear countless forks being dropped onto plates. "Holy cow, is that Mickey Rooney?" folks at each table whispered to one another. As he turned and smiled, the room burst into applause.

He and his wife, Jan, sat down, along with an entourage. I had steaks, lobster and my best pasta dishes locked and loaded, ready to be presented. But then his wife whispered to me that his favorite meal was Italian salami, cheeses and those little pepperoncini, so I brought out a platter fit for an Italian king.

I had these two brothers from Russia playing four-handed classical piano featured that night in the restaurant. It was truly amazing how their hands crossed over each other to create a complex sound from the piano not normally heard. Then I had a fabulous Three Tenors-style act enter the room, belting out songs while literally surrounding Mickey and Jan at their table.

I had remembered asking them earlier in the week what it was they liked to listen to, and they said the Three Tenors was their favorite. So I brought in this act as a gift to them. Both Mickey and Jan were in tears.

After the performance, I asked Mickey if he would come to the front of the room to answer a few questions for the guests. Per classic Mickey Rooney style, he not only answered questions for people but also asked if he could play the 100-year-old piano I had in the restaurant. He was masterful. We had all forgotten what a fine musician he was, often playing the drums in his earlier films.

What a night! The guests, who were unaware any of this was going to happen, mind you, walked out of the restaurant just shaking their heads in disbelief after what they had just witnessed (the food was incredible, too, I might add!).

He and Jan did the show. It was heartwarming and fun and tremendously cute. All week he kept thanking me for my hospitality, saying he wanted to give me something very valuable. "I can see you are a very good guy," he said. "I decided at the War Vets event that I was going to give you something special."

Would it be those vintage cuff links he was wearing? Maybe his personal pen? An autographed Andy Hardy tie?

He leans over to me and said: "I am going to give you something extremely valuable. You know the term 'The Best?' You go and copyright that term. Then you open up 'The Best" cleaners, 'The Best' grocery stores, 'The Best" clothing stores. You get the picture! You'll make millions!"

Jan looked at me, I looked at her. We both knew he wasn't kidding. There was a deafening silence. I thanked him profusely, and he sat back in his chair, with great pride. I shoved some salami from backstage in my mouth to keep me from bursting into laughter.

As we said our goodbyes the next day, he did present me with a personally autographed photo from "Boys Town," which I will always cherish. I am sure he is "Striking up the band" up there right now.

As sad as it is to see him go, I can only imagine just how happy Judy was to see him again, and what a show they must be doing up in Hollywood...


Kay Starr, a pop and jazz singer most popular in the 1950s, has died at the age of 94, according to multiple news sources, including The New York Times.

Starr had two number one hit songs in the 1950s, “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Rock and Roll Waltz.” She had her roots in jazz vocals but she was also successful with pop and country music. 

Starr was born on a reservation in Oklahoma on July 22, 1921. Her dad was an Iroquois Indian and her mom was of Indian and Irish heritage. She started singing as a child and she had her own radio show at a young age. She changed her last name to Starr because, she said, too many fans misheard it that way.

When she was 15 her family moved to Memphis, where she was chosen to sing with the violinist Joe Venuti’s orchestra during an extended engagement at the Peabody Hotel. Her parents agreed but insisted that she be home by midnight.

“In those days you couldn’t bring a child into a place that sold mixed drinks,” she recalled in an interview with the Seattle radio station KUOW in 2006. “I’d go and get my evening gown and shut my mouth up until it was time to sing, so they didn’t know what age I was. Joe Venuti told everyone that my mother was my sister. She loved that.”

Starr’s first records were “Baby Me” and “Love With a Capital ‘You,’” made with the Glenn Miller Orchestra when she was 16 after Miller had hired her to fill in for an ailing Marion Hutton. The records weren’t a huge success. Ms. Starr had had to sing arrangements written in a key too high for her, making her sound like a “jazzed-up Alfalfa,” as she once put it — a self-mocking reference to the child actor known for his earnest but off-key singing.

Ms. Starr moved to Los Angeles after high school and sang with the trumpeter Wingy Manone’s band, then with the saxophonist Charlie Barnet’s. While performing for World War II soldiers one night, she fainted in the wings and was hospitalized for pneumonia. Many, including Ms. Starr herself, felt the infection lightened her voice.

Ms. Starr took a year off to recuperate, and when she resumed her career her voice had returned to its old, huskier self. After going solo in 1946, she signed with the newly formed Capitol Records the next year.

For a while she was overshadowed by two more successful female singers on Capitol, Margaret Whiting and Peggy Lee. That changed when Ms. Starr had a breakthrough hit with “You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling in Love)” in 1948, followed by two songs tinged with country and folk, “Oh, Babe!” and “Hoop-Dee-Doo.”

Her big break came with her recording of the country song “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” shortly after Pee Wee King’s instrumental version became a Top 10 country hit in 1950. Her rendition sold a million copies, and her crossover into country music continued when she recorded four duets with Tennessee Ernie Ford. Her 1950 cover of the song “Bonaparte’s Retreat” was one of her first hit songs. She had her biggest hit song of her career in 1952 with “Wheel of Fortune.” She also appeared on the television variety series “Club Oasis.”

In her later years, she sang a duet with Tony Bennett for his 2001 album “Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.” She was still singing live as recently as this year. The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, her daughter and only immediate survivor, Katherine Yardley, said...