Dorothy Dickson

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Enchanting actress with delicate good looks and sensual dancing and singing, popular in the 1920s and '30s.
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b. 25 July 1893, Kansas City, Missouri, USA, d. 26 September 1995, London, England. Dickson’s father was a famous Chicago journalist who scooped the opposition by interviewing the outlaw Jesse James, while her mother was a notable member of the early American feminist movement. Ironically, in view of that last fact, the enchanting actress Dorothy Dickson became a symbol of eroticism via her delicate good looks, sensual dancing and singing. When she was 21, she married America’s number one ballroom dancer, Carl Hyson (né Heisen), and they made their Broadway debut as a dancing team in Jerome Kern’s Oh, Boy! in February 1917. In June, they were together again in the Ziegfeld Follies, and Dickson’s dancing subsequently received favourable reviews in Girl O’ Mine (1918), Rock-A-Bye Baby (1918), Ziegfeld Follies (1918), The Royal Vagabond (1919), and Lassie (1920). In the following year, the English impresario Charles B. Cochran relocated the duo to London, and put them in his 1921 revue, London, Paris And New York. Dickson captivated West End audiences later that year with her sensitive portrayal of the title role in Kern’s Sally at the Winter Garden, in which she introduced the supremely optimistic ‘Look For A Silver Lining’ (lyric Buddy De Sylva), a song that was thereafter always identified with her. She continued to dazzle in two more Kern musicals, The Cabaret Girl (1922) and The Beauty Prize (1923), as well as Patricia (1924), before playing the title role of Peter Pan in 1925, which she reprised a year later. Also in 1926, Dickson made her straight acting debut opposite Gerald Du Maurier in Edgar Wallace’s long-running thriller play, The Ringer, before returning to the musical stage with Tip-Toes, in which she sang George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘Looking For A Boy’, and duetted with Allan Kearns on ‘That Certain Feeling’. By this time Dickson was one of the West End’s favourite musical comedy actresses, mixing in high society, and friendly with leading theatrical personalities such as Noël Coward. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s Peggy-Ann (1927), in which she created the wistful ‘Where’s That Rainbow?’, was just one of a string of hit shows she graced during the next decade. These included Coo-ee! (1929), Hold Everything! (1929, in which she replaced Mamie Watson), and two European imports, The Wonder Bar (1930) and Casanova (1932). In the Irving Berlin revue Stop Press (1935), which was a revised version of the composer’s Broadway show, As Thousands Cheer, Dickson sang and danced to ‘Easter Parade’, while in another non-book show, Spread It Abroad (1936), she introduced the enduring ballad ‘These Foolish Things’ (Eric Maschwitz - Jack Strachey -Harry Link), although its popularity in Britain also had a good deal to do with the sophisticated entertainer Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. In the late 30s Dickson returned to musical comedy, co-starring with Ivor Novello in two smash hits, Careless Rapture (1936) and Crest Of The Wave (1937) at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The pair were together again in the same theatre for Henry V (1938).

During the 30s, Dickson had also appeared in a handful of films, the best of which was probably Channel Crossing (1933), when her fellow travellers included Matheson Lang, comedian Max Miller, and Constance Cummings. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Dickson appeared in the revues Diversion (1940), Diversion No. 2 (1941), and Fine And Dandy (1942), before embarking on an ENSA tour of North Africa with Vivien Leigh and Beatrice Lillie. On her return, she began work on a project which eventually came to fruition in 1944. It was the Stage Door Canteen, an enormously popular venue in London’s Piccadilly, which provided top entertainment for troops of all nationalities. Among the many stars who appeared there were Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

From then on, Dickson made infrequent excursions into the straight theatre, her last West End appearance being in Jack Buchanan’s satire on rock singers, As Long As They’re Happy (1953). Her last public appearance was in 1980 at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a gala performance to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Peter Pan. She received an immensely affecting standing ovation. When she was 96, she was presented to Prince Andrew at the National Film Theatre, and alarmed her escorts by performing a traditional curtsey - from which she rose with great style. In any event, her royal connections went back a long way - she was said to be the Queen Mother’s oldest friend. They first met after a performance of The Cabaret Girl in 1923. Dickson’s family and friends had the greatest difficulty in persuading her to acknowledge her 100th birthday, for, being a life-long Christian Scientist, she recognized neither age nor illness. Dickson was divorced from Carl Hyson in 1936, and their daughter, also named Dorothy, married the celebrated British actor, Anthony Quayle.

Dorothy Hyson (b. Dorothy Wardell Heisen, 24 December 1914, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 23 May 1996, London, England) was an actress who played mostly straight parts in the theatre and films. However, on the occasions when she did sing and dance, her performance was compared favourably with that of her mother. Her exquisite looks caused Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to dedicate their immensely popular song ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ to her.