to Show Business: After
receiving his discharge from the Army, Tommy returned to New
York City. He was soon contacted by Ed Sullivan who wrote a
column for the New York Daily News, had a radio show
on CBS (“Ed Sullivan Entertains” broadcast live
from the 21 Club), and worked as an emcee for the vaudeville
revues at the Loew’s State Theatre on Broadway. Tommy’s
singing talent had impressed Ed when they had met a year before,
and he asked Tommy if he would sing in the Loew’s State
Theater’s revue to mark his return to Show Business. Tommy
accepted and, on September 7, 1944, Ed Sullivan introduced the
“Private with the Sergeant’s voice” from the
stage of the prestigious Loew’s State Theatre, and Tommy’s
powerful baritone voice once again filled the auditorium.
the William Morris Talent Agency, Tommy immediately began getting
bookings at the most famous nightclubs and theatres around the
country. From the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel in New York
City to The Empire Room at the Palmer House in Chicago to the
Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco; from the Ritz–Carlton
Hotel in Boston to the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, to
the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blue Room in New Orleans; and from
the Earle Theatre in Philadelphia to the “Borscht Belt”
resorts in upstate New York to the legendary Last Frontier Hotel
in Las Vegas (to name but a few of the venues he played), Tommy
was in constant demand as a headline act. For six years he crisscrossed
the nation performing in nightclubs, vaudeville shows, supper
clubs, country clubs, and at special events.
– At the height of his popularity Tommy was earning
$3,000 a week.
– In 1947 Tommy purchased a powerful Chrysler Town &
Country convertible to transport himself from city to city.
One venue that Tommy was invited back to repeatedly for as long
as three months at a time was the Empire Room at the Palmer
House Hotel in Chicago. The entertainment at The Empire Room
was ruled over by Merriell Abbott who produced the shows and
provided the “Abbott Dancers” for the show’s
chorus line from a dance school she ran. When she first saw
Tommy, shortly after he had returned to Show Business, she asked
him why he was going to sing The Lord’s Prayer
during his set. She wondered whether it was appropriate to sing
a religious song in a nightclub where drinks were being served.
When Tommy explained that he wanted to sing it for “the
boys overseas”, she sheepishly agreed to let him do it.
Then on opening night when he appeared wearing his usual sport
coat, slacks and tie, Merriell asked him where his tuxedo was.
When he explained that he didn’t own a tuxedo, she insisted
that the next day he find a tailor and have one made. “No
one performs at The Palmer House without a tuxedo,” she
went out that night and stopped the show with his renditions
of Old Man River, and Buckle Down, Winsocki.
But toward the end of his act, when he sang The Lord’s
Prayer, everything came to a complete standstill. The song
touched the hearts of the war–weary audience, and when
the last note faded away they broke into a thunderous standing
ovation stopping the show cold in its tracks. When Tommy left
the stage Merriell was waiting for him and, with a tear in her
eye, she said softly, “Forget what I said. Don’t
change a thing.”
– Merriell Abbott was a choreographer, guardian, and
ever–watchful mother to her young dancers. She decided
who they could date (no orchestra players, please) and even
had them weigh–in every Thursday morning to make sure
their figures remained trim.
Despite his hectic schedule, Tommy continued to visit his girlfriend
in Birmingham, Alabama, as often as he could, sometimes even
overcoming his fear of flying and arriving by plane. Tommy’s
career was booming, and by 1946 he was living in an apartment
at #1 West 68th Street, facing Central Park.
the summer of 1946 Tommy Dix and Margaret Ann Grayson were married,
and Tommy legally changed his name to Tommy Dix. But even as
a newlywed there was no pause in his career, and during their
honeymoon on Miami Beach Tommy accepted an invitation to perform
at the nearby Kitty Davis’ Airliner nightclub.
they were happy and could afford to live quite well (they moved
from NYC and settled down in California’s San Fernando
Valley), the frequent separations caused by Tommy’s non–stop
schedule began to put a strain on their marriage. Because Maggie
and their two children (Grayson and Brittain) meant so much
to him, sometime in 1948 Tommy began thinking about retiring
from the professional stage and taking up a “normal”
Thoughts of retirement were put on temporary hold when Freddie
Fields, an important theatrical agent with the Music Corporation
of America, contacted Tommy and suggested that he team–up
with Freddie’s wife, Edith Fellows.
– Freddie Fields was the agent for such celebrities
as George Burns & Gracie Allen, Dean Martin & Jerry
Lewis, and Phil Silvers. Later he handled Judy Garland, Henry
Fonda, and Paul Newman among others. In the 1980s he became
the CEO of the MGM Film Company.
had been a popular child actress during the 1930s and early
1940s, appearing in almost 50 movies – most notably with
Bing Crosby in Pennies From Heaven (1936) and a series
of four “Five Little Peppers” movies in 1939/1940.
She was a versatile actress and an accomplished singer with
a beautiful soprano voice. Once she had outgrown juvenile roles
she went on the road appearing in regional plays, vaudeville
shows, and nightclubs with mixed success.
– Edith Fellows was only 4’10” tall.
– A play about Edith Fellows as a child actress was
written by Rudy Benz in 1979. Titled Dreams Deferred, the
play opened at a small theater in Los Angeles with Edith playing
– In 1985, fellow former child actor Jackie Cooper announced
plans to make a TV movie based on Edith’s life, but
the project never happened.
1946 Edith married Freddie Fields, and he eventually decided
that teaming her with Tommy would be a good professional move
for both of them. In October 1948, Tommy and Edith announced
that they would become a team and began preparing an act that
combined light comedy with singing. Building the act for almost
six months while Tommy continued to perform around the country,
they finally opened at the Olympia Theatre in Miami at a benefit
concert. Sid Piermont was in the audience, and he immediately
offered to book them at the Capitol Theatres in Washington,
DC, and New York City. A whirlwind of non–stop bookings
at theaters and clubs around the country quickly followed, and
the bookings continued in high gear until the middle of the
following year when Tommy finally had had enough.
Latin Quarter: New
York City’s Latin Quarter was a popular nightclub that
Lou Walters opened in 1942 at the corner of 48th Street and
Broadway. Modeled somewhat after the Moulin Rouge in Paris,
the shows at The Latin Quarter featured elaborate settings and
costumes, a chorus line of beautiful dancing girls, famous bands,
and big–name acts from every area of Show Business. There
were also branches of Walters’ Latin Quarter nightclub
in Boston, Miami Beach, and Chicago, and entertainers like Frank
Sinatra, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Milton Berle,
and Tony Bennett regularly performed at these clubs intermingled
with waves of high–kicking chorus girls.
Tommy returned to Show Business in 1944, many of his professional
engagements were at the New York Latin Quarter and its branches.
Over time Lou Walters and Tommy became close friends, and when
Tommy and Edith Fellows formed their act they were quickly booked
at Lou Walter’s clubs. At the end of July 1950, while
performing at the Latin Quarter in New York City, Tommy suddenly
announced his retirement from Show Business. Although he and
Edith were already booked to play the Flamingo Hotel in Las
Vegas, the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, the Palmer House in
Chicago, and the Roxy Theatre in New York City, Tommy realized
that continually being on the road had become critically detrimental
to his relationship with his family. He decided that he needed
to focus on his wife and children, not on his Show Business
career. While still one of the most popular headline acts in
the country, Tommy Dix called it quits.
– Lou Walters was the father of Barbara Walters, a popular
journalist who became well known for interviewing famous people