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November 8, 2021

Dorothy Dell: Beautiful and Talented Actress But Tragically Short Life

Born 1915 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, American actress Dorothy Dell began entering and winning beauty pageants and at the age of 17 won the title of “Miss New Orleans” in 1930. That same year she attended the International Pageant of Pulchritude in Galveston, Texas, and won the title of Miss Universe. With this success, she established a successful vaudeville act. Although she had received better offers, she decided to enter the vaudeville circuit, because she believed it would enable her to help her friend Dorothy Lamour rise to fame, a promise she had made shortly before winning the Miss Universe title at the Pageant.

Dell won her first film role over such established contenders as Mae Clarke and Isabel Jewell and made her debut in Wharf Angel (1934). The film was a success and the reviews for Dell were favorable; Paramount began to consider her as a potential star. Her most important and substantial role followed in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker.

Her next film Shoot the Works led to comparisons with Mae West, and her rendition of the ballad “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming” in the film became a hit record. Paramount scheduled her to play opposite Gary Cooper and Temple in the 1934 film Now and Forever, in what was to have been her first major starring role as a romantic lead.

On Friday, June 8, 1934, Dell agreed to a car ride to Pasadena with 38-year-old Dr. Carl Wagner, because he insisted that she take some time for relaxation between retakes of Shoot the Works, and to meet his mother, whom he wanted to show “how sweet a little movie star can be.” After the meeting, they went to an all-night party at an inn in Altadena, California. Afterward they were going to Pasadena when the car left the highway, hit a telephone pole, bounced off a palm tree and hit a boulder. Dell was killed instantly at age 19. Wagner, who was driving between 50 and 70 miles an hour, died six hours later in a hospital.

Take a look at these gorgeous photos to see the beauty of a very young Dorothy Dell.


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