Dinah Shore, whose honey-tipped brand of Southern charm and melodious voice made her a popular recording star and later television variety and talkshow host , died Thursday at her Beverly Hills home after a brief bout with cancer. She succumbed just a few days before her 77th birthday on March 1.

Shore’s two children and ex-husband, Western movie star George Montgomery, were with her when she died, according to her publicist Connie Stone.

In addition to her show business popularity, Shore was an avid golfer and animal rights activist. Director Carl Reiner, who worked with Shore on her TV program in 1960, called her “the most alive person I ever met, absolutely interested in everything in the world and everybody in the world. And she was always sincere.”

In her prime, Shore was voted one of America’s most admired women in a Gallup Poll survey, and while her approach was sometimes criticized as “sentimental,” Shore’s greatest asset was “her ability to induce the feeling of happy well-being in her audience,” according to a Look magazine writer.

Remembered by Ford

Former President Ford said: “Betty and I have lost a very dear friend, one of the finest, most generous and thoughtful persons we have been privileged to know. Dinah was five star in every way.” The Fords live near Shore’s other home in the Palm Springs area.

Born Frances (Fanny) Rose Shore in Winchester, Tenn., she grew up in Nashville, where her father was a partner in a department store. Through perseverance and a regimen of swimming and tennis, she triumphed over an early bout with polio, which affected her right leg. After briefly flirting with performing at age 14, she was persuaded by her parents to finish her studies at Vanderbilt University, before going into show business.

After moving to New York, she officially changed her name to Dinah, perhaps because the signature tune on her first radio show in Nashville had been the Ethel Waters classic “Dinah.”

Her first break was as a big band singer with Leo Reisman, which was followed by a recording career with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra. Her broadcast singing career began in 1938 on New York’s WNEW and she joined NBC later that year.

She signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1940 shortly before becoming a part of Eddie Cantor’s radio program, “Time to Smile.” By 1943 she was starring in her own radio show, sponsored by General Foods.

Shore’s recording of “Yes, My Darling Daughter” sold a million copies and was followed by such popular tunes as “Blues in the Night,””Shoo Fly Pie” and “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.”

She also made a hit of the Al Jolson melody “The Anniversary Waltz.”

Shore had nine gold records. From 1941 to 1962 she was voted most popular female vocalist in the Motion Picture Daily Fame’s annual poll of radio and TV. In the late ’40s she rejoined Cantor’s Pabst Blue Ribbon radio show.

Her brief film career started in 1943 with “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” which was followed by “Up in Arms,””Till the Clouds Roll By” and “Aaron Slick From Punkin’ Crick.” Shore’s own assessment of her movie career was downbeat. “I bombed as a movie star. I failed for a lot of reasons. The most important was that I’m not particularly photogenic.”

But when NBC and sponsor Chevrolet were looking for the ideal hostess for a twice-weekly 15-minute variety show (expanded to one hour in 1956), Shore more than fit the bill for camera appeal.

Known for Chevy

Her trademark became the advertising jingle “See the USA in your Chevrolet” and her signature an end-of-the-show kiss blown to her audience. The show won five Emmys, a Peabody and a Sylvania award. Shore won 10 Emmys, more than any other performer in television.

She retired temporarily from TV in 1963 to spend more time with her children and return to supper club and other live engagements. In the ’70s through 1984, she hosted several talkshows under the various names of “Dinah,””Dinah’s Place” and “Dinah and Friends.” Most recently she had a half-hour show on the Nashville Network, “A Conversation With Dinah.”

After two failed marriages, Shore had a romance with actor Burt Reynolds in the 1970s, a man 20 years younger than she.

For the last 22 years, Shore hosted the Nabisco Dinah Shore Classic women’s professional golf tournament in the Palm Springs area and was an active spokeswoman for animal rights. In addition, she was a founding member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

She is survived by her two children, Melissa Ann Hime and John (Jody) David Montgomery; and Melissa’s three children, Jennefer, Adam and Alexander.

Funeral services will be private. Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. March 7 at the Directors Guild.

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