Born Richard Benjamin Haymes on September 13, 1918 (some sources say 1916), in Buenos Aires, Argentina; died on March 28, 1980, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Benjamin (a cattle rancher) and Marguerite (Wilson) Haymes (a former musical comedy star); married Edith Harper, 1939; divorced; married Joanne Dru, September 21, 1941; divorced, 1949; married Nora Eddington, 1949; divorced, 1953; married Rita Hayworth, 1953; divorced, 1955; married Fran Jeffries, 1956; divorced, 1962; married Wendy Smith, 1963; children: (with Dru) Richard, Joanna, Helen; (with Jeffries) Stephanie; (with Smith) Sean, Samantha.
His rich baritone voice--said by many to be the finest of the twentieth century--made Dick Haymes one of the most popular crooners of the 1940s. Sadly, a tortured personal life and a decades-long struggle with alcoholism combined to keep the popular singer from realizing his full promise.
He was born Richard Benjamin Haymes on September 13, 1918 (1916, according to some sources), in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father, Benjamin Haymes, a cattle rancher, was born in England of Scottish descent, while his mother, the former Marguerite Wilson, had been born in Ireland but was raised in the United States. Before marriage, she had enjoyed a successful career as a star in musical comedy. Richard Benjamin reportedly arrived a bit ahead of schedule, interrupting his parents' vacation in Argentina. Shortly after his birth, the family returned to the United States.
When Haymes was only two years old, his parents separated. Marguerite took Dick and his younger brother Bob to Paris, where she hoped to revive her musical career. Failing to excite much interest on the Paris stage, she decided to open a dress shop there instead. Whether it was her keen fashion sense or an overabundance of American tourists looking for the latest in haute couturethat accounted for her phenomenal success as a retailer is unclear, but for a time Marguerite and her sons lived in the lap of luxury. She spared no expense in educating her sons, sending them to school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and later to a Jesuit academy in Paris. Both boys spoke French fluently, learned to ride horses while still quite young, and often went skiing in the Swiss Alps.
The stock market crash in October of 1929 and the worldwide economic depression that followed put an end to Marguerite's success, drying up business almost overnight. The rich American customers who had supported her with their patronage were suddenly no longer able to spend extravagantly. Although she struggled valiantly to keep her shop in business, in the end Marguerite reluctantly admitted defeat and left Paris with her sons.
Smitten with Band Life
Returning to the United States, Marguerite quickly found work in New York City as a singer, offering voice lessons to supplement her income. Dick was sent to nearby Peekskill Military Academy to continue his education. While still quite young he'd been given voice training by his mother, and by his early teens was eager to perform in public. He made his singing debut in 1931, appearing in an amateur production at the Hotel Monmouth in New Jersey. This first public appearance caught the eye of bandleader Johnny Johnson, who invited the teenager to join his band during the summer break from school for $25 a week. Haymes jumped at this opportunity and was so smitten with big band life that he formed his own band back in Peekskill when he returned to school in the fall.
In 1933 Haymes left school and headed to the West Coast, determined to make a name for himself in music. In Los Angeles, he put together a band he called "The Katzenjammers," but it folded quickly. In an attempt to get some exposure, he sang on his own 15-minute show on KHJ Radio without pay. However, the show was short-lived. To keep a roof over his head and food on the table, he did occasional stunt work in films. His equestrian ability put him in demand for work in western films, and his swimming and diving skills landed him a stunt job in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Recalling that experience to Classic Imagesonline: "I did the diving from 75 feet up on the mast. The director (Frank Lloyd) said, 'Do it a third time,' so I told him, 'Nuts ... the second time was good enough!'" Haymes also worked as an extra whenever he could.
In the late 1930s, still looking for his big break as a singer, Haymes decided to see how he'd fare as a songwriter, a field in which his younger brother Bob would eventually have great success. Although his songs attracted little attention, his voice impressed bandleader Harry James, who offered him a $50-a-week job as vocalist with his band. While singing with the James band, Haymes came to the attention of Metronome jazz critic George T. Simon, whose comments were recorded in the Classic Imagesarticle: "Harry's fortunate in having one of the finest band singers in the business. He's Dick Haymes, possessor of a wonderful vocal quality, who ... should very shortly rank publicly with the accepted two or three topnotchers in the business. So far as this writer is concerned, he's already there."
While playing an engagement with the Harry James band at New York's Paramount Theatre, Haymes was attracted to a dancer in another act on the same bill. Her name was Joanne Marshall (later changed to Dru)--one of the Samba Sirens--and the attraction was mutual. The couple was married on September 21, 1941. (Haymes was married briefly to singer Edith Harper in 1939, but he rarely spoke of it and did not reveal this to subsequent wives.) When Joanne became pregnant six months later, Haymes left the James band and put together a group of his own. This ill-fated endeavor foundered completely when most of his band members were drafted into the military. Opportunity knocked when Art Lund left the Benny Goodman Orchestra and Haymes was invited to replace him. His stay with Goodman was relatively brief, however.
Not long after leaving Goodman, Haymes got an offer to sing for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and he jumped at the chance; he later said it was his favorite gig as a band singer. The job also gave him major motion picture exposure in the 1943 MGM musical Du Barry Was a Lady. As happy as he was with the Dorsey band, however, he soon began to feel he might do even better on his own. The decision to go solo was not an easy one, though, and he was not immediately successful after leaving the Dorsey Orchestra.
Recording Contract with Decca
Things began to look up after he signed with agent Bill Burton, however. His first big solo performance was at La Martinique, an exclusive New York City supper club. There he was spotted by a talent scout for Decca Records and signed to a recording contract. He was also signed by CBS to replace singer Buddy Clark on the network's Here's to Romance radio show. Even Hollywood showed an interest: he was asked to make a screen test for Twentieth Century-Fox, where executive Darryl Zanuck apparently liked what he saw and promptly signed Haymes to a film contract.
Haymes's career was soon in high gear. His records for Decca were selling quickly, and he started turning out movies for Fox. Among his films during this period were Four Jills in a Jeepand Irish Eyes Are Smiling, both of which were released in 1944. That same year, Haymes made a fateful decision. He registered himself as a resident alien, which exempted him from military service but also meant that he could not leave the United States without the proper papers to permit reentry. As Classic Images reported, he later said he had done this to cope with a "family crisis," explaining that his wife had had "a terrible time with the birth of our second child, and I felt I should be with her. When the emergency was over, I withdrew the deferment." Although Haymes later made a concerted effort to volunteer for military service, he was twice rejected by Army doctors because of high blood pressure.
In 1945 Haymes starred with Jeanne Crain, Vivian Blaine, and Dana Andrews in State Fair for Fox. The film, set at the Iowa State Fair and featuring an original score for film by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, was the high point of Haymes's career in motion pictures. His next couple of pictures for Fox--Do You Love Meand The Shocking Miss Pilgrim--didn't fare nearly as well at the box office. In 1947 his contract with Fox ended, and Haymes signed a two-film deal with Universal.
By the end of the 1940s Haymes's marriage to Joanne Dru was in tatters, and they divorced in July of 1949. His drinking was not the sole cause of the breakup but it exacerbated the couple's other problems, and it grew worse once he was on his own again. Shortly after the divorce, he married Nora Eddington, former wife of actor Errol Flynn, who was a good friend of Haymes's.
His film career temporarily at a standstill, he took the starring role on an ABC Radio action series called I Fly Anything. It was canceled after a single season. In the early 1950s he appeared in a handful of B movies but, since he was drinking even more heavily, his career continued to falter. During this period he met and fell in love with actress Rita Hayworth. When she went to Hawaii to film Miss Sadie Thompson, Haymes made the mistake of going along. When tried to reenter the United States (Hawaii was not yet a state), he was promptly arrested for not having the proper reentry papers. Further complicating his life were heavy alimony payments and IRS charges of tax evasion. Hayworth stood by his side through his legal troubles, but Haymes's heavy drinking doomed their marriage, which lasted just over two years.
Haymes's career had a brief resurgence in the late 1950s when he made a few recordings for Capitol, but his alcohol abuse and continuing money problems never let him truly get back on his feet. In the fall of 1958 he married singer Fran Jeffries, with whom he had a daughter. By 1961, however, that marriage, too, had failed, and Haymes left for Ireland, hoping, as Classic Images quoted him, to "find my head."
It was not until the mid-1960s that Haymes began striving heroically to turn his life around. In a radio interview in the early 1970s, according to Classic Images, Haymes recalled: "Around 1965, someone upstairs tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Look, you've got to make a choice. You've either got to function with the talent with which you've been blessed or take the other crossroad and wind up in skid row.' And by the grace of God, I made the right choice, and with the help of Wendy [Smith], my wife [since 1966], I've had to simmer down."
He returned to the United States, playing a number of concert dates across the country to enthusiastic response. In 1978 he cut what would prove to be his final album, a collection of romantic ballads that sold well. Just as it seemed possible that he might reestablish himself as one of the country's leading male singers, Haymes was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on March 28, 1980, in Los Angeles.
by Don Amerman
Dick Haymes's Career
Debuted at the Hotel Monmouth in New Jersey, 1931; met bandleader Johnny Johnson, who asked him to sing with the band for the summer; later organized band of his own; landed singing job on KHJ Radio in Los Angeles; joined the Harry James Band as vocalist, 1939; sang briefly with the Benny Goodman Orchestra; joined Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as a vocalist, appearing with Dorsey band in MGM's Du Barry Was a Lady,1943; signed recording contract with Decca, landed radio program on CBS network; signed with Capitol Records, late 1950s; left for Ireland, 1961; appeared throughout Ireland, the United Kingdom, and continental Europe, 1960s; made a brief but modestly successful comeback in the United States, 1970s; appeared in numerous films.
- Selected discography
- Best of Dick Haymes , WEA/Atlantic/Curb, 1991.
- For You For Me Forevermore , Audiophile, 1995.
- Serenading with the Big Bands , Sony Music Special Products, 1995.
- Ballad Singer , Jasmine, 1996.
- Star Eyes , Jazz Classic/City Hall, 1996.
- Soft Lights & Sweet Music ,Hindsight, 1997.
- Very Best of Dick Haymes, Vol. 1 , Taragon, 1997.
- Very Best of Dick Haymes, Vol. 2 , Taragon, 1997.
- Complete Columbia Recordings , Collector's Choice Music, 1998.
- It's a Grand Night for Singing , President, 1999.
- Cocktail Hour , Columbia River Entertainment Group, 2001.
- Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 10: 1976-1980, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995.
- "Dick Haymes," Len Triola Promotional Services Inc., http://www.lentriola.com/haymes.htm (December 31, 2001).
- "Dick Haymes," Solid!, http://www.parabrisas.com/d_haymesd.html (December 31, 2001).
- "Dick Haymes: Hollywood's Balladeer Supreme," Classic Images, http://www.classicimages.com/1997/july97/haymes.html (December 31, 2001).
- "Dick Haymes: The Voice of Perfection!" Dick Haymes Society, http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/cozzy7/index.htm?mtbrand=AOL_US (December 31, 2001).