Evelyn Mildred Fuss was born on 8 January 1918 in the Bronx, New York. Studying ballet and tap since age of three, suggested a future in dancing. However, at 15 she joined a slapstick act Fields, Martin and Dall playing theatres around New York in late 1933 and 1934. Evelyn found the physical pushing by the two men rather painful and bruising.
She auditioned successfully for the girl singer job at New York's famous Paramount Theatre aged 15. In 1934 and 1935, she made a handful of short films for Warner Brothers in Long Island.
After singing lessons from Al Siegel, she auditioned for producer Felix Ferry's Monte Carlo Follies. Surprisingly, at 16, Evelyn took the lead in the show and when the package came to the Grosvenor Hotel in London, she was spotted by the famous bandleader Bert Ambrose.
Back in America, Evelyn joined the cast of a satirical show called 'Parade', which opened in Boston in April 1935. The cast included Eve Arden and Ralph Riggs.
Ambrose's star singers Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle left his band to tour in variety. He sent an urgent cable to Evelyn to join him. She wasn't going to turn down £50 per week.
Evelyn's first radio broadcast in England with Ambrose was on 10 August 1935. The next day he presented her to 5,000 fans at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool and she was a resounding success. Her Jean Harlow peroxide hair, big smile and animated delivery were a revelation. She became known as the 'original blonde bombshell.' Her outfits exaggerated her slim but curvy figure and self-confidence gave a streetwise effect ten years ahead of Betty Hutton. Everyone wanted to know everything about the small blue-eyed American girl who 'had taken the country by storm.'
Several tours followed across the country including trips to Paris, Cannes, Holland, Belgium and Ireland. In-between, there were residencies at the May Fair, Ciro's and the Café de Paris in London.
Ambrose gave Evelyn rhythmic, comedic or novelty numbers to sing and record. Romantic songs went to more legitimate singers (Ambrose always had at least two vocalists.) Ambrose's twelve-month disagreement with Decca records however drastically reduced Evelyn's output on disc.
Ambrose and Evelyn became a couple even though he was over twenty years her senior. Since he was married, Ambrose arranged for her to wed his manager to cover up the affair and to satisfy the rules for a work permit. She was legally Mrs Evelyn Holmes in name only.
One of the biggest highlights came when Evelyn performed in front of 1,000 famous guests at the Derby Ball in June 1938 at Buckingham Palace. Both King and Queen told Evelyn how much they enjoyed her performance.
Evelyn's image appeared on cigarette cards, magazines, sheet music, knitting patterns and shampoo advertising. She had fashion shoots for Vogue and was on the cover of Radio Pictorial in a swimsuit. She also won or came second in various female vocalist polls.
Ambrose had enough confidence in her to lead his Octet, announce, sing and join in comedy routines. Her developing stagecraft interested Jack Hylton and Bernard Delfont to engage her in their productions attracting excellent reviews.
In addition to radio broadcasts, she regularly appeared on early live television broadcasts pre and post war. She made four musical comedy films between 1942 and 1944 alongside Arthur Askey, Vic Oliver and Tommy Handley.
She had the lead in Cole Porter's 'Something for the Boys' in 1944 requiring her on stage for all but ten minutes of a 150-minute show. On Broadway, Ethel Merman and Joan Blondell quit through exhaustion and later shared the role between them.
Her favourite show was 'Follow the Girls' featuring as she said later her theme song 'I Wanna Get Married.' Evelyn's frustrations with Ambrose's refusal to commit himself to her and his heavy gambling continued.
She returned to America in October 1946. She was happily married until her husband and amateur golfer Sam Winer's death in 1974. For many years, she was feisty, fit, sharp and fun to be around.
Around 2006 she developed Alzheimer's. Her health gradually deteriorated and she passed away on 10 March 2010 aged 92.
© Copyright Dave Cooper 2010