Friday, May 23, 2008

Mommy, Where Do Words Come From? Dagmar Bumpers

From Wikipedia:
Dagmar bumpers, also known simply as Dagmars (D-HAG-mar) is a slang term for the artillery shell shaped styling elements found on the front bumper/grille assemblies on several makes of cars produced in the 1950s, an era recognized for its flamboyant designs and excessive use of chrome details.

The name Dagmar Bumpers (and Dagmars) was a direct reference to Dagmar (born Virginia Ruth Egnor), the early 1950s television personality who was as well known for her pronounced cleavage as she was for her dumb blonde character on the program Broadway Open House. Dagmar's physical attributes were further enhanced by low-cut gowns and the shape of her bra cups, which were somewhat conical. Egnor was amused by the tribute.

From Wikipedia:

Dagmar (November 29, 1921October 9, 2001) was a statuesque, busty blonde personality of the 1950s. She became the first major female star of television, receiving much press coverage during that decade.

Born in Yawkey, West Virginia as Virginia Ruth Egnor, she went to high school in Huntington, West Virginia where she was known as Ruthie. She attended Huntington Business School and worked at Walgreens as a cashier, waitress, sandwich maker and soda jerk.

In 1950, when Lewis was hired by Jerry Lester for NBC's first late-night show Broadway Open House (1950-1952), he renamed her Dagmar. Lester devised the name as a satirical reference to the huge success on television of the TV series Mama (1949-57), in which the younger sister, Dagmar Hansen, was portrayed by Robin Morgan. (In Norwegian and Danish, the name is not pronounced "dagg-mahr," but rather "dow-mahr," the first syllable rhyming with "how.")

As Dagmar, Lewis was instructed to wear a low-cut gown, sit on a stool and play the role of a stereotypical dumb blonde. With tight sweaters displaying her curvy figure, her dim-bulb character was an immediate success, soon attracting much more attention than Lester. Lewis quickly showed that regardless of appearances she was quite bright and quick-witted.

Dagmar became one of the leading personalities of 1950s live television, making guest appearances on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, the Bob Hope Show and other shows. On June 17, 1951, she appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour with host Eddie Cantor and guests Milton Berle, Phil Foster and Jack Leonard. She was nicknamed Dag by Cary Grant.

In 1951, she made a TV guest appearance with Frank Sinatra, and this prompted Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller to record a novelty duet with Frank and Dagmar, "Mama Will Bark". That same year, Alfred Eisenstaedt's photo of her appeared on the July 16, 1951 issue of Life. In the Korean War, a 40 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft tank was named Dagmar's Twin 40's.

In 1952, she hosted the short-lived, primetime Dagmar's Canteen in which she sang, danced, interviewed servicemen and performed comedy routines. The basic premise of the show was that servicemen from the audience were given roles to act alongside Dagmar in sketches.

One of Dagmar's sisters, Jean, was a member of the cast of Dagmar's Canteen. Jean, who had previously worked as a chorus girl on Broadway, also served as Dagmar's secretary, handling her sister's fan mail, which sometimes soared to 8000 letters a month.

When her television show ended, Dagmar performed in Las Vegas shows and summer stock theater. Liberace spoke glowingly of her in an interview, stating that she had given him his early career "big break" as her accompanist. In the 1960s, Dagmar occasionally made guest appearances on such shows as Hollywood Squares and the Mike Douglas Show.

She was one of a number of performers who posed for pictures in the Patrick Dennis novel First Lady, published in 1965, as the soubrette and Presidential courtesan Gladys Goldfoil. She is famous for giving her stage name to the Dagmar bumper, a chrome bullet-point bulge on the front bumpers of Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and Lincolns built during the 1950s.

Following Angelo Lewis, she was married to bandleader Dick Hinds (1957) and actor Danny Dayton (1980). After years on the nightclub circuit, she moved to Ceredo, West Virginia in June 1996 to be near her family. In her last years, she lived with her brother, Bob Egnor, and his wife.

She died, in Ceredo, aged 79, of undisclosed causes.

1 comment:

Rob MacD said...

Neat stuff. The connection b. Virginia Egnor's Dagmar and Robin Morgan's Dagmar is doubly interesting given Robin Morgan's post-TV importance as a radical feminist.