Sunday 3 May 2020

The Sweetheart of Lucky Strike

There were two Canadian singers associated with Jack Benny over the years. One was Gisele Mackenzie, who appeared on stage with him in Las Vegas and popped up on his radio and TV shows on occasion.

The other was Dorothy Collins.

The odd thing about their on-air relationship is they never interacted, to the best of my knowledge. In the radio days, she was in a studio in a completely different building singing whatever version of the Lucky Strike jingle the sponsor wanted in that particular season. When the show was transcribed, she simply cut the song and Don Wilson’s pre-recorded spiel would be inserted in between. There were rare mentions of her in the radio dialogue; Jack revealed on one show that Polly the parrot (Mel Blanc) was a huge fan of hers (Mel responded by squawking the jingle).

After her career with American Tobacco, she was featured on one of the incarnations of the TV show Candid Camera. She was only 67 when she died in 1994.

TV Guide had a charming profile of her in its edition of April 17, 1953. It doesn’t mention the Benny show but one of Jack’s TV broadcasts is the setting for a sidebar to the story showing yet another example of one of the pitfalls of going on the air live.

Dorothy Collins’ Success Key: Listen For Opportunity’s Knock
DOROTHY Collins is now riding the crest of success and she did it all without one use of the “go-getter” formula.
“The only time I ever really tried for anything,” the demure blonde star of Hit Parade and the Lucky Strike commercials said, “I didn’t get it.”
It was about the darkest hour for the 26-year-old singer who is now one of America’s best-known women. The Raymond Scott Quintet, with which she had been a featured vocalist in Detroit, had disbanded. Scott had come on to New York to direct the Hit Parade orchestra, succeeding his brother, the late Mark Warnow. Dorothy was at loose ends.
“I auditioned for a job in one of the New York night clubs,” Dorothy said ruefully. “It was the first and only time I ever went after a job. And I didn’t get it.
“I just didn’t know what I was doing. They didn’t want me. They wanted someone like . . . well, like Marilyn Monroe or perhaps Jane Russell.
But in two weeks from that dark day, she landed one of television’s most coveted jobs, without ever dreaming it was possible.
“Raymond had been commissioned to write a jingle for the Lucky Strike people,” she related. “He asked me if I would sing the words on the sample recording he was making. My name wasn’t mentioned. It was just a way of getting the lyrics across.”
This was the first of the new jingles for the cigarette form and the basis for the idea of staging commercials with all the trappings of a musical comedy.
But the agency people liked that anonymous voice as well as they did the jingle. They signed Dorothy Collins to introduce it. When Hit Parade was introduced on TV in the summer of 1950, she was featured in the carefully staged commercials.
Her winsome charm caught the fancy of TV audiences across the national and she was moved up almost immediately to be one of the Hit Parade principals, along with Snooky Lanson and Eileen Wilson.
Dorothy’s recipe for success is now this simple: “Just be around when lightning strikes.”
Interviewed in the brain factory of Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, which handles the American Tobacco Co. account, Dorothy proved as sincere and unaffected as when she was plain Marjorie Chandler back in her native Windsor, Ont.
She is still able to giggle on occasion and to say, after revealing that she likes to do “sad love songs” best:
“It’s the first chance I’ve had to do dramatics. I guess it’s gone to my head.
Has Mobile Face
Dorothy is exceedingly gifted along this line with an exceedingly mobile face. Someone has estimated that she uses 47 changes of expression in a 35-second commercial.
“Dorothy,” one ad executive said admiringly, “does everything but wiggle her ears.”
This involves hard work. Dorothy works out the expressions as carefully as a choreographer arranging a dance.
“The things we strive for are naturalness and sincerity,” Dorothy says, “and that’s not easy when you’re giving a performance.”
Makes Film Versions
She learns each routine until it becomes automatic, so that she can do it without a thought. “With all the things going on in the studio during the commercial,” Dorothy explains, “you’d never be able to do it, if you had to think about it. I like to know it so well that I can be thinking of a thousand other things and it just pours out by itself.”
She now makes film versions of the commercials which are used on Robert Montgomery Presents, in addition to the one or two live spots on Hit Parade.
Her career has braced her for surprises. She sang first at 12 in a Windsor theater contest. She sounded a lot like Judy Garland and won first prize. A Detroit radio station invited her to sing on its children’s hour. When she was outgrowing that, Raymond Scott came along and invited her to sing with his Quintet. Then TV came along and invited her to be one of its stars.
She changed her name from Marjorie to Dorothy at the outset of her career. “Dorothy was my sister’s name and I like it.” Then she changed her last name to Collins because this made two Dorothy Chandlers in the family “and it got to be confusing.”
Her crowning success was the Dorothy Collins blouse, and she made that score, too, in her approved indirect method.
Some Movie Offers
She hasn’t had many ambitions beyond her present Hit Parade contract, although she has some Hollywood offers. At the moment she’s concentrating on furnishing her new Babylon, L.I. home.
Married last summer to Raymond Scott, she is still happy and thrilled with homemaking. It’s a big house and they’re trying to furnish it with individual early American pieces.
“It’s really three houses in one,” Dorothy explained. The man who built it moored his yacht there and he started with a garage, kitchen and bathroom.
“Then he built a house onto that, so the outside wall of the first building is the inside wall of the second. Then he built a third house and tied them all together.”
Works on Records
But as far as Dorothy is concerned be it ever so rambling there’s no place like home. She hopes to do something with photograph records, but she plans to do it all within her four (or is it 12?) walls.
A few years ago, Scott bought record-manufacturing equipment to put out his own line of master works. The venture failed, but the equipment remains.
“Now,” Dorothy says, “we’ll make our own records at home and offer them to the Decca people.”
It’s a nice way to work, and it may very well click. After all, things like that happen to Dorothy Collins.

Dorothy’s Longest 25 Seconds
This was Dorothy Collins’ worst moment on television. She was to do a live commercial from New York at the end of the Jack Benny show from Hollywood. She learned two versions—a 34-second spot and a one-minute commercial. And she knew them all perfectly.
The director ordered the short version. At the last second, the Benny show closed early and the director yelled: “The long one.”
“I did the short one,” Dorothy recalls, “then stood looking at the camera for the longest 25 seconds in television.”

1 comment:

  1. IIRC, they also used Collins in some of the ads for the early episodes of "Make Room for Daddy" over on ABC, which American Tobacco also sponsored, and as with the Benny Show's filmed and live episodes, she was 3,000 miles away from Los Angeles. Dorothy is both incredibly earnest and chipper in those ads, though by 1956 the first report on smoking and lung cancer had people flocking away from Luckies to filter cigarettes. All the perkiness in the world wasn't going to alter that reality.