tue 12/12/2017

Who was Dorothy Squires? | reviews, news & interviews

Who was Dorothy Squires?

Who was Dorothy Squires?

As a new play about her opens, an old showbiz friend recalls a complicated diva

Dorothy Squires shares the bill with Johnny Tudor

Very few young people know her name today, but Dorothy Squires was the singing sensation of the Fifties and Sixties, and even 30 years ago this talented but difficult star was a regular feature of the headlines thanks to offstage dramas and scandals. But who was the real Dorothy Squires? I first remember meeting Dorothy Squires, as she renamed herself, when I was only three years old. My father, Bert Cecil, a pianist, had befriended her when, aged 15, she had gone to London armed with nothing more than hope and a train ticket.

Edna May (her real name) was born in Llanelli in 1915 into a poor working-class family. As a young girl working in a South Wales tin works, she dreamed of becoming a singing star, only to be ridiculed by all around her. At 14, her uncompromising spirit won her a spot singing with a local band. Her father was set against it but she defied his wishes and sneaked out at night to change in a phone box, before going on to do her gigs. The situation couldn’t last and soon she left for London.

Frightened and alone, she tramped the streets looking for work. She met and fell for the much older Billy Reid, a songwriter who became her lover and mentor. The partnership fuelled an international success story which lasted for 16 years. They had hits on both sides of the Atlantic - including "I'm Walking Behind You" - and lived to the full: a mansion in Kent, an apartment in Beverly Hills. The dream was shattered when Billy went back to his wife.

Dorothy Squires sings "Say It With Flowers"

In a vulnerable state, she met and fell for Roger Moore, then a struggling young actor 12 years her junior. So infatuated was she that she neglected her own career to promote his. She took him to America and began an uphill struggle to establish him on the international film scene. When they married in New York in 1953, she had only $8 left in her pocket, having spent all her money on promoting him.

She single-mindedly succeeded in setting her husband on the road to stardom, but the conflicts along the way were legendary. After eight years of marriage, Moore left her for a younger woman in 1961. Alone and broke, she had to pick up the threads of her career. It was hard; she had been out of the public eye for a decade. She approached the biggest showbiz agency in the country but they were not convinced that she could still hack it. No one believed in her any more – except, of course, herself.

Dorothy decided to go it alone. She did the unthinkable and hired the London Palladium. Everyone in the business thought she was mad, but it seems the public love a fighter and word of mouth gathered momentum and the show was a sell-out. Her performance won her a standing ovation and suddenly at the turn of the 1970s she was back at the top.

Dorothy’s elation was short-lived. Her beautiful mansion, the venue for so many famous showbiz parties, burnt to the ground in 1974. She was dogged by bad publicity: when the BBC payola scandal broke, her name was splashed all over the front page of the News of The World, linked with bribes paid to disc jockeys and the Janie Jones sex scandal. She was arrested and brought to the Old Bailey on corruption charges. She was acquitted, but it proved to be the beginning of her downfall. Her dependence on amphetamines increased and she became more and more paranoid and obsessed with litigation - in 1987 she was even declared a vexatious litigant - which left her bankrupt.

When evicted from her new home in Bray, Dorothy tenaciously broke back in, changed the locks and spent the loneliest Christmas of her life, barricaded in with only candles for light and warmth. In the end she was evicted and made homeless. A fan from Wales offered her the use of her house. The girl from Llanelli Tin Works was back in the valleys of Wales and still fighting, this time against the cancer that finally brought down the curtain on a remarkable woman’s life when she was 83.

She defied her father's wishes and sneaked out at night to change in a phone box, before going on to do her gigs

Share this article

Comments

It was the release of the believed to be self financed LP` S and singles which against all the odds charted :`FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE`, `TILL` & `MY WAY` which paved the way for the famous Palladium concert on 6 Dec 1970 which was released as double LP. I became aware of her as my passion for the great singers developed from Tony Bennett to Shirley Bassey. Dorothy began to tour as well becoming her own impresario, this must have been extremely difficult and risky. She again recorded a 2 LP set in 1971 at the Palladium and in 1972 `Dorothy Again` released in 1973 as a single LP on EMI, which sadly has never been released on CD. It would be marvellous if this could be re mastered and released in full on CD. Around this time she made rare TV appearances which had a big impact. Those days there were only 3 tv channels and only a few radio stations so more people saw anything shown. One such was the night before the `72 Palladium show and I was not allowed to go (was at school) on the Russell Harty Show footage can be seen on YOU TUBE singing `THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY` & `FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE`. She always had a magic as a performer, you either loved her or loathed her. Dorothy was an uncompromising tour de force `live` and some of her performances were marathons in themselves. There is a later footage from 1974 with a tremendous performance of `THIS IS ALL I ASK` With the small scale studio there was no piano so the electric organ spoils it a bit. Favourite clip is on `THE REG VARNEY SHOW` with a full orchestra singing `IF I COULD GO BACK` in a sensational Douglas Darnell gown. It is a great pity that she was not filmed in concert or did some TV specials. I saw her for the first time at the THEATRE ROYAL, DRURY LANE in 1973( also released as a 2LP set) and the following year she played the London Palladium for a 2 week season with a shorter act as it was a variety bill, 23 performances! I saw the show 3 times including an early evening at 6pm. It was her closing night which was superb, the packed house gave her a rapturous reception and I have never heard `MAYBE THIS TIME` sung better, it was although singing every day had `warmed` the voice. I still treasure the brochure she graciously signed at the stage door. Shortly afterwards she nearly lost her life in the mansion fire at Bexley. I was to see her many times in concert and the occasional nightclub until the final show at Brighton`s Dome in 1990 just before her 75th birthday. The clip in this article is from 1985 so she is 70. I would love to see the footage of her singing `THE IRONY OF WAR` from ` THE GOLDEN SHOT`. This moving medley was on her 1971 concert LPs and reportedly brought the house down at CARNEGIE HALL,NEW YORK in 1972 which was still involved in the Vietnam war at the time.

Strange how self-publicists of this kind feature songs, 'My Way', 'Maybe This Time', and the like. It does seem to stir such fanatical support. I recall Dorothy Squires on a 'Chat' TV programme, when she boasted of her talent. Also there as a guest was the testy actress, Adrienne Corri, who was getting progressively irritated by the self adoration of Miss Squires. She finally 'pulled' her on her claims, and was openly scornful. It resulted in some nasty exchanges. I didn't like either of them, but Miss Squires' self love was irksome.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters