Generations of the past and keen history geeks of today know that Dixie Lee was an actress who starred in several films, the most famous of which is Love in Bloom from 1935. Despite not being as famous as her husband, Bing Crosby, she famously exposed her life as a Hollywood star and nightclub singer in a secret movie. Where parties, fame, and alcohol flowed freely, this is a short look at Dixie Lee’s rise to fame.
Who Was Dixie Lee? 5 Things About The Actress, Revealed!
1. Her real name was Wilma Winifred Wyatt:
She was born on November 4, 1909 – November 1, 1952 in Harriman, Tennessee. The future nightclub singer’s father’s name is Evan Wyatt and her mother was the former Nora Scarborough. One of her famous quotes about her homeland was: “Someday I am coming back to the beautiful hills and streams of Tennessee, which will always be home to me”.
After moving to Chicago, she graduated from Sean High School. While in Chicago, the future actress used the professional name “Dixie Carroll” to enter an amateur singing contest in May 1928. Lee won the contest and the prize was a job as a singer in a roadhouse called the College Inn. While working there, Lee was spotted by a talent scout and given a part in the travel company Good News.
Growing into a promising singer, Wilma later took the stage name Dixie Lee as Winfield Sheehan of the Fox film studio changed her stage name to Dixie Lee to avoid confusion with actresses Nancy Carroll and Sue Carol.
2. Dixie Lee’s career:
From the late 1920s, Dixie Lee worked as an actress, dancer, and singer in several Hollywood productions under David Butler, Sidney Lanfield, Norman Z. McLeod, Elliott Nugent, and Frank Tuttle. In addition, she recorded in 1935 with the swing bandleader Orville Knapp (Got Me Doin ‘Things / My Heart Is an Open Book, Decca Records).
3. She was the first wife of singer Bing Crosby:
Dixie Lee had been married to Bing Crosby since 1930; the marriage had four children, Gary Crosby, the twins Dennis and Phillip, and Lindsay.
At the age of 18, the actress married multimedia star Bing Crosby. She had four sons with him, two of whom committed suicide.
4. She died of ovarian cancer in 1952:
Just three days before her 41st birthday, she died of ovarian cancer in 1952. Shortly before her death, she had entered the Roman Catholic Church. She was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California after a Requiem Mass at Good Shepherd’s Church, Beverly Hills, on November 3, 1952.
5. Her life behind the lens:
Bing Crosby’s biographer Gary Giddins describes Lee as a shy, withdrawn person who, like her husband, was an alcoholic. One peek into her life was delivered to the audience through the movie Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947). The names have been changed, but the story is about Dixie Lee.
The screenplay, written by John Howard Lawson was based on a very successful and talented singer Angelica Evans (secretly portraying Dixie Lee), who needs a drink every time she performs, and ends her career to marry the musician Ken Conway (you can guess who this was based on). Ken and his partner Steve Nelson are still at the very beginning of his career. When Angie becomes pregnant and the money is still lacking, her manager Mike Dawson gives Ken a job as a western singer, on the radio at six in the morning. Even during the birth of his daughter Angel, the aspiring musician has to go to the radio studio. There he sings a love song he wrote to Angie (or in real life a heavily pregnant Dixie in labour). This is how his success as a singer begins. Soon he can afford to fulfill all the wishes Angie thinks she needs: a luxury apartment with servants, including a nanny, so that she doesn’t have to worry about anything. However, his career leaves him less and less time for her – as expected when you’re married to Bing Crosby!
The story of this movie was written by Dorothy Parker and Frank Cavett and continued to show Angie (based on Dixie Lee’s real history) communicate with him (a musician rising such as Bing Crosby) almost exclusively through his secretary Martha Gray even when she calls him in his hotel room at four o’clock in the morning because of Angels (their daughter’s) pneumonia.
Martha is now not only getting all of his presents for Angie, but she is also looking for them or planning them (including the new apartment or the “honeymoon” that has finally been made up for). The already insecure Angie sits around at home without any tasks, worries about her marriage and turns to alcohol more and more often. As a result, she is mostly drunk when Ken has time for her (paralleling Dixie Lee’s true history with alcohol addiction).
The main roles were played by Susan Hayward and Lee Bowman, secretly bringing to life the relationship between Dixie and Bing, who now see a family doctor, Dr. Lorenz Ken, who has asked about his wife’s alcoholism and said that Angie needed a job and some responsibility.
Thus, Ken decides to let his wife organize one of his receptions. This reception was initially a success. However, Angie also invited Martha. When she sees herself more and more out of focus, she gets drunk, becomes jealous of Martha, and begins to hit her. During the night she is ashamed of it and, still drunk, begins to despair. She seeks help from Ken, who is angry about her behavior and shows it. She gets angry about this, accuses him of being too cowardly to talk about divorce himself, and throws him out. The next morning she realizes what she has done and calls him, but only reaches Ken’s partner Steve Nelson.
The partner (who might have in real life as well), tries in vain to bring Ken and Angie back together.
Ken insists on the divorce, despite loving Angie and wanting to keep giving her everything; doesn’t want to trust Angel anymore. During the conversation it also emerges that Martha (who might have been Bing Crosby’s female secretly in real life) loved the musician Ken from the beginning and only now understands that there is nothing for her to hope for.
Angie (Dixie Lee) wants to revive her career (as a talented singer), especially to show that she can take care of Angel on her own.
Shortly before her first appearance, however, she realizes that she does not need to hope to see Angel again at first. She then roams the clubs and gets so drunk that she eventually falls asleep in a doorway. In the apartment where she wakes up the next morning, she hears children playing on the street and sets out to kidnap Angel. She is happy to be able to take care of her daughter again, but does not manage to stay sober.
When she sings her bedtime song to Angel, she mourns her marriage and forgets her lit cigarette in Angel’s bed (this might have been added to mourn the suicide of Dixie Lee’s actual children). She buries herself with a few drinks in her memories, from which she is torn by Angel’s alarm calls. She barely manages to save Angel from the burning house and then collapses on the street. At the hospital, it turns out that she will recover and no scars are left (at least movies offer happy endings to strained families).
Ken (Bing Crosby) now understands what he did wrong, and Angie (Dixie Lee) suffers such a shock that she breaks off the alcohol. Nothing stands in the way of a happy continuation of the marriage, as one can dream of a fairy tale ending within the lenses of film. In real life, Bing Crosby was married to Lee until her death from ovarian cancer in 1952.
It is also interesting to note that according to Giddins, Bing Crosby told his son Gary from Dixie Lee to stay away from alcohol, adding “It killed your mother” and suggesting he rather smoke marijuana.