Unknown in America, always and to this very day, Evelyn Dall (January 8, 1918 Bronx, New York – March 10, 2010 Phoenix, Arizona) became a mega-star in England during World War II. Born in the Bronx as Evelyn Mildred Fuss and the daughter of a poorly paid postal clerk, she left school at age 15 to try her luck in American vaudeville in a knockabout threesome called The Sidesplitting Funsters in which she was whirled about like a rag doll and beaten up in the slapstick routine and was forced to quit. Despite being only 16 she lied about her age to join the Billy Rose Revue at the Casino de Paris in New York where she received an offer to join the chorus girls in the Monte Carlo Revue, offering travel to Monaco, Paris and London. Victor de Rothschild noticed her along the way and called on her frequently despite, we believe, his being recently married at the time.
Once back in the states Dall appeared in a disastrous Broadway show and appeared in some Vitaphone short subjects but her career was continuing to plateau and she was concerned about her future. She then received an inviteation from Bert Ambrose, leader of one of the best bands in England, to come over and become the female singer with his group. He had seen her in London in the Monte Carlo Follies performing and wanted her with him. This was the start of a long relationship wherein Dall became a major British star with their recordings and it catapulted her into British movies.
As World War II came, Dall became known as England’s own personal American star who was willing to tough out the war with them, including all of the bombings. She became much beloved and was teamed in films with popular British comics such as Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley, little known in America and she also became a West End British theater superstar. She retained her relationship with the Ambrose band all through this fame although she left the band formally and was followed with another British superstar named Vera Lynn. Another major discovery of Ambrose was the enormously popular British songstress Anne Shelton.
In her live performances the shapely young star was known to wear revealing, bra-less costumes which fueled her fame as the Bronx Bombshell. It was reported that Ambrose’s band members were so keen on watching her perform that they would sometimes forget to look at their music and would hit erroneous notes that drew the wrath of their leader upon them. Hers was an unconventional beauty as she was extremely short but very shapely. It was said that her facial features were not those of a classic beauty but when she smiled her entire face would light up in a unique manner and then her irrepressible energy would pour through.
Fortunately, in her recordings one can hear the fine quality of her voice and the movies which survive are even better. In one of her best films, Miss London, Ltd. (1943) she co-stars with British vaudevillian and radio star Arthur Askey in a remarkable display of her talent – singing, acting, dancing and doing impersonations of Groucho Marx and British musical film star Jessie Matthews. One of her dances in the film is a remarkable adagio dance and jitterbug in which she is thrown all around, over and under her partner with incredible abandon. The precision of her duets with Askey and the loveliness of her voice and graceful dance moves set this low-budget film well above most other British musicals of the period.
Just as suddenly as she had risen to prominence in England, Evelyn Dall turned her back on stardom and left England for America where she soon met a man who swept her off her feet. They married, settled down, and she completely gave up her career to have and raise two children. She remained happily married until her husband’s death in 1974 and apparently never looked back. She then moved to Jupiter, Florida but as she got into her later 80s she moved to a convalescent facility in Phoenix, Arizona where after a broken hip resulting from a fall, she died in 2010 at the age of 91. She had been active until age 88 and then suffered a slow decline.
Evelyn Dall should be a cause celebre for contemporary buffs of vaudeville and movie musical. Because she didn’t continue her career in England she never was able to receive an OBE and has become largely forgotten there. And because she achieved her success in British films that didn’t play here in America she remains unknown here even though she was an American and was born and died here. She has gotten into a niche that ensures that she will be forgotten and it is truly a shame for anyone who views her work must realize that the joy and quality she put into her work was contagious and England was proud to have its own little American to help guide them through the great war. If you’ve never seen her spend a little time:
and if you’ve never seen a British musical that you’ve enjoyed, try this one and note the special chemistry between comedians Arthur Askey and Evelyn. It’s from MISS LONDON, LTD. from 1943, featuring Evelyn as an American traveling to England to inherit a run-down dating service. It’s a hoot!: