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(Courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
 Dorothy Page

'The Singing Cowgirl'

Real name:
Dorothy Lillian Stofflett

1904 - 1961



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - the title lobby card for WATER RUSTLERS (Grand National, 1939), the first of the Dorothy Page westerns.


Several years ago, Bill Cappello authored a biography on 'singing cowgirl' Dorothy Page for Classic Images. Special thanks to Bill for allowing us to reprint that article.



(Above pressbook ad courtesy of Les Adams)


(Above pressbook ad courtesy of Les Adams)


In late 1938, Grand National Pictures, a 'low budget' studio which had been in business for only two years, was experiencing serious financial problems.  The movie that apparently was their death knell was the James Cagney musical-comedy SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT.

Cagney had already been a star at Warner Bros., but when he walked out during a contract dispute, Grand National signed him. His first feature for Grand National was GREAT GUY (1937), which did fairly good business at the box office. However, SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT cost the studio almost $1,000,000 and met with poor public response. At that point, Cagney returned to Warner Bros., having settled the contract dispute from a year earlier.

Grand National, in one last attempt to survive, decided to make a series of westerns featuring a 'singing cowgirl'. Westerns with singing cowboys were popular for years, so why not a singing cowgirl? Their choice for the star was Dorothy Page, a popular radio singer who had already appeared in a few films for other studios.

Dorothy Page was born Dorothy Lillian Stofflett on March 4, 1904 in Northampton, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Levi J. Stofflet and Annie C. Benkhart. Dorothy was educated in local schools, including Penn Hall, a school for girls in Chambersburg, and the Northampton High School.

While attending Cedar Crest College where she majored in music, in the early 1920s, she was chosen by the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia as a model for a Saturday Evening Post cover. Dorothy's portrait was painted by the famous portrait painter Neysa McMein as 'one of America's ten most beautiful women'. However, her first appearance in the public eye was almost her last, as she intended to become a housewife and mother.

On July 3, 1925, Dorothy married Waldo Shipton, in Detroit, Michigan. They met while both were in college. Shipton, born in 1899, majored in medicine and after graduating, started a practice in Detroit. Dorothy gave birth to two girls, Barbara Jane, born in 1926, and Dolores Maryann, born in 1929.

Dr. Shipton had a busy practice, but in the early years of the Depression, many of his patients could not always pay for his services. In the interest of bringing in additional income, Shipton urged Dorothy to try out in the 'Youth in America' auditions being conducted by orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. Shipton, of course, knew his wife was a talented vocalist. Much to their surprise, Whiteman chose Dorothy as the winner. Thus began her career in radio.

Soon Dorothy became a star on NBC radio in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. She sang with many name bands of the day and occasionally worked on the musical comedy stage. Her singing voice was a contralto and became much in demand by the radio audiences.

Differences between Dorothy and her husband, perhaps caused by her popularity and being away from home, caused them to divorce in 1932. Their daughters were sent to New England where they were raised by Shipton's parents.

Continuing her career proved no problem for Dorothy, as she remained a radio favorite for many years. In 1935, she was a regular on the show PADUCAH PLANTATION which was written and hosted by humorist Irvin S. Cobb. She played the role of Lucy Virginia, sweetheart of David Henderson (played by John Mather). Cobb played the go-between for the lovers, who were confronted by great parental objection. The show was aired over the NBC-Red Network.

In 1935, Universal Pictures signed Dorothy to a contract. Her first feature was MANHATTAN MOON, in which she starred opposite Ricardo Cortez. She played a dual role: a French nightclub singer and the singer's double. This must have been a formidable task for her, since she had to learn to speak with a French accent, as well as learn camera angles and new songs. MANHATTAN MOON received favorable public response.

Her second feature for Universal was KING SOLOMON OF BROADWAY (1935), in which Edmund Lowe and Pinky Tomlin co-starred. Tomlin also wrote the songs. Basically a gangster movie, the best and most entertaining scenes were in the nightclub. This feature was only moderately successful.

Dorothy's third feature was for Republic Studios. MAMA RUNS WILD (1938) was a comedy vehicle for Mary Boland and Ernest Truex, leaving a small role for Dorothy who didn't even get to sing. The movie received poor reviews. Perhaps a song or two from Dorothy would have enhanced its entertainment value.

In late 1938, Grand National Pictures signed Dorothy Page to star in their planned series of westerns featuring a singing cowgirl. They storylines were typical B-western fare. The first of these was WATER RUSTLERS, released on January 6, 1939. In this, Dorothy played the part of rancher Shirley Martin, who was assisted by her foreman Bob Lawson (played by Dave O'Brien) in driving a greedy land baron out of the territory. The storyline was interspersed with a few songs. Dorothy proved to be a pretty good cowgirl, because in real life she loved all outdoor sports and was very fond of horseback riding. These traits worked to her advantage as acting was more realistic. Unfortunately, the movie-going public was not too keen on a woman in the lead role in a western, and the movie fared poorly.

RIDE' EM COWGIRL, released on January 20, 1939, cast Page as Helen Rickson, a girl who confessed to a crime her father was accused of committing. She sets out to find the real culprit, with the assistance of Milton Frome. This movie did even less business than the previous.

The last of the series, THE SINGING COWGIRL, was released later, in June. Again, Dorothy played a rancher who fought off rustlers. Her leading man again was Dave O'Brien. The public clearly wasn't going to accept a singing cowgirl, judging by the box office results, and Grand National chose not make any more in the series. This movie was their last 'official release', and after releasing a few imports, went out of business. Dorothy Page also left the business to again become a housewife.

On December 20, 1939, in Las Vegas, Dorothy Stofflett, formerly radio singer and movie actress Dorothy Page, married Los Angeles attorney Frederick D. Leuschner. They resided on his ranch in Tarzana, California, until his death from a chronic heart condition on December 8, 1941, at the age of 36. During this brief marriage, Dorothy started a new career. She bought old run-down Hollywood homes, remodeled them, and sold them for a tidy profit. She continued this for some time after Leuschner's death.

Dorothy's final marriage was to Henry Clark McCormick of Fresno, California. They resided on his ranch there, and many of the chores were overseen by Dorothy. Dorothy also bought a 1700 acre cotton ranch in Pecos, Texas, and harvested the cotton for many years.

In the mid 1950s, Dorothy Page was diagnosed with cancer. This illness was to plague her for several years. She underwent surgery many times and took all kinds of medicines to alleviate the symptons and pain. Henry McCormick left her about this time, perhaps unable to cope with her agony, and they later divorced.

Dorothy moved to LaBelle, Florida, not far from the medical center in Fort Myers where she received treatments. She lost her battle with cancer, dying on March 26, 1961, age 57. She is interred in the Stofflett Family plot at the Allen Union Cemetery in Northampton, Pennsylvania.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Dorothy Page: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0656156/




(Above pressbook ad courtesy of Les Adams)
 
(Above pressbook ad courtesy of Les Adams)



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a lobby card and a crop/blowup from Dorothy's last oater, THE SINGING COWGIRL (Grand National, 1939). Her helper is Dave O'Brien.



Webmasters notes:

1939 was a bad year for Grand National as a film production company ... and the timing was even tougher to introduce a new B western series.  Republic Pictures had arrived a few years earlier, and Gene Autry had become the genre's box office champion.  In 1938, Republic had brought out another series of singing cowboy westerns starring Len Slye, who had adopted the name of Roy Rogers.

Dave O'Brien was the helper/second lead to Dorothy Page in two of her range epics, and this was several years before he starred in the CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT cliffhanger at Columbia and the PRC Texas Rangers series. Her other assistant was Milton Frome (1911-1989) who in later life, did lots of movies and TV, generally portraying a bald-headed, wise cracking comedic foil with a motor mouth reminiscent of Earle Hodgins.  Frome was in many of the Jerry Lewis comedies and perhaps is best remembered as Chapman, who was the boss of the film studio owned by Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES TVer.


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