Born: September 13, 1916 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
So much has been written about Dick Haymes, unfortunately everyone always ends their sentences with, it’s a shame, his personal life was such a mess.
You could say the same thing about most celebrities, however for some reason people tend to let Dick’s private life affect the fact that he was the consummate performer. He rarely allowed his problems to reach an audience, perhaps that is why he was so hard on himself; he never wanted to disappoint his fans with anything less than perfection. Conceivably, this maybe one of the reasons that he chose to leave the United States for Europe in the early 1960s.
If he lived today, would any of the things that made headlines in the post-war era cripple his career now? No one can really answer this question, as we know, most celebrities can only boast about a five to seven year high anyway; and Dick Haymes had that and more. The old saying, you are only as good as your last picture is something that stars learn to live by. The public is very fickle and can be extremely cruel.
In the 1940s, from the big bands, the soloist emerged with a need to express the feelings of the GIs and their sweethearts during one of the most romantic periods of this century, the war years. With a voice that seemed to belong to a seasoned performer, Dick surprised many when they found out that he was only in his early 20s. It took no time at all to see that Dick Haymes had what the public was looking for. Singing as the lead with the Harry James, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey Bands, he was at his best, selling beautifully written songs in his deep rich baritone by making the females in the audience swoon. His sexy masculine style of crooning made men envious but they admired his talent as well. His low notes were sumptuous, reached effortlessly, coming from the deepest part of his soul. His phrasing was impeccable, enhanced by his extraordinary breath control. Many men, who took singing lessons at this time, had hopes that they too could sound like Haymes. His fans and the competition knew that Dick Haymes was no ordinary crooner. He was a master!
It was at this same time that Mr. Haymes found himself on the big screen, with a seven-year contract offered by 20th Century-Fox. This was also the age of the musical and, of course, Dick had all of the requirements to be a leading man, good looks, stature, some acting ability, and he could sing, no dubbing required. What a treat to see him romance some of the great beauties in Hollywood, the likes of Betty Grable, June Haver, Maureen O’Hara and Vivian Blaine, to name a few.
The musical scores from Dick’s films were very good to him indeed. In almost every movie, he recorded most of the songs and many of them became huge hits. Although, It Might As Well Be Spring, was introduced by Jeanne Crain (dubbed by Louanne Hogan) in State Fair (1945), it was Dick who recorded this song and made it one of his most requested well into the late 70s. The More I See You and I Wish I Knew, were presented for the first time by Dick and Betty Grable in the film Diamond Horseshoe (1945), and both were recorded by him. Even now, almost 6 decades later, they still are part of his legacy. The list goes on and on with songs from Four Jills and A Jeep (1944), Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944), and the second film that he starred opposite Betty Grable, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947). I cannot think of another singer who had the success that Dick had with music from their films. For instance, the title song, Do You Love Me (1946), written by Harry Ruby, is a very bland configuration in general, until Mr. Haymes makes it a glorious meaningful love song. When he performs it at the end of the movie dressed in white tie and tails, (I am swooning again), with full orchestra, it becomes the high point in a rather lackluster film. The fact is that he knew how to project a lyric by singing every word the way the songwriter had intended with a style that was smooth, warm, and intimate.
Dick’s radio career was flourishing also, with Here’s To Romance, and Everything for the Boys (The Dick Haymes Show). Bill Burton was his agent at this time and it was his idea to team Dick with another client of his, Helen Forrest. One of the best female singers to perform with big bands was Helen, who had worked with all of the finest, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. The partnership of Haymes and Forrest was one of the best in the history of popular music. They not only enjoyed a wonderful friendship, which lasted until Dick’s death; they experienced phenomenal success with more than eight hit records. How refreshing to hear Dick and Helen sing with not a bit of competition. They put a song across, as two people in love would have sung it. Their collaboration also worked on the radio with Gordon Jenkins and his orchestra, when they teamed up for what turned out to be a 4 year stint sponsored by Auto-lite.
In 1949, Dick teamed up with the Andrews Sisters and Evelyn Knight for another radio show, Club 15. The following year, Dick hosted the Carnation Contented Hour with old friend, Jo Stafford. Dick and Jo appeared on screen together, years earlier, in the musical DuBarry was a Lady. The film featured the Tommy Dorsey Band and in 1943 and they were part of the package.
He now had cornered every market, a record contract with Decca, a movie contract with Fox, and his own radio show. To have nine gold records in the 1940s was quite a feat. Remember there was no MTV or television for that matter. All of this happened almost over night; Dick Haymes was the quintessential superstar!
Things definitely changed for him by 1949, starting with the failure of his marriage to the beautiful actress, Joanne Dru. They had three children together, Richard Ralph, Joanna Helen and Barbara Nugent, making the situation even more difficult, especially in the eyes of their fans. The war was over and the songs that meant so much to the effort were not as effective now as they were just a short time before. The public was looking for a way to transform themselves into a new decade, the 50s. Where does a singer of this magnitude go from here?
A new marriage, his third, was something that Dick was hoping would be a lasting one. He married Nora Eddington, the ex-wife of Errol Flynn. They made a very attractive couple, but the marriage was only to last a few years. Problems surfaced when Dick met Rita Hayworth. The tabloids had a field day with such a juicy story. Before Nora could blink, he was asking her for a divorce to marry Rita.
With all of this bad publicity, Dick was finding it more difficult to deal with his problems and now Rita’s. It was a volatile time for them and the fact that they were both drinking heavily made the pressures harder to deal with. Rita was trying to be civil with her ex-husband, Aly Kahn, to keep custody of their daughter. Dick had alimony problems from both Joanne and Nora. To add to the turmoil, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, allegedly, tried to have Dick deported to his native Argentina, in an attempt to keep him away from Rita. With this mix of legal hassles, their lawyers were getting most of the money that they were earning.
Their careers were floundering and with that, it seemed their marriage was doomed to fail even without Harry Cohn’s help. In Barbara Leaming’s biography on Rita Hayworth, she wrote eight chapters about their relationship. Since the marriage only lasted two years and two months, it seems strange that she used more than a third of the book to detail a very one-sided account of this time in Miss Hayworth’s life. With four other husbands, it seems so disproportionate. Did Ms.Leaming ever take time to interview anyone who was on Dick’s side?
Unfortunately, Dick Haymes never tried to explain himself, although he could have written a tell-all about his life and the women in it. There would have been a lot of interest in hearing what he had to say but he preferred to keep his thoughts to himself. James Hill, Rita’s fifth husband, and actor Gary Merrill, on the other hand, chose to write books about her, although their reputations were not on the line. This may have been the decline that put Mr. Haymes in a position that proved to be a no win situation for the rest of his life. Years later, Dick said in numerous interviews, that he was the catalyst to all that happened in his life, both good and bad; a huge burden for one person to carry.
The mid-50s proved how tough times could be for him, money problems, and alcohol, did not make life any easier. Toward the end of this decade, he met and married a beautiful young singer, Fran Jeffries. Dick and Fran had a working relationship singing as a twosome in nightclubs that seemed to work. They also had guest spots on various TV programs, like The Ed Sullivan Show and Playboy after Dark. A daughter was born to them who they named Stephanie. Unfortunately, the fifth marriage ended in 1961 and he decided that Europe looked like it could be the place to start all over again.
Through so much chaos, one thing remained constant in Dick’s life, his voice. He took his ability to convey a lyric very seriously, and he may have used this talent to express what he internalized. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, as the years went by, he sang with greater feeling and emotion.
Now living in Europe, Dick found work singing in clubs and had some success. He tried marriage once more, for the sixth and last time, in hopes that Wendy Patricia Smith, a former model, was just what he needed to feel whole again. The union produced a son, Sean, and daughter, Samantha. Things were going very well for what turned out to be his longest marriage. They moved to the states in the early part of the 1970s, hoping that the time was ripe for Dick’s comeback.
How does a singer like Dick Haymes, fit into the strange music scene of the 1970s, proceed with caution and class, which he did at the Cocoanut Grove in 1972. With Wendy in the audience, he made sure that everyone was aware that she was present by singing her into the script. The fans loved it and his performance was a big success, his voice again did not disappoint a man who was now 54 years old. There on the stage stood a 1940s legend! With a contemporary style that put him in a new light, many of the critics mentioned that time had been very kind to Mr.Haymes. Not only did his voice sound great but that he looked much younger than his years.
Revitalizing a career is a tricky business. Nevertheless, he did his best to add as much as he could to his schedule. He guest starred on television shows like, McCloud, and McMillian & Wife. The Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore shows allowed audiences to hear what Dick was currently doing. Then all of a sudden, there was a resurgence of Big Band music! He toured across the states with old friends, Harry James, and Helen Forrest. It was, as if he never left the country that he always considered home, the United States.
Mr. Haymes had not recorded for years. Hard to believe, he had no record companies clamoring for him to sign on the dotted line. This was soon to change, not with a recording contract, but with two recording sessions, the first in October 1976 in Lexington, South Carolina, the outcome was the album, For You, For Me, Forever More. Nineteen months later in Charlotte, North Carolina he sang for what turned out to be his last album, As Time goes by. The results were extraordinary; the voice was still perfection!
Things were finally starting to come together for Dick Haymes, his fans forgave him, and they adored all of his performances. Then suddenly his whole world started falling apart, diagnosed with lung cancer. He put up the best fight of his life with optimistic determination. On March 28, 1980, he died in Los Angeles; he was 61 years old.
Through all of the vicissitudes in his life, there was a group of admirers following his every move. This assemblage, the Dick Haymes Society, helped produce his final album, still available on CD now titled Keep It Simple. Their devotion to Mr. Haymes did not stop in the spring of 1980. This association, with members from all over the world, still dedicates their time and admiration to him.