Frances Langford

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“I’d sing a song, and I could just see the guys getting this faraway expression. I knew they were going home in their minds.” -Frances Langford

Julia Frances Langford was born in Hernando, Florida, on April 4, 1913, to Vasco Cleveland Langford and Anna Rhea Newbern. The Langford family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, near the Mulberry area, where Langford was raised. Langford grew up on a houseboat situated upon the Miami River and developed a passion for fishing at a young age. She graduated from Lakeland High School and remained in Lakeland to study music at Florida Southern College.

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Langford originally trained as an opera singer; however, she required a tonsillectomy that changed her soprano range to a contralto. As a result, she was forced to change her vocal style to a more contemporary big band, popular music style.

At age 17, Langford was singing for local dances. During this period, cigar manufacturer Eli Witt heard her sing at an American Legion party and hired her to perform on his local radio show. After a brief stint in the Broadway musical Here Goes the Bride, she moved to Hollywood. There, she appeared on the Louella Parsons radio show Hollywood Hotel, while trying to start a career in film.

While singing on a Tampa-based radio station during the early 1930s, she was heard by Rudy Vallee, who invited her to become a regular on his radio show. He would refer to her as, “my little Florida protégé.” As a result, Langford’s career would be closely tied to the radio. From 1935 until 1938, she was a frequent performer on Dick Powell’s radio show.

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With her film debut in Every Night at Eight (1935), Langford introduced what became her signature song: “I’m in the Mood for Love.” She then began appearing in films such as Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), in which she popularized “Broadway Rhythm” and “You Are My Lucky Star”; Born to Dance (1936), which also starred Jimmy Stewart, Eleanor Powell, Buddy Ebsen, and Una Merkel; and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney. She also appeared as herself in several of her film roles.

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From 1941 onward, Langford was a regular singer on Bob Hope’s Pepsodent Show, replacing Judy Garland. The show was so successful, that Hope continued broadcasting from training bases around the country and asked Langford to join him. During World War II, she joined Hope, comedian Jerry Colonna, guitarist Tony Romano, and other performers on USO tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of GIs throughout the world. While part of a USO tour in the Pacific theater, she was invited to take a ride in a P-38 fighter plane. During the flight, a Japanese ship was spotted, and the joy ride was postponed until the pilot finished attacking the ship.

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In an additional incident during one of their USO tours, she and Hope were forced to leap out of a jeep to avoid fire from a German fighter plane. They both jumped to their safety in a culvert. Another time, they spent the night in the basement of a hotel in Algiers as bombs burst above them.

In his memoir, Don’t Shoot! It’s Only Me! Hope recalled how Langford got the biggest laugh he had ever heard. At a USO show in the South Pacific, Langford stood up on a stage to sing before a huge cIn addition, Langford wrote the weekly “Purple Heart Diary” column for Hearst Newspapers, in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded GIs. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints and to ask for public support in making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed. From 1946 to 1951, she performed on radio with Don Ameche as his wife, Blanche, on The Bickersons. As a guest on early television shows, she was motivated to venture into television and became the host of two self-titled variety television programs. Langford then teamed with Ameche for the ABC television program, The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show (1951), a spin-off of their successful radio series, The Bickersons, in which the duo played a feuding married couple. In the Western film Deputy Marshal (1949), she co-starred with her first husband, matinee idol Jon Hall. In 1948, they donated 20 acres of land near her estate in Jensen Beach, Florida, to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, which named it Langford Hall Park. She divorced first husband but they remained friends until his suicide in 1979. rowd of GIs. When Langford sang the first line of her signature song, “I’m in the Mood for Love,” a soldier in the audience stood up and shouted, “You’ve come to the right place, honey!”

In addition, Langford wrote the weekly “Purple Heart Diary” column for Hearst Newspapers, in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded GIs. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints and to ask for public support in making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed.

From 1946 to 1951, she performed on radio with Don Ameche as his wife, Blanche, on The Bickersons. As a guest on early television shows, she was motivated to venture into television and became the host of two self-titled variety television programs. Langford then teamed with Ameche for the ABC television program, The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show (1951), a spin-off of their successful radio series, The Bickersons, in which the duo played a feuding married couple.

In the Western film Deputy Marshal (1949), she co-starred with her first husband, matinee idol Jon Hall. In 1948, they donated 20 acres of land near her estate in Jensen Beach, Florida, to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, which named it Langford Hall Park. She divorced her first husband but they remained friends until his suicide in 1979.

Langford was also the host of the NBC musical variety program Frances Langford Presents (1959), which lasted one season, as did a later program called The Frances Langford Show (1960). Another notable appearance was in a lost episode of The Honeymooners, titled “Christmas Party,” which first aired on December 19, 1953.

Langford’s association with Hope continued into the 1980s. In 1989, she joined him for a USO tour to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf, meaning that she entertained with Hope throughout World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and beyond.

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As a nightclub singer in 1955, she married Outboard Marine Corporation President Ralph Evinrude. They lived on her estate in Jensen Beach and built a Polynesian-themed restaurant and marina on the Indian River, which they named The Frances Langford Outrigger Resort, where Langford frequently performed. Evinrude died in 1986.

In 1994, Langford married Harold C. Stuart, who had served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Affairs of the United States Air Force (1949-51) under President Harry S. Truman. They spent the summers in Canada and journeyed from their home in Florida aboard their 110-foot yacht The Chanticleer, which was a popular tourist attraction when moored at the Outrigger Resort.

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Health problems plagued her in the last years of her life as well as periodic hospital stays. She passed away from congestive heart failure in her Jensen Beach home at age 92 on July 11, 2005. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered off the coast of Florida, near her residence.

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Today, Frances is remembered well in her hometown and various tributes to her still exist today.

The old Lakeland High School building, where Frances attended high school, still stands at 400 N Florida Ave., Lakeland, Florida; however, it is now occupied by Lawton Chiles Middle School.

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Florida Southern College is also still in operation today. Langford appeared on a Lakeland Center stage with Hope at a benefit for the institution. It remains at 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., Lakeland, Florida.

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Education was something that Frances thought was incredibly important, as expressed in a correspondence she had between a teacher. This letter comes from my personal collection and Frances would have written it in her late 80s.

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After leaving Hollywood life, she kept up her pastimes of boating and sport fishing. Frances was very fond of fishing and enjoyed her last years on a 57-acre estate in Rio, Florida. The following are photos of Frances in her native Lakeland, Florida, as well as a shot of her Jensen Beach home.

The Lakeland Public Library houses a collection of photos featuring Langford in Lakeland. It is located at 100 Lake Morton Dr., Lakeland, Florida.

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Langford was a supportive member of the Jensen Beach community and donated money to the community. She was a philanthropist and her generosity to the Florida Oceanographic Society was well known. The organization provides education and research on the ocean, reefs, and environment in the Florida area. The visitor’s center bears her name and houses some of her artifacts. Her collection of mounted tuna, marlin, and other fish adorn the walls. It stands at 890 NE Ocean Blvd., Stuart, Florida.

In 2006, the Frances Langford Heart Center, made possible by a bequest from her estate, opened at Martin Memorial Hospital. It is located at 200 SE Hospital Ave. in Stuart, Florida.

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The Chanticleer, Langford’s boat, was an immense source of joy to her during her later years. The following information comes from Power and Motor Yacht:

Capt. Haddad began working on that yacht, a 118-foot steel vessel built by Defoe, in the mid-1950’s, onboard which he served as mess man. He recalls cruising to Mexico, the Bahamas, Honduras, and the Dry Tortugas in search of fish. “She’d start fishing in the morning,” he says of Langford, “and be out there all day. She’d come in for lunch and an hour later, she’d be back fishing again. Then she’d bottom fish and chum all night.” To accommodate Langford’s passion for the sport, both this and the later Chanticleer carried a range of tenders to fish from. Ranging from 13- to 18-footers with a variety of engine arrangements, there was always a different boat onboard for every possible occasion.

In addition to fishing trips, both Chanticleers cruised between their home base in Jensen Beach, Florida, and Ontario’s Georgian Bay. It was Evinrude who introduced his wife to Georgian Bay, having traveled there himself since the 1920’s. As a child he’d been plagued by respiratory problems and had been brought to the town of Little Current on nearby Manitoulin Island to alleviate the effects of hay fever. Evinrude fell in love with the island’s rugged beauty, and the couple eventually bought tiny twin islets in the northeast end of Baie Finn, where they built a waterfront house that they would frequently visit. Even after Evinrude passed away in 1986, Langford continued to cruise in Canadian waters. “In the end, even when her eyes weren’t good,” Haddad says of later trips up north, “she’d know where we were.” The Internet is full of breathless accounts from Georgian Bay cruisers who had spotted Chanticleer and were eager to report that even as an octogenarian, Langford was still looking “very Hollywood.”

The boat is well cared for after restoration and update efforts by its current owners.

Frances’ estates were not as lucky as her boat. Langford Landing is in disrepair.

So, too, is her property known as “The Hut,” which housed live peacocks and swans.

In 1946, Langford was honored by Lakeland, Florida, for her work with the USO as well as for her music and acting career. The City of Lakeland dedicated the Lake Mirror Promenade as the “Frances Langford Promenade.” The Promenade was originally built in 1928, and designed by renowned landscape architect Charles W. Leavitt of New York. The Frances Langford Promenade still exists to this day. The original plaque for the Frances Langford Promenade was replaced in 2013. After fundraising efforts, the unveiling and dedication took place on an evening at the Frances Langford Amphitheater, followed by a “Pics on the Promenade” movie, The Glenn Miller Story (1954), in which Langford has a small role. The Frances Langford Promenade is located between Lemon St. and Lake Mirror Dr. in Lakeland, Florida.

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The Outrigger remained a staple in the Jensen Beach area. The Outrigger lives on in its own way but under a new name and new management. It is now The Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House, located at 1401 NE Indian River Dr., Jensen Beach, Florida. The Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House prides itself on its history and continues to display Langford’s memorabilia.

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Frances with her portrait, which is still on display today.

The Elliot Museum at 825 NE Ocean Blvd., Stuart, Florida, houses a collection about Langford, which is on permanent display.

Langford was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her star for motion pictures is located at 1500 Vine St. and her star for radio is at 1525 Vine St., Los Angeles, California.

9 Responses to Frances Langford

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  4. Mark Langford says:

    Thank you for this informative article about Frances Langford. My father, William F. Langford, (no known relation), was a WW II Marine in the south Pacific. He told me of Frances, who shared our same last name, when I was a child growing up in Michigan in the late 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. When I attended college near Mulberry, Fl from 1975 to 1979, I didn’t realize then that Lakeland was Frances’ hometown. I did find and photograph her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the early 2000’s. Now that I am retired and visiting Florida again, it has been a joy to learn more about her philanthropic donations and service to thousands of veterans when she traveled and performed with the USO and wrote of her visits with wounded soldiers. Thank you for keeping her legacy known.

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  8. Ryan Grath says:

    Hello, my name is Ryan and I was hoping you had some information on Mrs. Langford. I was wondering if you knew of a painting Mrs. Langford did for the war effort called “China boy” where it was her posing for a painting with a young Chinese American holding a chicken? I am curious about this because the child in the picture is a familiy member of mine who has been looking for the portrait for the past 50 years. Any information pertaining to this picture or Mrs. Langfords life surrounding the portrait would be extremely helpful. Thank you for your time.

  9. kinkarcana2013 says:

    Hello, my name is Ryan and I was hoping you had some information on Mrs. Langford. I was wondering if you knew of a painting Mrs. Langford did for the war effort called “China boy” where it was her posing for a painting with a young Chinese American holding a chicken? I am curious about this because the child in the picture is a familiy member of mine who has been looking for the portrait for the past 50 years. Any information pertaining to this picture or Mrs. Langfords life surrounding the portrait would be extremely helpful. Thank you for your time.

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