The Sarong Queen Takes a Road Trip With Two Clowns

Road to Bali - Bob, Dorothy, Bing with men in Scottish dress #1

Dorothy Lamour made her first starring film appearance in the 1936 film The Jungle Princess. She was just 22 years old and looked gorgeous in her sarong costume. The next year, 1937, Dorothy again got to romp in the tropics, this time in the movie The Hurricane.  Legendary costume designer Edith Head created Dorothy’s sarong for The Hurricane and helped cement Dorothy’s reign as the “Sarong Queen.” Actually, by her own count, Dorothy only wore a sarong in about six of her approximately 60 pictures but the combination of the sexy wraparound and Dorothy’s exotic looks stayed fixed in the minds of film fans. Dorothy even burned one of her sarongs in 1946 in a publicity stunt with the help of Paramount’s publicity department. To no avail. Dorothy remained forever after the Sarong Queen.

Dorothy Lamour - The Jungle Princess #1

Dorothy Lamour was, of course, much more than a sarong. She was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in 1914. Dorothy quit school at age 14 to work as a secretary to support herself and her divorced mother. In the 1930’s, Dorothy began entering beauty contests and doing stock theater.  Dorothy was “discovered” by orchestra leader Herbie Kay while performing in a talent contest in Chicago. In 1935, Dorothy went on tour as a singer with Herbie’s orchestra. She also married Herbie and had her own 15 minute musical weekly radio program. The next year, 1936, Dorothy moved to Hollywood, did a screen test, and signed with Paramount Pictures. Paramount immediately saw Dorothy’s star power. Her first film was just an uncredited bit part but she was the star of her second film, The Jungle Princess, the film of the legendary sarong. Dorothy went on to make all genres of film: comedies, musicals, crime films, dramas, mysteries, and period pieces.

Raod to Bali - Dorothy as Moonflower

In 1940, Dorothy did her first “Road” film, Road to Singapore, with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The “Road” films were hugely popular and the trio eventually made six films together (a seventh features Dorothy only in a cameo). Dorothy also worked with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, separately, in other films. Bing Crosby is best remembered as the “crooner” in the “Road” films and he had a phenomenal singing career but Dorothy also had a fantastic singing career. She had started out as a singer, after all. And she started singing in films with her second film, The Jungle Princess. Dorothy later recalled that the location filming for The Jungle Princess was in California, but in a very isolated, hard to reach mountainous area, when the studio suddenly remembered she could sing. They wrote a song, “Moonlight and Shadows”, and sent it out to the location via a rider on a donkey so it could be added to the film. Dorothy was one of only a few movie stars who were allowed to make records throughout her career. Dorothy was on par with singer / actress Alice Faye in the number of songs she introduced in her movies. Among Dorothy’s many songs: “Moon of Manakoora”, “Moonlight and Shadows”, “Moonlight Becomes You”, “I Remember You”, “Personality”, and “It Could Happen To You”.

Roa to Bali - Dorothy Lamour confronts villain

Dorothy Lamour was an actress, a comedian, a singer, and a beauty in a sarong. She put all her talents to work in the “Road” movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. She was at the height of her career when she made the first film, Road to Singapore. Bing was the crooner, Bob was the comic, so the role of straight man fell to Dorothy. She was eleven years younger than both Bob and Bing yet she managed to more than hold her own, even when the two men were ad-libbing their “Road” roles like mad. Dorothy later said, “After the first ‘Road’ film, I never studied dialogue. Never. I’d wait to get on the set to see what they were planning. I was the happiest and highest paid straight woman in the business.” Bob, Bing, and Dorothy made a killer comedy team and more popular “Road” films followed Road to Singapore in 1940:
Road to Zanzibar (1941)
Road to Morocco (1942)
Road to Utopia (1946)
Road to Rio (1947)
The “Road” films were popular and two more (Road to Bali and Road to Hong Kong) would eventually be made but Road to Rio marked a change in the relationship of the three stars and their studio.

Road to Bali - Bob & Dorothy cuddle

When the first “Road” film was made Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour were established stars while Bob Hope was a comedy actor who had recently made the jump from Broadway to Hollywood. Bob had third billing among the trio. But as time, and the “Road” films, went on the stars of Bing and Bob continued to shine while Dorothy’s was beginning to fade. With the Road to Rio, Bing and Bob got a share of the profits while Dorothy did not. She remained on salary. Then there was a gap of five years before there was a new “Road” film, Road to Bali. With Road to Rio, both Bing and Bob had formed companies, they put up money for the new Road to Bali film, and co-produced it and split the profits with Paramount. Both Bing and Bob felt a definite sense of “ownership” towards the film. In his autobiography, Bob told a story about all the beautiful white sand that was trucked in to make the beach set for Road to Bali. Bob had also recently put a one-hole golf course in at his home and had four empty sand traps. He decided that the white sand would look gorgeous in his sand traps. When the prop man balked at trucking the sand to Bob’s house, Bob and Bing simply “had another talk with the boys in the front office. As a result, part of the Road to Bali is in my back yard.” Dorothy, meanwhile, was an aging actress in Hollywood and had seen fewer roles come her way. She was facing the end of her Paramount contract with no offer of renewal. And she had recently had her second child. Paramount needed her to bring the new “Road” film to life. She was part of the “Road” threesome. But there was definitely some tension between the three co-stars. In one story, Bing and Bob were also feeling some rivalry with the new hot comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. As part of a “comedy trade” deal, Martin and Lewis made a cameo appearance in Road to Bali and Bing and Bob made a cameo appearance in Martin and Lewis’s Scared Stiff the next year. At one point during filming of Road to Bali, Dorothy kidded Bing and Bob about a spoiled take by bringing up the younger comedy team, “Better warm up Martin and Lewis. They’re younger and funnier.” Bob glared at her and snapped back, “You’d better be careful how you talk to us. You can always be replaced by an actress.” And, of course, they did eventually replace her. There was also tension about the songs in the film. Dorothy had always recorded her film songs and Paramount had always supported her. But for the Road to Bali songs, Dorothy again broached the touchy topic of pay. She did not think it was fair for her to record her songs for the soundtrack album unless she received the same pay as Bing and Bob (entirely reasonable especially since her song “Moonflowers” is the best song in the movie). Dorothy got no response at all. Instead, without telling her, Bing and Bob spent one morning recording the songs and used singer Peggy Lee for all the Dorothy vocals.

Road to Bali - Dorothy & Bing on ship at night

Dorothy Lamour left Hollywood after Road to Bali. She re-created her earlier career as successful nightclub entertainer and also made stage and television appearances. Ten years later, Bing and Bob decided to do a new “Road” film, Road to Hong Kong. Dorothy was asked back but not as part of a co-starring comedy trio. Instead, she had a small walk on part. Dorothy refused unless the part was rewritten and enlarged. Since part of the financing of the new film depended on Dorothy’s presence, the producers had no choice but to give in. Joan Collins was the new female lead with third billing and Dorothy’s role was still little more than a bit part as herself. But she does at least get to sing: a segment of her popular song “Personality” and a brand new song “Warmer Than a Whisper”.

Road to Bali is the only one of the seven “Road” picture to be made in Technicolor. The vivid color really makes the costumes, the elaborate studio sets, and Dorothy Lamour’s exotic beauty pop. Road to Bali was also the first “Road” film to feature surprise cameo appearances. Besides Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis showing up in Princess Lala’s dream, Bing’s brother Bob Crosby also wanders by, Humphrey Bogart appears in a clip from The African Queen, Errol Flynn gets a quick reference, and Jane Russell appears as her character from Bob’s 1952 film Son of Paleface. The cameo appearances have lost their “surprise” value over the years. If you do not know who these people are or what the significance of their appearance is, then they are just so much flotsam added to the film.

Road to Bali - Bing & Bob & the Gorilla

Road to Bali has the usual “Road” film ad-libbing and wise-cracks, minimal plot and pop culture satires, but still it seems to get sillier as it goes along. Eventually, not only are our two comedy heroes, Bob and Bing, on an exotic island (where all the “natives” are not) but they also have to deal with a rampaging giant squid, a love-sick great ape (anyone remember me complaining about all the apes in films? Here’s another one), as well as an exploding volcano. The songs range from good (“Moonflowers” by Dorothy) to mediocre (“To See You Is To Love You” by Bing) to silly nonsense (“Hoot Mon” by Bing and Bob). There is one fun scene that turns cultural mores of the day on its head: Dorothy as Princess Lala (such a grown up name) is debating which of our heroes to marry when she discovers that island law lets her marry both men. Road to Bali is the only “Road” film to fall into the Public Domain. The studio made a boo boo when they renewed the copyright in 1981. They thought they were in accordance with the 28 years term from the original copyright. Except they did not notice three little words: “in notice: 1952”. That meant the 28th year for Road to Bali was actually 1980 and they had renewed too late. Lucky for us, that means film fans can have some FREE tropical fun in the sun with Bing, Bob, and Dorothy. The Internet Archive has two versions available absolutely FREE. The color is beautifully vivid on both versions and the audio is excellent and the songs sound great. Version #1 is download only and Version #2 is download and watch online. I found that the Ogg Video online version was a bit sharper and clearer than my download only version. Enjoy!

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