Peggy Lee's Bio-Discography: The Pre-Recording Period
(May 1920- July 1941)
by Iván Santiago-Mercado

Page generated on Jan 8, 2017


I. The Pre-recording Years, 1920-1941

This supplementary page of The Peggy Lee Discography And Videography traces the artist's steps before mid-August of 1941, when she made her very first studio recordings. Aside from some introductory remarks about her home life and work ethics, my focus has remained primarily on Lee's early pursuit of a singing career, and secondarily on the jobs with which she supported herself during that pursuit. Generally, I have organized all such relevant data chronologically and geographically, rather than thematically or conceptually. To facilitate a geo-chronological reading, the information has thus been divided mostly by location. For the same reason, many of the dates found throughout the text have been typed in bold lettering.

Back when I started to prepare this page, the facts that surrounded Lee's pre-recording years lay scattered and disorganized in a variety of texts. Hence my original impetus for the page's creation was a desire to clarify, organize, and contextualize the available information. More recently, published biographies of the singer have further fleshed out the earliest steps of her career. I have in turn made pertinent updates and additions after reading such biographical publications.

Notice that the present text includes two appendices, both of them located at the end of the page. Consult the first appendix, entitled Sources And Reliability, if you are interested in a quick reference to other sources in which parts of the material at hand is also presented. As for the second appendix, it may prove of particular interest to historically-oriented North Dakotans and to fans of the blues undercurrent that permeates Peggy Lee's catalogue of music. That appendix focuses on her strong connection to North Dakota's Midland Continental Railroad, near which she lived for most of her pre-adult life.





(Images seen above: A photo that shows Norma Deloris Egstrom as a baby -- according to Robert Strom, author of the book Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle -- and two old photos of Trinity Hospital, where Egstrom was born. The first of these photos captures the hospital as it looked during Norma's childhood. The last photo reflects the building's transformation within the 1967-1972 period, when it temporarily became the Trinity Bible Institute. Nowadays, this structure functions as retirement housing.)

Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, a North Dakota city locally known as "The Pride of the Prairie." A good portion of the her pre-adult years was not spent in her city of birth, however, but in small towns within driving distance of Jamestown. She began singing professionally around 1936, when she was 16. (Some sources place her professional debut in 1934, at the age of 14. Norma was certainly singing publicly in 1934 and 1935, but categorizing such local, mostly school-oriented appearances strikes me as a bit of a stretch.) From 1937 to 1941, the budding vocalist performed extensively in diverse music venues with a variety of instrumental backing, including just piano or organ as well as trios, small combos, and big bands. Hence future music legend Peggy Lee had had five years of solid professional experience in "the minor leagues" before she hit the proverbial "big time." The latter happened once she nabbed a post as the canary of the nationally renowned Benny Goodman Orchestra. She was twenty-one years old in August of 1941, when Goodman hired her.

As this chronological sketch of the artist's first twenty years will make amply evident, the relatively shy but hardworking North Dakotan girl had pursued her profession of choice -- singing -- with an unwavering resolve that would pay off for the rest of her long career.


II. North Dakota's Girl: A Geographical Outline, 1920-1937 (And Beyond)

The future Peggy Lee spent her childhood and adolescence in the southeast part of North Dakota. The child lived her earliest years (1920-1928) in Jamestown, a city that was itself fairly young at that time. (Jamestown had been founded less than 60 years earlier, as a camping site for the workers who were setting the tracks of the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad line. Peggy Lee was thus born in railroad land and grew up, figuratively speaking, as a daughter of the railroad. Both of these points will be extensively illustrated in this page's final appendix.) At the time of the future singer's birth, the population of Jamestown' was estimated to have past the 6,600 mark; in the 2010 US census, it would be listed as reaching above 15,400.

In 1928, some time after the girl had turned eight years old, her family moved to the town of Nortonville, located about 25 miles south of Jamestown. In a couple of accounts, one of them being her autobiography, Peggy Lee would describe Nortonville as a "tiny town surrounded by farms with about 125 people trying to survive ... There were no street names or numbers in Nortonville. You would just refer to the name of the family who lived there ... You would go up the sandy road from 'downtown' or the depot to the Egstrom house." Though numbers and names would eventually be given to its streets, Nortonville's population would dwindle in the ensuing decades, to such a degree that less than 30 individuals were said to inhabit the town at the start of the twenty-first century.



(Images seen above: Modern-day photos, representative of the three towns or cities where Peggy Lee lived before she reached adulthood. The first photo offers a partial view of First Avenue South, one of the main streets in Jamestown. The second photo focuses on a pleasantly rustic wooden house in Nortonville. The third photo spotlights the recently restored Midland Continental Depot And Peggy Lee Museum, in Wimbledon.)


In 1935, the Egstroms moved again, this time to Wimbledon, located about 30 miles north of Jamestown. In her autobiography, Lee refers to that town as "slightly larger" than Nortonville. Wimbledon was indeed relatively small back then, and it still remains so: 216 inhabitants, according to the 2010 census. (And yet, however small in territorial size and population count, Wimbledon's ambitions have proven to be big, its enterprising spirit even bigger: no other town or city has done more to honor the memory of Peggy Lee -- as detailed in the appendix found at the bottom of this page.)

Miss Norma Egstrom stayed in Wimbledon until her graduation from high school in 1937. Afterwards, Norma moved back to Jamestown, then to Fargo (the region's metropolis, which held about 30,000 inhabitants in the 1930s, and with which Egstrom was already acquainted, due to spells spent there during her childhood years) and next, a few months before turning 18, to Hollywood.

Soon enough, there would be a second traveling cycle. Returning to North Dakota after just a few months in Los Angeles, Lee initially stayed with siblings living in Hillsboro, and then moved back to Fargo. Following that return to Fargo, it was out-of-state traveling all over again: Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Hollywood. The vocalist remained in the capital entertainment of the world for the first half of 1940, but by the summer she was living in Chicago. (The second half of 1940 would be spent traveling even farther away, through the Northeast coast -- especially the New Jersey-New York area -- and even out of the country, into Canada).


III. In The Beginning: Jamestown And Nortonville

Home Labors

Norma Deloris Egstrom was the sixth of eight children born to railroad station agent Marvin Egstrom and housewife Selma Anderson. A few months after the birth of the eighth child (1924), diabetes-related complications resulted in the death of Selma, who was merely 39 years old at the time. [Addendum, 2014: Biographer James Gavin states that Selma developed diabetes while carrying her sixth child. According to uncorroborated claims made by the biographer, Norma would go on to blaming herself for her mother's death.] Norma's youngest siblings also met a premature fate. The seventh child (Gloria) had actually been stillborn, and the eighth was born sickly. In the absence of a nursing mother, that last offspring (Jean Bernice) was sent to an aunt's home, where she was raised until her passing at the tender age of 14 (from a heart ailment, according to at least two sources, or from "cancer of the blood," according to the Stutman County Record, as quoted by a member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board).

Due to that series of tragic events, Norma Deloris was always the youngest child in the Egstrom household. Within the first 15 years of her life, Norma's older siblings moved out of the house one by one (and ditto for their sole stepbrother), until she remained the only Egstrom offspring at home, left in the company of father Marvin (1874-1950) and stepmother Min (1892-1971). A widow with one child, Min had come into the family's life as a nurse for the baby that had been conceived by Della Egstrom and her husband. (The eldest of the Egstrom sisters, Della was a chronically sick individual, too, for most of her life). Gradually, Min took on the role of all-purpose caretaker -- and more. Exactly twelve months after Selma's passing, Marvin Egstrom married her. Norma was five years old when the marriage vows were exchanged.

Since Marvin was a railway station master, the Egstroms resided on the upper floors of train depots for long periods of their lives, though they also lived in regular housing at other time periods. For instance, on December 27, 1924 the Jamestown house shared by the family caught fire and burned down, leaving 4-year-old Norma and her siblings temporarily homeless. As Lee recalled or understood the events, the blaze had broken out on the night of a blizzard. The bitterly cold temperature had compelled Mr. Egstrom to make a "roaring fire." The family then went to bed, leaving the fire unattended. The wind apparently spread flames and/or ashes over the wooden house, setting it ablaze. (Relying on a contemporary newspaper report, the aforementioned member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board has refuted some of the details found in Lee's autobiography: "it was in the early hours of Sunday morning, December 28, that the Egstroms' house caught fire. It did not burn down but was badly damaged, both by the fire and the water and chemicals used by the firemen.") After staying with neighbors and relatives of Norma's future stepmother for a while, the family went on to live in a more humble, less comfortable Jamestown house (on 215 Milwaukee Street East, states Peggy Lee in her autobiography).

In 1928, they left Jamestown and moved to a Nortonville house located somewhere "up the sandy road" (reminisces Lee in her autobiography), where they were surrounded by a farming environment, a barn included. Perhaps due, in part, to the economic hardships brought on by the Depression (to which various paragraphs of Lee's autobiography are dedicated), the Egstroms ended up leaving that farm house as well, and moving into the Nortonville depot. Like one of their homes in Jamestown, the Nortonville depot also caught fire. The incident happened on January 5, 1930, this time apparently as a result of a cookstove explosion. The structure burned down (or so is said in the more reliable reports. A less reliable report indicates otherwise). Moreover, Norma's stepmother suffered a fall and a broken leg. (That significant injury kept her hospitalized for about two months, according to Lee's recollection in her autobiography. But in the estimation of the aforementioned member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board, who relies on contemporary reports, Min is likelier to have stayed in the hospital for no more than 18 days.) One oral account indicates that the family then stayed one block south of Nortonville's public school (which the same account identifies as 115 Fifth Avenue). Relying once again on contemporary newspaper articles and historical documentation, the fellow member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board has declared that, some time after the destruction of the depot, "the Egstroms moved into the late Mr. Barbion's residence in the east end of town and the Midland Continental moved a freight house from Franklin to serve as a replacement Nortonville depot." But by 1935 the Egstroms had packed up and changed town again, landing at that time in Wimbledon. Therein, the depot was their residence for the entire duration of their stay.




(Images seen above: Photos of Norma Deloris Egstrom, one showing her in her pre-teen years, the other as a teenager. The first photo spotlights not just Norma but all four Egstrom sisters. Norma Deloris is the third girl from last; the others are Della, Marianne, and Jean Bernice. Specifics such as the year and location in which this shot was taken are not known to me. I assume that Norma was around 9 at the time, and hence living in Nortonville. The solo photo was taken in Jamestown in 1934, when Norma was 14 years old and had traveled from Wimbledon to Jamestown, in order to be confirmed at that city's Lutheran church.)

At all those abodes, Norma Deloris' ill-tempered stepmother kept her on an around-the-clock schedule of household chores (scrubbing floors, washing dishes, churning butter and cooking bread, stoking cookstoves with coal gleaned from the railroad tracks, etc.). Norma was expected to wake up as early as 5:00 a.m., and to have some of those chores finished before leaving for school. When the family was living one block away from Nortonville's public school, the superintendent could see the teen at the distance, in the mornings, running so that she could be on time after having spent hours getting her household chores done. On such occasions, the superintendent (Mr. Clarke) would ring the bell longer than usual, thus saving Norma from being declared tardy.

Norma Deloris' assistance was also requested from her beloved father, who was sometimes too intoxicated to effectively carry out his job duties. In Wimbledon (where her stepmother could not be present full time, due to the lady's own job duties out of town), Mr. Egstrom would occupy adolescent Norma with tasks such as tending to the first-floor premises of the Midland Continental depot, helping in the filling of per diem reports, and running across the tracks to the nearby Soo depot, to deliver waybills and carry other errands.

Home was thus a workplace for the youngster.

In her early teens, Norma Deloris was also employed in a variety of temporary summertime jobs outside her home -- a seasonal practice that was, at the time, commonly expected and asked of small-town teens who came from middle and low income families. Most frequently, Norma was hired as a farm hand. "I had my first job away from home when I was eleven," she said during an interview conducted in 1974. "I worked on a farm and I did just about everything – milking cows, housekeeping, taking care of a newborn baby – I pretended it was a doll ... the lady was quite ill. And so I was sort of a nurse too." Mention of other later summertime jobs is made by Lee in her autobiography. At different farms, she variously helped in the milking of cows, pitching of hay, shucking of grain, canning of fruits and vegetables (peaches, pears, tomatoes), cooking for a threshing crew, driving of the water wagon for that same crew, and housecleaning as well as clothes washing. She also spent part of one summer, probably when she was 15 or 16, washing dishes at a restaurant in Jamestown. Meanwhile, in the fall and spring semesters, Norma earned additional money by washing her school's halls and blackboards (as part of the National Youth Association's job activities). The largest salary that she ever received was $3.00 per week.

"People wonder how you can stand up under the strain of showbusiness. That training [in North Dakota] gave me the strength," she would remark more than a decade later. "That [early] life equipped me for the world. You never feel helpless because you've had so many [hard] things you've had to pull out of ..."

Portrait Of The Young Singer

Although none of Norma Deloris Egstrom's relatives were professional performers, most members of her nuclear family were known to enjoy singing. Norma's father sang for his own pleasure and Norma's two older sisters, Della and Marianne, were said to have very pleasant singing voices, too. "My sister [Marianne] and I hummed before we learned to talk," the artist would reminisce many decades later. Perhaps Norma's strongest recollection of her mother -- whose loss strongly shaped the girl's personality -- was the sight and sounds of Selma, playing the piano and singing. For much of her teens and preteens, Norma Deloris was actually known to gravitate toward any location where there was a piano.

By the age of ten (1930), a career as a singer had become Norma's dream. As far back as her mind allowed her to remember, singing had been an outlet for the youngster. "[In my youth,] that was the only time I ever felt important, and I could get my thoughts out of my system that I didn't dare express. All that time I only wanted to sing." "I'd sing in the fields and I'd talk to the trees," she told another interviewer and friend, Gene Lees, many years later. Quite a few people who knew young Norma Deloris have confirmed that she indeed used to sing "all the time." As an adolescent, she also spent time writing tunes; sometimes it was the lyrics, and other times it was the notes to words written by a Wimbledon girl friend (Ethelyn Olson).

During her years in elementary (Jamestown) and middle (Nortonville) school, Norma was, however, painfully shy and self-conscious. She told an interviewer in 1955 that, as a child, she "couldn't even bring herself to cross the room to sharpen a pencil." Some of those who knew the aspiring singer in her childhood days (including folks who shared their memories with biographer Peter Richmond) have also confirmed the girl's extreme shyness, which was probably exacerbated by her family situation -- a missed mother, a father periodically rendered ineffectual by alcohol consumption, and a stepmother who was, at the very least, emotionally abusive. Interviewed in 2004, her Nortonville neighbor Mabel Berg remarked that, on the occasions in which Norma sang in public, "being bashful, she always turned her back to the audience. It was the funniest thing." [Addendum, 2014: Other people, quoted by biographer James Gavin -- some of them clearly holding grudges against Peggy Lee -- painted her teenage self as far from shy or withdrawn. In my opinion, the likeliest truth is that, like most human beings, Norma Deloris probably oscillated between various moods and behaviors.]

In Nortonville, Norma counted with the advantage of having a neighbor named Pearl Buck who was the town church's organ and piano player. (Buck's primary occupation during her long life seems to have been as a piano player. She passed away a few years after the start of the twenty-first century, remaining alive until the ripe age of 103.) On Sundays, Norma would come into Nortonville's Methodist church early, so that she could play (or try to play) the piano and sing, mostly by herself. At the sight of the earliest parishioners to arrive, she would stop.


IV. The High School Years: Wimbledon And Valley City




(Images seen above: Photos of two Wimbledon streets, exact dates unknown, and a ready-to-be-framed portrait of teenage Norma, date also unknown. The first picture shows the town's main commercial street; the last picture focuses on a residential street. Both town photos are likely to date from the first three decades of the twentieth century -- that is to say, from a few years before Norma came to town.)


In the early 1930s, young Norma Deloris Egstrom was an aspiring but professionally untested vocalist. Her singing experience had been limited to Methodist and Lutheran church choirs, school glee clubs, and a few assorted special occasions, such as the occasional recital, birthday party, or PTA meeting. (The most public of those special appearances had been a recital in Nortonville's town hall, back in the summer of 1930.) A change of town and school would bring greater opportunities to her.

In mid-1934, Norma's father was temporarily re-assigned to Wimbledon's Midland Continental train station. In late July, Norma came to live with him at the Wimbledon depot, subsequently enrolling in the town's school, whose fall semester would start on September the 10th. By late September, however, illness forced Norma's father to return to Nortonville, and Norma herself had to follow suit in late October. [Addendum, late 2014: it seems that, before leaving her new hometown, Norma seized on an opportunity to perform there. Citing an article in the Wimbledon News, one of Peggy Lee's biographers refers to an October 1934 PTA gathering in which two numbers were sung by an all-female quartet. Norma was one of the members of the quartet -- which perhaps was itself a part of the high school's glee club.]

In January of 1935, after a recuperation period, Mr. Egstrom returned to his Wimbledon post, which was permanently assigned to him. Norma and Min joined him later that month. (Norma's stepmother would be around for only part of the time, however. By this point, she was also an employee of the railroad company. Back in mid-1934, while her husband was away in Wimbledon, Mrs. Min Egstrom had been put in charge of the Nortonville depot. In 1935, she would be asked to supervise another Midland Continental station, located a few miles away, in Millarton. Thus Min spent the family's Wimbledon years commuting between Millarton and Wimbledon.)

The change of residence and the onset of adolescence probably made Norma Deloris a little less shy, a bit more confident. During her junior year, the new teenager in town took on the editor position of the high school paper (which was published as part of the local newspaper, The Wimbledon News). Even more notably, Norma became a prominent member of the student council: she was elected class president. During her senior year, Norma further served as assistant to the school librarian, Special Features writer of the school paper, and treasurer of her senior class (the latter a position that she had also occupied as a freshman, for about two months).

All along, Miss Egstrom continued to zealously pursue her artistic aspirations as well. After joining her school's glee and theater clubs, the teenager played not only choral and soloist parts at some musical events but also lead and secondary roles in various theatrical presentations. One of them was a reenactment of Aaron E. Bishop's At The Stroke Of Twelve; A Mystery Comedy In One Act, for which Norma Deloris took on the role of a maid. In November of 1935, the Wimbledon high school drama club traveled to Valley City, where they performed the comedy at an inter-school competition. Next, on December 12, 1935, Wimbledon spectators were charged twenty-five cents for admission to the club's presentation of Walter Ben Hare's three-act comedy A Little Clodhopper, in which Norma played the titular character. [Addendum, 2014: Citing an article from The Wimbledon News, biographer James Gavin adds a few details about this event. In-between acts, a "musical interlude" was offered by the "six-girl Wimbledon School High School Glee Club, featuring Norma" as a soloist on the song Come, Sweet Morning. According to the biographer, a "nasty storm" resulted in poor turnout.] In addition to such opportunities in the school's drama and glee clubs, Norma continued to take advantage of the town's constant supply of PTA meetings, using them as a venue to debut the songs that she had been co-writing with her good friend Ethelyn Olson.




(Images seen above: Two old pictures of Wimbledon's public school and a close-up of teenage Norma's face. The school photos were taken some time within the first half of the twentieth century. A more recent picture of Wimbledon's high school can also be seen a few paragraphs below, but, oddly, that picture shows a vastly different structure. I have not been able to determine which photo -- if any -- reflects the look of Wimbledon's school in the mid-1930s, when Norma Deloris Egstrom attended it. Either the above-seen building went through significant reconstruction or the school moved at some point from its original premises.)


The year 1936 brought yet more opportunities for Norma to try her talents, especially in nearby cities. Miss Egstrom actually made not one but two talent-related trips in May of 1936, one to Grand Forks for a singing contest and the other to Fargo, for a craft and homemaking competition. Neither generated wins or prizes, but a trip closer to home did. Probably in the summer of 1936, the adolescent entered an amateur contest in the aforementioned Valley City (the region's county seat, and the largest town around). According to her autobiography, Norma Deloris Egstrom's interpretations of "The Glory Of Love" and "Twilight On The Trail" earned her the $5.00 prize.

And then there were the annual county-wide inter-school matchups, for which she and some of her classmates traveled to the county seat as well. The 1936 winner in the dramatic category was none other than Wimbledon's high school theater club, for the one-act play The Man Who Came Back. Miss Egstrom had played "faithful old servant" Mammie Jinnie, one of the play's three main characters. The contest had been held at Valley City's Kiwanis Club on Friday, November 12 and Saturday, November 13. At a similar contest for glee clubs held at the same town on April 12, 1937, Miss Norma Egstrom won in the category of "Low Voice" for her renditions of the songs "Clouds" and "His Coming." She came home with a medal. (This last Valley City contest was actually one leg of a competition whose ensuing final leg, held in Fargo, was not won by Lee.)

It was not in Valley City, however, that Norma Deloris Egstrom received her first offer to sing professionally. Back home in Wimbledon, Norma was hired as the girl singer of a five-piece college dance band whose leader was named Lyle "Doc" Haines. According to the singer's autobiography, she first met Haines “when he ... played Wimbledon (Grant Joos, the [quintet's] trumpet player was from there). It seemed everyone in Wimbledon," continued the singer, "always knew I was going to go someplace, and someone pointed me out to Doc and said, that’s our little Hollywood girl, you ought to use her.”

At school, the upcoming gigs with Doc Haines elicited concerns about the likelihood that Norma's ongoing education would suffer. Fortunately, the young girl and her school's kind superintendent (Ivan Knapp) came to a satisfactory arrangement. Miss Egstrom was permitted to take makeup tests and to do course workload in advance, so that her weekends (including part of the Friday schoolday) could be freed for the extracurricular activities which she was avidly pursuing: traveling with Haines' quintet through the Barnes County area and singing at various Valley City locations. The arrangement worked out fairly well, and Norma Deloris' commitment to Wimbledon's high school was not lessened by any means. (On the contrary: in addition to the staff and council positions that the student held during her junior and senior years, she also became involved in the graduation ceremonies, for which she wrote and read the class poem, tellingly called "Success Awaits At Labor's Gate." Not surprisingly, she also sang a solo number at the ceremonies.)




(Images seen above: A recent shot of Wimbledon Courtenay, the high school that was, according to local word of mouth, attended by Norma Deloris Egstrom. The middle photo is an undated portrait of the high schooler herself -- as well as a closer take of a picture already shown above. Given the lack of a date, this portrait could actually be from a slightly later time period than the one discussed in the present entry: the years 1938 to 1940 are possibilities. The portrait appeared in a promotional booklet prepared by WDAY, a radio station for which Egstrom worked in 1938 and in subsequent years. A caption under one of the various periodicals that reprinted the photo identified Norma Deloris as being 18 at the time. However, the caption's accuracy is uncertain. As for the school photo, I doubt that it shows the exact same premises attended by Egstrom in the 1930s -- word of mouth notwithstanding. Stylistically, the building's façade strikes me as too recent-looking to date back to the 1930s. Hence I am tentatively assuming that the building shown in this photo is a reconstruction, dating from the second half of the twentieth century. As of early June 2012, when the present essay was being updated, Wimbledon Courtenay Public School had just been officially closed, due in part to lack of enough students. Plans to tear down the building were in its future.)

Doc Haines and his group played all around the Barnes County area but conducted their affairs from Valley City, where Haines' college (Valley City State Teachers College) was located. In addition to work at a radio station, dances and parties were sources of income, though by no means infallible ones. For such events, the group was usually hired on a "percentage" basis; in other words, their payment was a percent of what was made by the establishment where the dance or party had taken place. If rain or snow prevented people from showing up, the band was paid nothing, and their trip to the town where the event had been scheduled would prove in vain, at least financially. In a land where the potential for very bad weather was a reality of everyday life, local bands such as Haines' were forced to lower any financial expectations. For Norma, an $1.00 amount meant a profitable engagement with the band, though 50¢ was more of a norm; occasionally, she would be given a tip that was even higher than what the band had made.

Haines would take to calling the teenage vocalist his "little blues singer," a moniker that may be suggestive of Peggy Lee's early leanings toward bluesy and melancholy ballads. "Moonglow" was among the numbers that she sang while with the band.

In addition to appearances at parties and dances, Doc Haines' performing schedule included live playing in programs broadcast at Valley City's KVOC radio station, where Norma Deloris was given her own 15-minute sponsored Saturday radio show. Many years later (1950), on the occasion of Lee's special return visit to the town that had been so good to her, KOVC station manager Bob Ingstad checked the station's records, and found out the debut date of Egstrom's radio show: November 28, 1936 at 3:45. The show was simply named "Norma Egstrom." [Addendum, 2014: Apparently relying on The Wimbledon News, biographer James Gavin gives the debut date as Saturday, November 27, 1936, specifying that Egstrom sang four numbers and "made some shy remarks." She was accompanied by the station's pianist, Belle Mae Ginsberg. Gavin gives June 5, 1937 as the last date of her Saturday KOVC radio show. He further adds that Norma "hung around KOVC, hoping to score extra air time by subbing for absentee guests on other programs." ]

In tandem with the singing job at Valley City's KOVC, Norma Deloris was also hired to sing at the city's Rudolf Hotel. Accompanied by The Dutch Room Serenaders, Norma performed at the hotel's dining room, which is described in her autobiography as "a college hangout" where she was paid "five dollars, plus all I could eat." The hotel also happened to be the location of the radio station; Polly or Pollie Evenson, the dining room's manager, was the sponsor of Norma's KOVC show. (Like the radio show, this job at the hotel must have been circumscribed to weekends, since Norma had to spend the rest of her week at school in Wimbledon.)

The earliest published notice of an Egstrom professional solo appearance has been uncovered by the current curator of the Barnes County Historical Museum, Mr. Wes Anderson. Published in the December 31, 1936 edition of the Valley City Times-Record, the notice reads as follows: "Miss Norma Egstrom of Wimbledon is visiting in Valley City this week. Possessed with a remarkable voice, she will sing at the Eagles New Years Eve party tonight. She has sung over KOVC." It is not clear if this notice points to her concert debut as a professional vocalist or if (as suggested by other sources, including the ones I have followed above) she had already been singing publicly with Haines and at the Rudolf Hotel for some time. The newspaper makes no reference to Haines.




(Images shown above: Postcards of the Rudolf Hotel, as it looked during various time periods within the first half of the twentieth century. Norma seems to have had her first regular job as a solo singer at this hotel. Opened in 1907 and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983, the building still stands at the time of this writing, though nowadays its upper floors serve as senior apartments, and the first floor is occupied by a variety of commercial stores.)

Unsolved Matters, 1934-1937
From this period in the life of Norma Deloris Egstrom, one of the various specifics that remain in contention is the exact year in which she began singing with Doc Haines. Oral testimonies and extant clips from local newspapers place the beginning of their working relationship in 1936. Other sources, including the singer's autobiography, point to 1934. The following comment, made during an interview conducted in 1984, exemplifies the singer's perspective on the matter: "[B]ack in Wimbledon ... I sang in Valley City with Doc Haines and his group, which was another college band. A territorial band, they called it. I thought I was so sophisticated. I was only 14 and traveled with them for a while ..."

Notwithstanding the clarity of Peggy Lee's above-quoted recollection, we should bear in mind that half a century had elapsed since the happening of the events in question. Among other possibilities, Lee's memory could have coalesced two events, such as the year of her arrival to Wimbledon (1934) and the year in which she became a band singer. Such is the conciliatory scenario that I am endorsing at the present time; my hypothetical chronology is as follows:

1. The initial meeting in which Egstrom was brought to Haines' attention could have taken place in 1934 or, more likely, 1935, but the actual hiring might have not occurred until 1936.

2. The hiring was followed, in quick succession, by her first radio show (November 1936 at KOVC),

3. her first job as a solo singer (November 1936 at the Rudolf Hotel's dining hall),

4. and her first public concert solo appearance as a professional (December 1936 at Valley City's Eagles Hall).

To further clarify the chronology (particularly point #1), I should restate that Norma lived in Wimbledon twice. She first arrived in town in late July 1934 and stayed through October 1934. If Haines truly met her in Wimbledon in 1934, it would have thus been during this original, short-lived stay. Bear in mind, however, Lee's aforementioned claim that people in Wimbledon were telling Haines that she was "our [i.e., the town's] Hollywood girl." Would the Wimbledon people have referred to Miss Egstrom as "our little Hollywood girl" when she was relatively new in town? I find it unlikely, though it is certainly not impossible.




(Images seen above: In 1950, Peggy Lee accepted an invitation to appear as the Grand Marshall of the Twelfth North Dakota Winter Show, an agricultural celebration held on the first week of March every year in the state's Valley City. During her two-day-long stay in Barnes County, the thirty-year-old Hollywood resident took a prominent place in the show's parade, gave various concerts and, after a 10-year-long absence from North Dakota, saw family and old friends. (The prospect of visiting with the latter had been one of her main incentives to accept the offer.) This parade received ample coverage from the local press and, probably due to Lee's presence, even from national press: Life magazine sent a crew that included Stanley Kubrick, the film-director-to-be who at the time was a photographer. Above, in a newspaper article entitled "Singer Peggy Lee Comes Home To Barnes County, ND," the singer is seen with KOVC's Bob Ingstad, the programmer /manager who started her radio career. Looking over them in that newspaper photo are Belle Mae Stern (née Ginsberg), the pianist who used to accompany the young Norma in her KOVC show, and Gladys Thompson, said to have had a KOVC radio program around the same time as Norma. Also shown in one of the other photos included by the newspaper: Lee during one of the local concerts that she gave. The other above-seen photos are from a get-together which took place in the home of Belle Mae and her husband, Herbert Stern. (According to a different report, Belle Mae was married to Richard Stern, and this was the home of a Herman Stern.) In the first of the photos, Mrs. Stern is at the piano, serving as accompanist to Peggy Lee during the (relatively) informal gathering. In the last photo, one of the men is identified as Polly (Pollie) Evenson, the manager of Valley City's Rudolf Hotel. Evenson was Lee's sponsor when she sang at both that hotel's dining room (1936) and at KOVC, whose premises were also located at the hotel. The other two individuals in these photos are a couple, Wimbledon's Soo depot master William Brenner and his wife, who were Norma Deloris' neighbors when she lived in Wimbledon's Midland Continental depot. Her embrace of them suggests a level of affection that is also suggested by mutual comments in print. Decades later, Mr. Brenner would publicly share the following story with the press: "One morning I was making my way over to the Midland depot with some freight bills... and when about half way over, here came Norma, sobbing real hard, and as she met me exclaimed, 'she won't let me go down to Valley City today, she says I can't sing, and am just wasting my time going down there to Valley City. Well, Henry Fehr and I were both on the school board at the time, and his two girls were in high school along with Norma and my son George, and most Wimbledon folks were really proud to have three of our Wimbledon High School girls sing over the Valley City Station. So I said to Norma, 'You are going down there and sing, whether your stepmother wants you to, or not. And I'll see Mr. Fehr and see that he takes you along this evening, with his two girls' ... and that I did.")

There is also some room for doubt as to who hired the young girl first: Haines or KOVC. Some sources point in the direction of Haines (e.g., Peggy Lee's own comments) and other sources point in the direction of KOVC (e.g., Peter Richmond biography of the singer). Nevertheless, none of the sources at hand presents any evidence that could categorically allow me to support one claim over the other. It may be that the two hirings were simultaneous; after all, Haines and his fellows were in-house musicians at KOVC. Suffice it to offer here the sequence of events as found in Peggy Lee's autobiography. First, she mentions the deal that she made with her school's superintendent so that she could "go to Valley City and sing with Doc Haines and his orchestra." Then she lets us know that her availability and her singing talent had been conveyed to Haines at a certain point in the past, when he had been in Wimbledon. After spending some lines introducing us to Doc at more length, Lee comes back to her narrative's present, stating that "with the prospect of singing with Doc's orchestra in view, you can bet I applied myself to school ... off I went, hitchhiking to Valley City to sing with Doc Haines. Valley City wasn't very far from Wimbledon, and I promptly got a ride on a bread truck." Finally, in a new paragraph, she adds: "When the big day came, I sang with Doc Haines on a program on KOVC. How did I get so lucky? I soon had a sponsored program on KOVC!"

Yet another subject matter that remains unclear is whether Norma also sang with The Jack Wardlaw Orchestra (as claimed by a few articles and biographical accounts), or whether this claim is simply wrong. Neither the singer nor banjoist Wardlaw are known to have verified this alleged collaboration, yet it has been cursorily treated as a fact in various reputable texts. Some of such texts claim that Wardlaw and Egstrom came together in 1936, whereas others point more conservatively to an unspecified time within Norma's high school years. If it truly happened, the professional collaboration between the singer and the banjoist may have been too short to merit much of a mention from either party. (Perchance it consisted of one or two performances, while Wardlaw's traveling band was passing through North Dakota, and playing in the halls and the radio stations of Jamestown or Valley City? ... Or perhaps it is nothing but incorrect, mistaken information.)




V. Jamestown (Chapter 2)

Norma Deloris graduated from Wimbledon's high school on May 27, 1937, merely one day after she had turned 17. (A good student, she had skipped one grade in elementary school.) With school no longer taking a large portion of her time, she fully set her sights on a professional career as a singer. To pursue this long-held dream, Miss Egstrom moved to the region's biggest city, Jamestown -- where she had been born, and where she had spent the first eight years of her life. "After graduation," she wrote in her autobiography, "I couldn't wait to get out in the world. I kissed Daddy, took my meager belongings, and left for Jamestown."

(Not long afterwards, her father and her stepmother would also move to Jamestown. For Marvin Egstrom, 1937 was actually a year of moving back and forth between Jamestown, where he had spent time substituting for an ailing agent in the early months of the year, and Wimbledon, when he had to be brought from Jamestown for convalescence, after suffering a heart attack. In the second half of 1937, Marvin ended up taking a regular position at the Jamestown depot. His wife, who had family in Jamestown and visited the city with some frequency, left Wimbledon in October 1937, moving to the city with him. Norma, who was the first of the three to leave Wimbledon, did not live with them, however. As someone who had finished school, she probably considered herself fit to live on her own.)

After renting a "clean and safe" but dark-as-a-dungeon room in the corner of a house's basement, the 17-year-old girl divided her time between two jobs, one waitressing at a coffee shop and the other singing in the airwaves. Norma was heard on radio station KRMC, which was located in the very same Gladstone Hotel where she had found employment as the coffee shop's relief girl. Little is known about the KRMC job; the only concrete detail that Lee ever gave in extant interviews pertained to her musical accompaniment, "a local minister’s daughter" that "played pretty good blues." [Addendum, 2014: According to biographer James Gavin, who had access to clips collected from local newspapers, this 15-minute show was airing three times a week by July of 1937, and would bestow on Norma the nickname "Sunshine Girl."]

The clientele that came to the hotel included members of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, the city's minor league baseball team. Bill Sawyer, one of the players (previously with the major league Cleveland Indians, and later to become a professor at Western Reserve University) took a brotherly interest in the waitress that the other team members enjoyed teasing, and whom he had heard singing over the KRMC airwaves. Mindful that he had a friend who was a program manager at a station in Fargo, Sawyer arranged an audition for Miss Egstrom there.

(Images seen above and below: Early Twentieth-century photos of a main street in Jamestown, the city where Norma Deloris Egstrom was born in 1920, and of the Gladstone Hotel, where she both sang and worked as a waitress in mid-1937. The photo of Jamestown's Fifth Avenue South was actually taken on the very year of Norma's birth. Below, two postcards show the way that the hotel looked for much of the first half of the twentieth century. Once located on 412 St. W., it burned down in 1968.)






VI. Fargo (Chapter 1)


Ken Kennedy, program manager of Fargo's radio station WDAY, hired the teenager right after she finished her audition, for which she had sung "These Foolish Things" (October 1937). Since he also decided to put Norma Deloris on the air that very day, Kennedy came up with a professional name on the spot: Peggy Lee. According to various sources, his rationale for the choice was that Norma looked like a Peggy to him, and that Peggy Lee "sound[ed] like such a beautiful blonde name." In a slightly different version, reported by elderly Jamestown resident Violet Colberg on the year of the artist's passing, Kennedy would have "said Norma Egstrom didn't have the snap a 'blonde bombshell' required. He proposed her stage name Peggy Lee."

Peggy Lee gave her own version or recollection of the event many times. It is essentially the same story offered in the previous paragraph, although she made no references to her physical appearance. According to the singer, Kennedy said: " You have to change your name ... Norma Egstrom ... it doesn't sound right. Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Norma Egstrom? No, won't do at all. Lee me see. You look like a Peggy. Peggy Lynn. No - Peggy Lee." All her other recounts of the event (in print) are consistent with the one just quoted, the only notable variation being the names that Kennedy went through before settling on 'Peggy Lee.' For instance, Lee told the following to Fred Hall in the 1970s, when he went to her home for an interview: "All [Ken] said was, 'You look like a Peggy. What goes with Peggy? Peggy Schwartz? No. Peggy Lee.' "

(Peter Richmond's biography of Peggy Lee offers an altogether different version of events. According to that biographer, Norma Deloris Egstrom would have chosen her artistic name in honor of a neighboring family that consisted of a single mother nicknamed Peggy and her children, one of whom was a 4-year-old boy named Duane Lee. However, this claim has not been substantiated anywhere else. Through her career, the singer consistently stated that Kennedy came up with her new name at audition time in either 1937 or 1938. On the other hand, Richmond's alternate story has been publicly aired only in his book, and its source lacks support. The story comes straight from a member of the aforementioned neighboring family, who says he was about six years old when Egstrom changed her name. Especially problematic in this account is the family member's recollection that the first time they saw and heard of the brand new name was on the marque of the Powers Hotel, shortly after Lee had pointed him in the sign's direction. Since Peggy Lee's gig at the Powers Hotel did not take place until 1940, the chronology is suspect.)

"I like the name –- it has been very good to me," Peggy playfully told an interviewer in 1968. "I like it better than some of the names you hear now – such as The Electric Prune."




(Images seen above: Two photos of Fargo's Black Building, where 17-year-old Norma Deloris Egstrom was re-named Peggy Lee in late 1937. At the time, the 100,000-square-foot building, 8-story structure was North Dakota's second tallest building, and the highest architectural facility that Miss Egstrom had ever seen -- a circumstance which led her to assume that it was as tall as New York's famed Empire State Building. Completed in 1930, the building housed not only George Black's Sears Roebuck department store but also offices for doctors, attorneys, loan and insurance agencies. Most importantly for Norma Deloris, it also housed the facilities of radio station WDAY, whose program director Ken Kennedy hired and gave her the name with which she would become nationally famous. The third image above is a photo of Ken Kennedy -- born Ken Sydness -- in his young days. The last photo shows Kennedy and Lee during a comeback visit that she made to North Dakota in 1950. She would not make another visit until 1975. "My beloved Ken Kennedy and his dear wife Jeannette, were so, so very much a part of my career," she said to an interviewer in 1976, "I saw them just last May when I was there. And saw all of my wonderful friends back there. They gave me an honorary doctor’s degree of music.")

The newly christened Peggy Lee was heard twice or thrice a week on her own radio show and daily in a fifteen-minute segment that was part of WDAY's Noonday Variety Show. [Addendum, 2014: According to biographer James Gavin, the name of the show was Songs By Peggy Lee and it was billed as a ten-minute recital. Its premiere took place on Saturday, October 16, 1937 at 7:45 p.m.] Lee and the radio station's musicians also formed a quintet that billed itself as Four Jacks And A Queen, with the four musicians accompanying her in the radio show. Furthermore, Lee became part of the station's Hayloft Jamboree, a dance-barn spectacle that traveled around town on a weekly basis, and for which Peggy assumed a farmgirl persona known as Freckled-Face Gertie. The freckle-faced farmgirl's trademark attire consisted of a gingham dress and a straw hat. For those Hayloft Jamboree shows, she also sang sometimes with another local ensemble, which went by the name of Lem Hawkins And The Georgie Porgie Breakfast Food Boys. At WDAY, Lee also took on assignments such as regularly filing the radio station's music scores and assorted music paperwork, a task that familiarized her with the work of the great songwriters of the American songbook. Less enticing tasks included addressing envelopes and wrapping prizes for contestants.




(Images shown above: Two photos of Peggy Lee and two photos of men with whom she worked at WDAY-radio. One of the men, Ken Kennedy, is seen hard at work, preparing a script for one of the shows broadcast by WDAY, where he served as program director. Both this picture of Kennedy and the first photo of Peggy were included in a WDAY brochure, where the following caption can also be found: "Friends, we'd like to have you meet Miss Peggy Lee, the newest addition to our entertaining staff. Peggy hails from Jamestown and has been with the station about four months. Of course, you know Peg is single. Guess she hasn't any hobbies, all we know is that she's [sic] rather sing than eat. On her broadcosts [sic] she is heard along with the Four Jacks. She sang with orchestras before joining the staff of entertainers." The other two photos show two actors in character. One of them is Peggy Lee herself, posing and dressed for her role as Freckle-faced Gertie, the persona that she adopted during the station's Hayloft Jamboree dance-barn shows. The man is Lem Hawkins, with whose Georgie Porgie Breakfast Boys she sang occasionally.)

In Fargo, the former Miss Egstrom combined once again radio work with manual labor. This time, she worked at a bakery and, more briefly, as a waitress. From 4:00 in the afternoon to 4:00 in the morning, she sliced and wrapped bread, a job that paid 35¢ per hour. It became her main job in this city. Her waitressing job at a Greek restaurant proved short-lived because, in Peggy Lee's own words, she had a tendency to "flunk as a waitress."

After leaving the bakery at 4 a.m. and coming home, Peggy Lee would barely allocate a few hours for sleeping. She would get up at 9:00 in the morning, so that she could be on time for the Noonday Variety Show rehearsals at WDAY. The radio station work paid $1.50 per show. She made additional money at the station by voicing commercials, for which she was paid 50¢ per line. Lee herself wrote a few commercials, too. Made for a local jeweler, the commercials were "about love and blue-white diamonds."

Thus Norma Deloris Egstrom, now under the name of Peggy Lee, continued her search for a permanent career as a singer. As part of this search, she had moved from her small town of Wimbledon to a bigger city (Jamestown) and then, from that big city, to North Dakota's largest city, Fargo.


VII. Hollywood (Chapter 1)

Around March 1938, Peggy Lee undertook an even more ambitious geographical move: a trip to Hollywood. (The singer's autobiography makes clear that she was indeed in California around Eastertime, but the year suggested by her writings is 1937 instead of 1938. However, Lee's own mention of the Easter period refutes the possibility of the year being 1937, because at that time she had yet to graduate from high school.) After receiving $30 for the watch that she had been given as a graduation present, she took off with her father's railroad pass, and then paid for a Greyhound bus ticket, eventually arriving in Hollywood with just $18. Therein she found out that the friend who had invited her to stay (without the permission of the friend's landlord) had just lost her job. As a result, the barest of necessities (rent payment, food shopping) turned into challenges for both girls.

Initially, Lee only found jobs of the white collar type: as a short-order cook ($9.00 per week, lasting only through the Easter break, the time period in which a large number of students were in town), waitress, seller of gardenia flowers (actually a job that she took on not in her first weeks, but a bit later than the other ones mentioned herein), even carnival barker ($1 a day at the Balboa Fun Zone). She also moved out of her friend's apartment, renting a little yellow cabin in Balboa Beach, which was the area where she found work as both a cook and a carnival barker. Such jobs didn't pay enough to live comfortably, but Lee made ends meet by "making a little run every day to get fish -- mostly barracuda -- from the fishing boats, day-old bread from a bakery, oranges that a nice man let [her] pick from his trees, and day-old milk from a dairy." (Hers was by no means an isolated case. At Balboa, she "found a lot of other teenagers in the same impoverished situation," yet most of them were not being as resourceful as she.)

The teenager's prospects improved when she successfully auditioned for a singing job at the Jade Lounge (also known by the alternate names of the Jade Dragon Lounge, the Jade Supper Club, and the Jade Palace Café). The Jade was located in Hollywood Boulevard, "which at the time was beautifully clean, as polished as someone's marble living room" -- according to Lee's recollections. Originally the job paid $2.50 a night, tips included. From the total amount, 50¢ had to be re-paid to impresario Lawrence B. "Larry" Potter, owner of not only the Jade but also many another club in the California area (e.g., the Peacock Lane on Western and Hollywood Boulevard, the Round-Up on 3550 Wilshire Boulevard, and the Supper Club on San Fernando Valley's 11345 Ventura Boulevard). If we are to believe a 1955 tabloid article for which Potter appears to have been interviewed, after just a few days Lee's salary was bumped to $30.00 a week by the impresario. Lee refers only to "two dollars a night" in her autobiography.

Leaving aside the matter of payment, the Jade was good to Lee. From Potter and his wife Sue through master of ceremonies Chuck Barclay (who had hired the young girl immediately after her audition) and a waitress named Irene (who would take on the role of Lee's guardian) to bartender Bob and bar boy Paul, most everybody who worked in this establishment was protective of the innocent-looking girl. Nearly two decades later, Potter would remark that the girl who worked for him at the Jade looked like "an Oregon apple -- cornfed, milk-cheeked and with hay practically falling out of her hair."




(Images shown above: Peggy Lee bids adieu from a departing train, year and occasion unknown. Given the attire -- fancier than in her other early pictures -- the occasion could have been her trip to Hollywood, which she made in early 1938, before she had even turned 18. One of my sources actually states that she is indeed leaving for Hollywood, and that the friends who are bidding her adieu include Edith Gould Butcher, a pianist whose classic music program was broadcast from Valley City's KOVC. Nevertheless, I am not certain that this source is fully reliable. The next two photos show The Jade Lounge, on 6619 Hollywood Boulevard, as it looked in the 1930s. It was a first-floor, corner-street Hollywood Boulevard establishment, with advertising signs in both its front and side façades. The front sign read "The Jade -- Dinner Cocktails Lunch," whereas the side sign said "Jade - Dine Cocktails Jest." The façade might look unappealing or at least unremarkable, but its interior was another matter altogether, as detailed below.)

In newspaper and magazines of the period, the Jade was advertised as follows: "Sensational! No other like in America. Vivid in Gold Leaf and Chinese Red Lacquer; dimly lighted . . . cool . . . restful. The finest of foods and liquors served in an atmosphere of Oriental Splendor. Continuous entertainment nightly - NO minimum or cover charge." For Lee, the Jade was filled with an air of mystery. She was struck by its darkness and oriental decor, by "the smell of the gardenias and the Chinese food, the waitresses in their satin coats and satin pants moving silently about in the thick carpet, carrying cooling drinks, egg rolls and butterfly shrimp."

The Jade also operated as a music club with a mixed clientele that came from many walks of life. Lee remarks that, on any given evening at the restaurant's bar, you were likely to "see a movie star, a G-man or someone looking for a tourist he could [extort or scalp]." Performers over the years included not only Peggy Lee but also (she tells us in her autobiography) various name artists who back then were starting their careers (Hal March, Lillian Randolph, Phil Moore, The Brown Sisters, Louis DeProng) or who had momentarily fallen hard on their luck, thus becoming willing to accept the low fees that the Jade offered. Celebrated New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band also played a gig at the Jade in 1945, two years into his career's comeback and seven years after Lee had performed there. By that time, the Jade was calling itself the Jade Palace Café and its address was being given as 6619-6621 Hollywood Boulevard, rather than just 6619 Hollywood Boulevard. Such details suggest that Potter might have expanded the club some time in the early or mid-1940s, after having bought -- or having or rented -- adjacent space.





(Images shown above and below: Memorabilia from the no-longer-in-existence Jade Lounge. The second photo above shows Henry Clive's The Budda-Pest, a 1939 painting that Jade owner Larry Potter commissioned exclusively for exhibition in the lounge. This huge oil on canvas measures 83 inches by 71.5 inches, and can also be seen in a few of the other images herein. In the first photo above [taken in 1942], it hangs on the wall, behind two parties of clients. The oil painting is also seen in two of the photos below, of which one displays a customized Jade matchbox, while the other offers a full color view of the painting itself. Clive's The Budda-Pest was by no means the only piece of art in the establishment, though it might have been the most attention-grabbing. Nudes by James Montgomery Flagg are also said to have adorned the walls -- at least around 1945. It should further be noted that the Buddha drawn by Clive seems to have been one of the Jade's two iconic images. He appears in the restaurant's paper napkins, too; see last photo below. This seemingly well-fed figure might have served as a patron of sorts for the diner place.

Even more iconic that the restaurant's Buddha was the Jade's bar dragon. The border of the bar's countertop was shaped in the form of a dragon, with part of the beast's serpentine body running into the walls. Two of the photos above show the scaly, snake-like border. In the middle photo, the bar's chairs obscure the fact that the lower part of the bar was shaped to look like the dragon's avian-like legs, too, with sets of claws jutting out here and there. The Jade had customized cocktail napkins that featuring a drawing of its dragon -- napkins such as the one seen in the first photo below. Henry Clive also included the dragon in his painting, its head insinuatingly placed between the pinup girl's legs.)






[Addendum, 2014: biographer James Gavin cites a June 4, 1938 Billboard review which briefly evaluates the venue's two female singers, Peggy Lee and Mary Norman, the latter being an older and friendly lady who had been performing at the Jade for a while but would be let go some time after Lee was hired. The Billboard reviewer categorized "both girls" as "adequate for a place of this kind" -- not "sensational" but "lookers" with a clear display of "showmanship." The aforementioned pianist Phil Moore served as their accompanist.]

Lee's gig at the Jade was cut short by illness. Variously taking their toll on the singer were an inadequate diet, poor sleeping habits, exposure to the smog of Los Angeles and, more generally, the side effects of living on a low income in an expensive city. At a clinic that she began frequenting, Lee received plenty of warning about her deteriorating condition, with her throat diagnosed as being in particularly bad shape. She wound up fainting onstage and being taken to the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center for a check-up. As if such a wake-up call wasn't enough, she had previously undergone a frightening experience at work, when she had naively accepted a man's offer to drive her home, and had barely escaped the man's apparent plans to sink her into either white slavery or prostitution. Even after those critical happenings, Lee still persevered. A third, more imminent death scare finally made her follow a doctor's advice to leave town, undergo throat surgery, and spend a period of resting near her family: what was intended to be a fun time spent at the beach turned into a crisis when Lee was caught by a riptide, almost drowning. Shortly afterwards, she wrote to her older sisters in North Dakota, and arrangements were made for her to come back right away, to stay with them.




(Images seen above: As a curiosity, I am including herein photos of two current Hollywood Boulevard establishments, one of which is likely to be located in the premises that were once occupied by the Jade. Both establishments are found in Hollywood Boulevard between the avenues Cherokee and Whitley, just like the Jade once was. The Jade's address, 6619-6621 Hollywood Boulevard, corresponds with the establishment in the second photo, Napoleon Perdis' Make-up Academy. Or rather, the digits 6621 are the ones in correspondence; the street numbers jump from 6615 to 6621. Bear in mind, however, that the Jade was a corner establishment -- as shown in the black & white photos located near the beginning of this entry. Yet the Napoleon academy is not a corner establishment. The northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue is currently occupied by the Geisha House, which is the red-painted Japanese restaurant and lounge seen in the first photo. Its address is 6633 Hollywood Boulevard. The Geisha House might have his taken over the location that once belonged to the Jade Dragon Lounge. If so, it could be said that the premises have kept a fashionably Asian atmosphere. The chic interior of the Geisha House is generally cited as its biggest draw-in. Incidentally, the star of Asian-American actor Pat Morita is among those found in the sidewalk that surrounds the Geisha House. Meanwhile, the stars of Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre and JM Kerrigan adorn the sidewalk in front of the current 6619 address. As for Peggy Lee's own star, it can be found at 6319 Hollywood Boulevard, between Ivar Avenue and Vine Street, where it was placed on February 8, 1960. Next to hers is the star of Sir Laurence Olivier. The third image above shows the star's location -- right under the leafiest of the visible trees.)


VIII. Fargo (Chapter 2) And Grand Forks

Thus, around August of 1938, Peggy Lee left Hollywood for Hillsboro (Trail County, North Dakota), where three of her siblings and a friend were sharing a tiny house, along with a nephew and a pet dog. Very shortly after her arrival, she underwent a tonsillectomy that -- partially due, in her estimation, to malnutrition from her recent days in Hollywood -- resulted in serious complications. The surgical procedure caused hemorrhaging and required hospitalization at Deaconess Hospital in nearby Grand Forks. One of the most trying periods of her youth, the recuperation period kept the singer in a state of anxiety, stemming from the fear that she would never be able to sing again. Fortunately, her vocal cords were not irreparably damaged, although she would require additional surgery in upcoming years.

After about two and a half months of recuperation in Hillsboro, Peggy Lee went back to work. She set her sights on Fargo, where she could find better opportunities of employment by re-establishing contact with old friends. And indeed, she returned to Fargo's WDAY in September of 1938, again under the protective tutelage of the station's program director, Ken Kennedy. If the chronology that I have followed herein is correct, Lee must have spent over a year and a half working on and off at the radio station, while also taking on other jobs. [Lack of specific information is the reason for my uncertainty. In Lee's autobiography, this return to WDAY is dispatched in less than half a sentence, with Lee understandably giving more attention to those concurrent experiences that were brand new to her.]

Thanks to Ken Kennedy's recommendation, Peggy Lee also began to perform at a venue in the city, The Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop. [Addendum, 2014. Biographer James Gavin gives the starting date as December 1, 1938.] Organist Frank Norris served as her accompaniment during this first of two periods at the hotel's coffee shop.

Since neither the hotel nor the city's other commercial establishments had regularly featured live music entertainment before, this gig was a novel concept in Fargo. A 1948 magazine article states that Lee was the one who talked the hotel manager into letting her sing at the coffee shop, by proposing a two-week unpaid tryout to him. I have not found further corroboration for this particular claim.




(Image shown above: Advertisement for The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, showing the diner's own side entrance, and also pictures of the hotel's owner along with his four sons. Tom Powers was actually one of the men who warmly greeted Peggy Lee at Jamestown's Hector Airport in 1950, when the star made her aforementioned return to the region. At that time, Powers enthusiastically told the press that Norma Egstrom had once been "the star of the only high school nightclub in the Northwest" -- the latter being a reference to her successful gigs at his hotel's coffee shop.)


In the spring of 1939, Peggy Lee found a temporary job as the singer of the Belmont Café, on North Third Street, in Grand Forks. Lee's autobiography contains a couple of mentions of the Belmont Café gig. Found in her autobiography, Lee's one story about performing at this café is a funny one: "My sister Della made a gown for me from a bolt of Grandmother's malines. It was so fragile and beautiful, and she sewed it all by hand ... [When] I was playing a little place in Grand Forks called the Belmont Cafe, I wore this same gown, and, when the spotlight hit it, the malines disintegrated and fell in pieces, and I was left standing in my slip."

Lee's gig at the Belmont seems to have ended upon the return of Jane Leslie, the vacationing singer for whom Lee had been substituting. However, and as will be evident from a quote farther down below, Leslie remembered the circumstances a bit differently, implying that she (Leslie) was recruited for the job because Lee had left it. [Addendum, 2014. According to biographer James Gavin, Leslie was back at the Belmont in September 1939. Gavin also makes reference to a half-an-hour Peggy Lee radio show on Grand Forks' KFJM, advertised by newspaper ads as a showcase for the "popular, pretty songstress" who was "one of WDAY's outstanding entertainers." Presumably paid by radio station KFJM, the ad's dutiful reference to another radio station raises the suspicion that, once again, Ken Kennedy could have been involved in the singer's acquisition of this job.] In any case, Lee's decision to take this short-lived gig in Grand Forks had been probably dictated by financial necessity and by the gig's proximity to her sisters' home in Hillsboro.




(Images shown above: A late 1930s photo of the Belmont Café, where Peggy Lee sang for a short spell in 1939. In the photo, you may be able to spot the sign with the café's name if you look on the left side of the street, right across the Hotel Dakota sign. Jane Leslie -- née Larrabee -- was the singer who replaced Lee at the Belmont. In the second of the photos seen above, both Lee and Leslie are shown, performing during a later period of their respective careers. "I was sent up from Minnesota, where I lived," Leslie told jazz critic Whitney Balliett, "to replace Peggy in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she was a great favorite -- Peggy and the Collegians. Then we both worked in Fargo. I was at one end of town and she was at the other, in Powers Coffee Shop, and we became friends. In 1941, she got a job with Benny Goodman at the College Inn in Chicago, and I was at the Bridgewater Beach Hotel, and we roomed together. When Benny went to New York for a long gig at the New Yorker Hotel, we rented an apartment in the Village. It was a basement place with a garden, and we thought it was fantastic." The third of the photos above, taken in early 1943, shows the roommates at that apartment, listening to a record. In her 1989 autobiography, Lee also writes about her friendship with Leslie: "We were doing so well at the Powers that our competition, Le Chateau, had to import a singer from Minneapolis! ... I [had] met Janie the first time in Grand Forks at the Belmont Café. She was so pretty and had the biggest soft brown eyes. [Janie] was, she says now, sizing me up, and I was probably doing the same ... When Jane arrived [in Fargo] we were supposed to be in competition ... I thought she was the cat's pyjamas ... Competition or not, she turned out to be one of the best friends I have ever had in my life, and I'm happy that I could do her a good turn by introducing her to Leonard Feather, the noted jazz critic. They are still happily married." According to Feather himself, he had heard Leslie on 52nd Street, but had not met her. Previous to their meeting, Jane Leslie had probably seen Leonard Feather as well -- around, in the nightclub scene -- but Lee was the one who, in 1945, formally introduced them to one another. The day after he met Leslie, Feather proposed, and they were married just a few weeks later. The Feathers indeed remained together from 1945 until 1994, when he passed away. The fourth photo above shows the Feathers with their daughter Billie Jane Lee Lorraine, who was named after godmother Billie Holiday, mother Jane, parents'-godmother-of-sorts Peggy Lee, and the Nat-King-Cole-associated jazz standard Sweet Lorraine. “It seemed appropriate to name her after her mother and after Peggy Lee, who had brought us together,” explained Feather in one of his books. Now all grown-up -- having been born in 1948 -- and best known in the music scene by just one first name, Lorraine Feather grew up to become a singer as well, and was among those who performed at Peggy Lee's funeral in 2002.)

At some point between September and December 1939, Peggy Lee returned to her singing spot at The Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop, whose owners were keen on re-hiring her as part of an ongoing upgrade of their facilities. Her accompanist was now a young organist by the name of Lloyd Collins, who would develop a crush on her. "She made Dolly Parton look bad," he was still saying more than 60 years later, when he was interviewed by biographer Peter Richmond; "she was just so beautiful."

By all accounts, Peggy Lee's return to the Powers Hotel was a highly successful one, earning the performer and the establishment an enthusiastic clientele of regulars, most of them college and college-bound students. Lee did two evening shows on every day of the week except Sunday, when she might have been off initially, but eventually was asked to come in for a matinee performance. Most of the shows were two hours long, with a few lasting half an hour less and a couple lasting longer. The longest, on Saturday nights, was scheduled from 10:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. During this period, the singer remained in the airwaves as well: 15 minutes of the Lee-and-Collins shows were broadcast by WDAY twice a week.

A couple of sources state that, at some point during this period, or perhaps a bit earlier (either in 1939 or in late 1938) the still somewhat reserved and shy singer enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course, with the purpose of gaining more confidence in public. Such sources have made the uncorroborated assumption that the Carnegie course played a role in her success with audiences at the Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop. (Some witnesses, including the subject herself, have suggested that her behavior was imbued in shyness and insecurity. When she was much younger, Norma Deloris had endured derisive comments from her stepmother. The comments ran a wide spectrum, covering her skills, or lack thereof, her attitude and, especially, her physique. "She was constantly saying my head was too small for my body and my hands were too big," Lee would candidly share in her autobiography. "I was all wrong. She would also say, 'You will come home with a big belly,' but I had no idea what that meant." Min's cruel remarks had caused a certain degree of self-consciousness that Peg-the-performer had difficulty shaking off. In the interest of providing a fuller portrait of the budding artist, I should also add herein that Norma Deloris Egstrom was remembered as a self-assured, bold go-getter by other people who met during her teens.)

Financially, and in spite of her success at the Powers Hotel, Lee's prospects were still grim. While she was being paid more than ever before ($15.00), the number of mouths to feed at her household was higher than she had experienced before. The twenty-year-old workhorse had rented an apartment and asked her two older sisters, young nephew, brother Clair and family friend (Ossie Hovde) to leave Hillboro and come live with her. They had done so. Unfortunately, the brother and his friend were not gainfully or steadily employed, thus contributing only minimally and sporadically. Older sister Della was ill, and her song was still a child. Only beloved sister Marianne -- who had remained the homemaker and the caretaker of both Della and her son -- would eventually find a job as a receptionist. On the various occasions in which Lee found herself falling behind in her rent payments, she again relied on her musical talent to save the day. Lee talked their first-floor landlady into granting extensions by playing schottisches for her. (Lee did so in a piano owned by the landlady, who was obviously a huge fan of such polka-oriented dance music.)




(Images seen above: Peggy Lee with Lloyd Collins, in performance at the Powers Hotel's Coffee shop in 1940 (first two images) and reunited ten years later, during Lee's return visit (last image) to Jamestown, Valley City, and Millarton. The central image is a 1940 ad whose caption reads as follows: "After a hard day's work, it's easy to relax with gay music, delicious food and perfect air conditioning at the Powers Coffee Shop."


IX. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Some time in the summer of 1940 (definitely by August), Peggy Lee moved to another big city. "Ken Kennedy got me a job with his cousin ... Sev Olsen," explained Lee in an interview conducted decades later. The Sev Olsen Orchestra was a nine-piece band that Olsen had recently put together. They needed a female vocalist. The band's pianist, Willy Peterson, auditioned and officially hired her. As had also been the case with the ensemble with which Lee had played in Valley City (Doc Haines'), most members of this orchestra were college students, including Olsen himself (back then an aspiring dentist enrolled in the University of Minnesota). But this band was more fortunate than the Haines group: Olser and company had one regular, steady gig was at the Radisson Hotel's Flame Room in Minneapolis. Lee was especially elated when, as a result of this hiring, she was given lodging at the plush Radisson. As for the performing room itself, "it was fairly small, good food, good drinks -- a favorite room for professional people," the band's trumpet player Lloyd Luckman told Lee biographer Peter Richmond. On a more irregular basis, the group performed in other local venues as well (e.g., The Marigold Ballroom), with Peggy Lee in tow as their canary.

"She was just gorgeous," the aforementioned Luckman added during his interview with biographer Richmond. "And she had a gorgeous voice. She didn't need a big accompaniment, and she didn't need hyped-up music. She could make a song into a single moment. Her voice was very good -- but I'll tell you, her presentation and everything -- you could hear a pin drop. For lots of the things she did, there was practically no accompaniment -- maybe Willy Peterson tinkling on the piano -- but she didn't need anything else." Peterson's then-fiancée, Jeanne Arland Peterson, a singer herself, made similar statements about Lee: '"She sang so well, I was jealous of her. She was quiet, reserved -- didn't blow her own horn at all -- but so able to do her craft. She was a good-looking lady, too." (Financially, however, Mrs. Peterson recalls that Lee's budget seemed very tight, to the point that Peterson once bought her a cheap pair of earrings. Willy Peterson is said to have lent her money, too, so that she could leave town for the next stage of her career.)





(Images seen above: A collage showing the members of Sev Olsen And His Orchestra, with Sev featured in the center, and various images of the Radisson Hotel, where Peggy Lee and the orchestra performed together. Promoted as "the finest hotel between Chicago and the West Coast," this 16-story hotel (the Radisson chain's original facility ) opened in 1909 on 35 South Seventh Street. The colored postcard shows the façade as it looked five years after its opening. The black & white photo was taken a couple of years before Lee performed there; the hotel occupied just the second of the two buildings in clear view. In 1940, Peggy Lee and The Sev Olsen Orchestra were regularly performing at the hotel's Flame Room, which remained in the hotel's mezzanine level from its opening in 1925 until the mid-1950s. The fourth image seen above is likely to date from around 1957, when the hotel was expanded and renovated. Part of the renovation involved the relocation of the Flame Room to a space near the lobby. The last of the images presents an in-house ensemble, the Golden Strings, allegedly performing in the Blue Room, sometimes in the 1960s or early 1970s. Displayed on the penultimate image is the hotel's Pierre Lounge, which one source identifies as another room in which Peggy Lee performed. The hotel would close in 1981 and would be torn down in 1982, to make way for the new Radisson that opened at the same location in 1987.)


During this period (ca. August to October 1940), Peggy Lee was also heard over the airwaves emanating from KSTP, a local radio station which had rented space at the Radisson Hotel. Aside from the sponsor's name, little else is known about these Standard Oil Hour shows, on which Lee seems to have sung regularly. A 1950 article from a local newspaper states that Lee had sung "on the KSTP football show" in 1940.

[Addendum, 2014: Lee also made time to serve as guest vocalist on a swimming-music-dance spectacular. The 1940 Water Follies had come to town for a five-day engagement at the Minneapolis Auditorium, to be enacted in late November and/or early December of 1940. According to biographer James Gavin, who had access to a review in the December 4, 1940 issue of Variety, Lee's involvement was actually limited to singing just the closing number, "God Bless America."  Apparently panned by critics and ignored by the general audience, this low-budget show must have left Minneapolis without receiving any fanfare.]

Years later, the singer reminisced about her stay in Minneapolis with pleasure, describing it as a busy but gratifying stage of her career. "We did three shows a day -- noon, supper, and then a late show," she declared. "Between shows, I was busy with radio work and trying to improve my voice and style ... [E]ven though I was busy, I did have time to go to Lake Calhoun in the summer time and I enjoyed swimming and boating there when I could get away. I think one of the reasons I liked Minneapolis so much was the fact that the people in the audience were nice to sing to, they were appreciative and they were the right kind of audience for a girl like me who was just getting started on a vocal career."


X. St. Louis, Missouri

When the nationally known Will Osborne Orchestra came to Minneapolis to play at the Nicollet Hotel, its bandleader faced a momentary obstacle. Per the policies of that hotel's music room, orchestras had to feature a female vocalist. Osborne's band confer with various instrumentalists who also tried vocals on his shows (pianist Dick Rogers, fiddler Dale Jones), but he had no canary at the time.

According to a few magazine articles, the bandleader had caught Peggy Lee's radio broadcasts on the Standard Oil show, proceeding to contact the singer on the basis of what he had heard over the airwaves. Lee auditioned for him and was offered the band's vocal chair while she was still a canary with Sev Olsen's Orchestra. I have found no corroboration, however, for the possibility that Lee ever joined Osborne when he was at the Nicollett. Osborne might have hired another local canary on a temporary basis, while Lee was making arrangements to leave not only Sev Olsen's group but also the city of Minneapolis.

The Will Osborne band was actually on tour during this period, and the Nicollet had been booked as just one of the stops along the way. A November 15, 1940 article in the Valley City Times Record mentions that, after spending an unspecified amount of time playing at the Nicollet, the group was indeed scheduled to take to the road, on November 4, 1940.

The same November 15, 1940 article makes the announcement that Lee "has signed" with the band. In Peter Richmond's biography, it is stated that Lee left Minneapolis on the second week of November 1939, with the express purpose of joining the touring band. Such a date does not fit the chronology presented herein, but the second week of November 1940 would.

During this touring period, the band must have played mostly within the Missouri and Illinois area. Band and canary are also known to have gone to Chicago briefly, in either November or December of 1940, for one or more appearances at that city's State-Lake Theater. (Photos of the State-Lake Theater can be seen below, in entry XII, which is dedicated to Chicago.)

But their longest-held venue during this period was St. Louis' Fox Theatre, where they were booked into the New Year. [Addendum, 2014: In his book, biographer James Gavin quotes from a pertinent Variety review of a Will Osborne concert at the Fox. Published on January 1, 1941, the reviewer writes very positively about Peggy Lee: "the gal thrills Body And Soul and had to come back to do Exactly Like You before the customers would cease the palm-pounding." My belated inspection of this review allows for a few supplementary details of possible interest. The Variety reviewer had seen the show on the night of December 27, 1940, when Osborne and the band had opened with his theme "The Gentleman Awaits," which had then been followed by another instrumental, "A Million Dreams Ago." Lee is described as the Osborne mob's "blonde featured vocalist ... [i]n a striking black silk evening gown with a broad gold wait band." Her two vocal contributions did not actually happen until well into the show; they were preceded by not only more pieces from Osborne's band but also tap dancing and the talents of three local acts, all of them contest winners, some of them singers.]

Once finished with their appearances in the Minneapolis-Missouri-Illinois area, the group was slated to continue traveling toward their final destination, the West Coast.




(Images seen above: drummer and vocalist Will Osborne, whose singing established him as a rival of Rudy Vallee and Russ Columbo in the 1930s, and whose 17-piece orchestra would appear in various 1940s Hollywood films. The other photos above show Missouri's so called Fabulous Fox Theatre. The front shot of the theater dates from 1937 -- just a few years before the booking of the Will Osborne Orchestra there, with Peggy Lee as band vocalist. Lee describes it in her autobiography as "enormous and beautiful." An above-quoted Variety review of one of Will Osborne's 1940 appearances at this theatre states that it sat 5,000. Built in 1929, William Fox's movie and concert theater still stands and operates today. It did close in 1978, re-opening in 1982 after undergoing a full renovation.)


In or around early 1941, while still working with Will Osborne, Peggy Lee received a job offer from Raymond Scott, who had just assembled a touring band. (Best known as the composer of "Mountain High, Valley Low" and of oddly titled instrumentals such as "Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals," Scott would go on to host the popular show Hit Parade, and in time would also become an inventor of various electronic devices. Much of his musical oeuvre became immortalized through its ample use in Warner Brothers' classic cartoons of the late 1930s and 1940s.)

Recurrent throat problems forced Peggy Lee to not only decline Scott's offer but also take a leave of absence from her job with the Osborne orchestra. This time the ailment was, in her own words, "a lump in my throat." She had to undergo surgery once more. Her condition is actually mentioned in a review of Osborne's January 3, 1941 show, published on the January 8, 1941 issue of Variety magazine.  The reviewer lets  readers know that Lee is absent or "sidetracked for this show because of an operation on her throat."  Readers are also informed that "Will Osborne is making his farewell personal as a band maestro with the end of his current engagement at the Fox as he is breaking up his outfit to trek to Hollywood to produce musical talkers." By the time that the singer had recovered, Osborne had indeed disbanded his group. In Lee's own estimation, she spent about three months with Will Osborne's orchestra.

(Just like her earlier tonsillectomy, this later procedure brought its own set of unforeseen tribulations. As a sedated Lee was being moved from the operating table to a cart, she was accidentally dropped on the hospital's hard floor, landing on her face and breaking her front teeth, which had to be capped by a dentist. But the tonsillectomy itself was a success, at least for the immediate years to come. In later decades, she would be periodically plagued by more vocal cord problems, including nodules.)


XI. Hollywood (Chapter 2) And Peggy Lee's Early Singing Style (Take 1)

Following her recovery from surgery, a jobless but resolved Peggy Lee took advantage of a prospect at hand. Some members of the disbanded Will Osborne Orchestra were driving back to California, and she left with them (early 1941). Thus Lee landed back in Hollywood. She quickly resumed work at The Jade Lounge, and this time around she found a more convenient apartment nearby, on Whitley Avenue.

While performing at the Jade, Peggy Lee met lyricist Jack Brooks, of "Ole Buttermilk Sky" fame. Brooks told Lee that she would be a suitable addition to a Palm Springs establishment known as the Doll House. Soon thereafter, she was performing at this celebrity-frequented haunt which advertised itself as the oldest restaurant in Palm Springs.




(Images seen above: Two mementoes from the Doll House and a mid-1950s photo of the restaurant at its best-known location, 1032 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Before the 1940s, it had been located on the west side of Belardo Road, two streets south of Arenas Road -- both roads also part of Palm Springs. The first of the above-seen images flaunts the house's motto -- "for food, fun, frivolity" -- and includes the "doll face" logo that was featured in most of the restaurant's artifacts. One such artifact is the matchbox captured in the second photo. This is actually the backside of the matchbox; its front side shows the exact same design seen in the first photo.) {Addendum, August 2015: I have belatedly come across a Facebook page dedicated to the Doll House. It includes the above-seen location photo, which inspired viewed Jeff Schuster to post the following comment: The Doll House was THE PLACE to be for Sunday brunch on the flagstone patio out front. Here you can see the water trough and, behind it, the wishing well at the edge of right frame. I lived next door above the medical bldg., partially visible behind the wishing well. Notice that N. Palm Canyon Dr. had no curbs or sidewalks in the early '50's. The white boulders in front were to discourage parking."}

Most published accounts of the the Doll House's history start off in the post-war period, when the restaurant was bought by George and Ethel Strebe (later known as Ethel Harutun), and when the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich assiduously frequented the place. Some of those accounts wrongly claim that the Doll House opened in 1945, thereby erasing its pre-war history.

Given the lack of extensive literature about the place's early days, the following comments from Peggy Lee's autobiography are particularly worthwhile: "The Doll House, not too surprisingly, was originally the home of some folks named Doll. They started serving dinners because Palm Springs didn't have many, if any, restaurants then. Mr. Wrigley, of the Spearmint gum fortune, loved that sunny place and the story goes that he used to say, 'Let's go to the Doll House for dinner. The name stuck and it became a very popular spot for world travelers and movie stars. I recognized Franchot Tone, Peter Lorre, James Cagney, Jack Benny, Dennis Day and many others, but only Franchot Tone and Peter Lorre talked with me." Obviously, this account of the restaurant's name was the one that Lee had heard, most likely while she was employed there. It could be true, but it could just as well be apocryphal.

Another source states that the Doll house first opened in the 1930s, and that its original owners were named Al Thompson and Jane Manchester. No mention is made of any individuals with the last name of "Doll." {Addendum, August 2015. I have belatedly come across a Facebook page dedicated to the Strebe's Doll House. Of particular interest is the following, comment, left on the page by a viewer name Thom Thompson: "The part of history that is missing is when and from whom George and Ethel Strebe purchased the Doll House. Well, I can answer that question. My father, Albert (Al) Thompson and my aunt Jane Mansfield sold the Doll House to George and Ethel in approximately 1945 just after I was born. My aunt Jane and my father kept the Doll House in Balboa for a time after that. I think that it is important to note that the Doll House was already a huge success and had already established itself as "the place to be and be seen" Peggy Lee had been discovered at the Doll House prior to its sale to George and Ethel." The page also includes an ad said to be from a 1959 magazine, in which we are told that the house was celebrating its 31st year. If the magazine dates from 1959, the ad would be indicating that the Doll House began operations in 1928 -- earlier than other reports' claims. The Facebook page itself gives the restaurant's operating years as "approximately 1930-1966", and mentions the eventual set up of a second Doll House in Balboa.}

The establishment also housed a so-called doll shop, whose souvenirs for sale included actual dolls . Were there any evidence of such a shop's existence back in the 1930s (i.e., during the house's earliest years), we could speculate that the establishment was named after the shop. However, such is not the case: a witness account indicates that the shop was built in the 1950s, and Ethel Strebe is identified as its owner.

At the Doll House, Peggy Lee was sometimes accompanied by the house's Guadalajara Trio, who were also known as the Guadalajara Boys. Many years later, Lee would actually hire them for one of her more latinesque recording dates.




(Extended commentary about the images shown above: The first photo features character actor Peter Lorre and vaudevillian Lew Fields, playing gin rummy at one of the Doll House tables. This photo was taken in 1941, the same year in which Peggy Lee regularly performed there, and in which Lorre himself would talk to her. Since the Doll House was said to have a backroom where gambling was conducted, it may be that Lorre and Fields were in that room when this shot was taken.

The second photo is a 1943 shot of the Doll House's front, spotlighting a soldier and a lady standing by its door. Engraved above the front door is the Spanish word for canteen -- one of various details which suggest that the restaurant might have offered Hispanic food and a Mexican ambience during its early, pre-war years. Post-war, I've come across allusions to the Doll House as a Polynesian restaurant.

The Guadalajara Trio is seen in the last photo. Peggy Lee writes in her 1989 autobiography that, after more than 40 years, she could still hear them performing, in her head. She also quotes, without further clarification, what must have been either their customary greeting to audiences or, otherwise, a line from an often-performed song of theirs: "Tonight will live forever." Life forever was not granted to the Doll House itself, unfortunately: by 1966, it was no more. Its North Palm Canyon Drive premises were taken over by Sorrentino's Steak & Lobster House, which advertised itself as a favorite of Frank Sinatra, and stayed in business until 2002.

On the specific topic of the Guadalajara Trio, I must clarify that the three individuals in the photograph might not necessarily be the same ones with which Peggy Lee sang. I am inclined to believe that they are, but I have no confirmation, and online data about this group is confusing. The trio probably went through various editions or permutations. The three men who played at the Doll House appear to have been Lamberto Leyva, Jesús Castillón, and Mario Santos. It is likely that additional members joined them at the House; such additions could be the reason why they were also known as the Guadalajara Boys. The trio also appeared in various 1940s B movies, such as Abbott & Costello's 1942 flick Rio Rita and the 1945 Cisco Kid western South Of The Rio Grande. In some of those movies, all three members are seen singing and playing guitar, but at the Doll House they could have played additional instruments. Though typically wearing Mexican (mariachi) costumes for their act, the group does not seem to have come straight from Mexico. According to vague commentaries found online, all members might have actually been of Spaniard rather than Mexican heritage. Founder Leyva was born in Arizona, came to Palm Springs in 1939, and was still living there when he passed away at the age of 94, in 2010. There is also a Trío Guadalajara who recorded numerous albums and which was well known in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. During its heyday, all three members of that trio happened to be named José -- Boluda, Ivanco, and Vázquez. I assume that el Trío Guadalajara was either an entirely different group or otherwise a later edition of the Guadalajara Trio that played at the Doll House.)


Peggy Lee claimed to have developed her fondness for soft singing at the Doll House. On a Saturday night, the nightclub was packed and rowdier than usual, partially due to the weekend revelers who were intent on having a jolly old time, and partially on account of Jack Benny, who had come in with the staff of his radio show. "The audience was unusually boisterous," Lee told an interviewer in 1948. "To cope with the noise, I lowered my voice with each successive song. The people soon forgot their bad manners, and I found a kind of delivery I’d been seeking for a long while." Faced with her personalized brand of relaxed, subtly delivered singing, customers felt compelled to quiet down and pay closer attention. "In a moment of intense fear," Lee said to another interviewer, in 1984, "I discovered the power of softness. I was thinking people didn’t want to listen to me, so I’d just sing to myself. They immediately stopped talking."





(Images shown above: Three snapshots of the Doll House while in full operation. Though unfortunately suffering from low quality, the first image and the last one give a fair glimpse of the interior of the Doll House as it looked in the mid-1950s. In the first image, the club's large bar can be seen in the background. The foreground spotlights just a small segment of the crowded table area. In the third photo, notice how the piano seems to be smack in the middle, inside a triangular enclosure that is surrounded by tables on at least two of its three sides. As for the second photo, possibly taken in the 1940s, the festive dancing at hand should provide yet one more impression of how crowded and popular the place could be. Incidentally, two male members of the Guadalajara Boys are visible in that second photo. Also seen is an unidentified woman who, given her attire and positioning, could be a singer with the Boys.)


XII. Chicago

At the Doll House, Peggy Lee's hushed performances were thoroughly enjoyed by Frederick and Lois Mandel, a couple of visiting Chicagoans (ca. May 1941). Frederick was one of the owners of Chicago's Mandel Brothers department chain store, and had recently bought the Detroit Lions franchise. Having repeatedly come to the Doll House to watch Lee onstage, the Mandels talked to their friend Frank Bering, who was also in town with them. They asked him to audition Lee, with a view to hiring her for one of Bering's own establishments.

Bering co-owned Chicago's Ambassador East and West Hotels. It so happened that the facilities of the Ambassador West featured an ideal venue for Lee: The Buttery Room, which specialized in warm, romantic, intimate-sounding music, and which had opened just four years earlier (1938). The room was frequented by a high society clientele and by well-known out-of-towners from the theatre world, such as Ethel Barrymore and Frederic March.

An impromptu audition was scheduled. However, Bering and the Mandels did not show up for the audition until after closing time at the Doll House. Since the Guadalajara Boys (and/or the house's musicians) were already gone by then, a resourceful Lee proposed to go to the Claridge's, another Palm Springs restaurant, and hold the audition there. (I have read one article which states that Lee herself sang regularly at the Claridge's, but I cannot find further support for such a claim anywhere else.) The in-house musicians at the Claridge's were a quartet named The Four Of Us. When Lee and company arrived, The Four Of Us had already packed and stored their musical instruments, but they acquiesced to unpacking them for the audition. Peggy Lee sang "The Man I Love." Bering was particularly taken with the energy and enthusiasm shown by the singer during the audition process, and decided that she was worth hiring for those reasons.

Hence, through the patronage of the Mandels, who even paid for a train ticket to Chicago, Lee moved to the Windy City in the summer of 1941, along with The Four of Us. Lee's new job paid $75.00 a week, plus room service. The Mandels also arranged for her to live in a suite at the Ambassador itself, and to enjoy a half-price discount on anything that she wanted to buy at the hotel. The couple even gave a party for her, to introduce the newcomer to Chicago society. Presumably after receiving some advice (from the Mandels? ... from a Goodman-associated individual?), she also signed with a managing agency.




(Extended commentary about the images seen above: Chicago's twin Ambassador hotels, one west, at 1300 N. State Parkway, the other east, at 1301 N. State Parkway. Both Ambassadors were hailed for their food service and intimate atmosphere. The management was also known for a very accommodating predisposition toward famous guests, beginning right from the time in which the guests arrived at Chicago's train station, where they were promptly picked on limousines. Furthermore, a secret tunnel connected the two hotels, thereby allowing celebrities to move from the facilities of one annex to those of the other, without having to risk going out on the street. The 13-story West hotel had opened in 1924, the 19-story East hotel in 1926. The respective restaurants of these hotels followed a parallel pattern: the West's Buttery Room had opened first, in April 1938, the East's Pump Room a few months later, in October 1938.

During the Ambassadors' heyday, the East hotel was by far the most fashionable and most famous of the two, thanks in large part to its legendarily glamorous Pump Room, which tended to attract a high-profile Hollywood clientele -- Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Frank Sinatra, among many others. In comparison, the West hotel came across as an older and calmer, opulent but sober sister, and the atmosphere at its Buttery Room was quieter, warmer, and far more low-key. In 1941, Peggy Lee was hired to sing in this room, whose interior can be seen in two of the images shown above. The black & white photo of the Buttery was taken in 1965, the color image at an unknown but presumably much earlier time.

A curious detail in the annals of Hollywood history is that one of these Ambassador hotels was immortalized, for ages to come, when its lobby was used to film scenes for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 classic North By Northwest: the Ambassador West ... which is falsely identified in the movie's script as the Ambassador East. Nowadays, neither hotel remains -- not at least by name. In the early 2000s, the West Hotel was reconfigured as a luxury condominium, with each apartment ranging in price from $1.6 to $6 million. The East Hotel closed in 2011 for a full renovation and modernization under new ownership, reopening with the new name of Chicago Public Hotel. In a concession to local demand, the new hotel's fully re-conceived restaurant kept the name Pump Room despite the fact of being an entirely different restaurant -- aside from its inclusion of some memorabilia. In 2010, when president Barack Obama came to town, he stayed not at the East hotel but at the Ambassador condominiums.)


At The Buttery, Peggy Lee's act was seen by a couple of well-known bandleaders who were playing in town: Glenn Miller and Claude Thornhill. Miller personally complimented Lee on her singing. Thornhill (and/or his agency) wanted her to join his band, but nothing came out of this preliminary proposal. Lee surmised that her managing agency did not approve of the idea because Thornhill was signed to a different agency.




(Images seen above: Chicago's State Lake Theater, at 190 North State Street, where Peggy Lee performed with the Will Osborne Orchestra at least once, in November or December of 1940. The first photo is actually from that year, when the establishment was about to undergo some significant changes. The year 1941 actually saw the end of the theater's policy of featuring live acts; from then onwards, its first floor sticked to showing movies only. Also starting around 1940, the building's upper floors would be perennially used as TV and radio station facilities; Oprah Winfrey's now defunct talk show was regularly taped inside the building. Seemingly intent of creating a film-noirish atmosphere for this 1955 shot, filmmaker-to-be Stanley Kubrick took the second of the above-seen photos, at a time in which he worked as a professional photographer. A more mundane, everyday atmospere was captured in the third photo, taken in 1962. Twenty-three years later (1982), this theater, which had opened in 1919, would close. After being substantially torn down, the lot served as the headquarters of Chicago's ABC affiliate WLS-TV. However, the building has seen in a partial return to its historical beginnings in more recent times: a restoration was undertaken during the first decade of the twenty-first century. The last photo above shows the building's current façade, which replicates the theater's look back in the 1920s. This restored façade has become a tourist's attraction; glass windows allow passersby to view WLS-TV channel in broadcasting action.)



XIII. Benny Goodman

Another bandleader who saw Peggy Lee at The Buttery was Benny Goodman. While in Chicago during the summer of 1941, the bandleader was playing at the Panther Room of the Sherman Hotel but staying at the Ambassador East. (Both the Ambassador and the Sherman were under the management of the same man, the aforementioned Frank Bering.) Goodman came to see Lee's Ambassador West show at the request of his fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth (née Hammond), who had attended one of the singer's previous performances therein. Mindful of Goodman's need to hire a new female vocalist for the band (since his canary Helen Forrest had recently given a few weeks' notice), Lady Duckworth thought of Lee as a candidate with lots of potential. In August of 1941, Goodman personally phoned Lee to offer her the job, which she accepted immediately.




(Pictures seen above: the first photo, taken around 1945, is a candid of Alice Hammond, great-great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Back in 1927, she had married Lord George Arthur Victor Duckworth, thereby acquiring the title of Lady Duckworth. Two of the other pictures, one from 1946 and the other from the 1950s, present Alice as Mrs. Benny Goodman; she is all smiles in the company of her second husband. Their marriage took place on March 21, 1942. The remaining image, in which Alice does not make an appearance, predates the marriage by either a few weeks or a few -- less than three -- months. Alice's then-fiancé is seen playing next to the songstress that she had recommend he hired. The bandleader and his canary are performing for a dancing audience and for couples in love at one of Alice's favorite haunts, the Hotel New Yorker.)


Lee's 20-month period as Goodman's canary (August 1941 - March 1943) provided an "advanced learning experience" for her. It was with the clarinetist's band that she began on a solid path toward national recognition. It was also with Goodman that Lee made her first recordings.

However, and as I hope to have amply shown in the biographical capsules already presented in this page, the formative years of Lee's career had begun long before she joined Goodman's orchestra. This relatively long gestation period (1936-1941) is too often obscured in biographical accounts of the singer, which tend to overstress the significance of her apprenticeship with the Goodman band.


XIV. Peggy Lee's Early Singing Style (Take 2): "Where Or When"

Granted that it proved enormously important for the progress of her career, Peggy Lee's year and a half with Benny Goodman was nonetheless a step backwards in one important area of professional growth: the evolvement of a personalized style of interpretation. Overall, the singer's vocals with The Benny Goodman Orchestra exhibit little of the individual style -- little of the intimacy and bluesiness -- for which she would become known as a solo artist. The exceptions are the ballads that she did with Benny Goodman's small combos, "Where Or When" (December 24, 1941) and "The Way You Look Tonight" (March 10, 1942). I believe that her soft, warm ballad approach to both of those numbers exemplifies the style that she had previously cultivated in nightclubs, supper clubs, and smaller venues.




(Images seen above: the sheet music for Rodgers & Hart's "Where Or When," from the 1937 musical "Babes In Arms," and a Peggy Lee issue entitled Where Or When. The issue is a MP3 release in the Public Domain. The makers of this release have picked an early 1950s photo of Lee for the front cover but an early 1940s interpretation for the title. Over the decades, the song "Where Or When" has become increasingly identified with Lee, although less savvy listeners still tend to opt for the other artists' versions that commercial websites and search engines usually feed to them. "Where Or When" would be periodically re-visited by Lee at different periods of her long career, often eliciting emotional reactions from moved audience members.)

Peggy Lee's overall work as Goodman's canary can be best described as an adaptation to the demands that big bands and their audiences made on singers. Vocals were secondary to the instrumental parts. Furthermore, general audiences tended to expect a danceable tempo for most numbers, ballads included. In reaction to Goodman's inclusion of slow, romantic vocals in live concerts, concertgoers would in fact tend to moan and utter complaints such as "what's with all this balladry?" Liner annotator and music collector Dave Weiner tells the following story, which took place during a Goodman gig that extended from late December 1942 to January 1943:

"My uncle saw the [Benny Goodman] band there [at The Paramount Theatre, in New York] and was unimpressed by [Frank] Sinatra, whom he had seen previously with [Tommy] Dorsey. He remembers that Peggy Lee sang a very slow Where Or When with Benny Goodman, and was booed by some hecklers who yelled, 'You stink!' Goodman stopped playing, stepped to the mike and told the audience to be quiet -- then he swung into Why Don't You Do Right? and cheers erupted for her and the band."


XV. Peggy Lee's Early Singing Style (Take 3): "These Foolish Things"

Also indicative of Peggy Lee's early stylistic leanings is a bluesy-sounding 1942 version of "These Foolish Things" that she performed with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, and which has been preserved because it was broadcast over radio. "These Foolish Things" was in fact the song that Norma Deloris Egstrom had chosen, years earlier, for her audition at Fargo's WDAY radio station, moments before her name was changed to Peggy Lee. It was moreover one of the numbers that she sang at The Ambassador West's Buttery Room on the night when Goodman came to see her act. Hence "These Foolish Things" qualifies as one of the fundamental pieces of Peggy Lee's early singing career, despite the paradoxical fact that she never made a studio recording of it.



(Artwork above: the first image displays a poster from "Spread It Abroad," a 1936 London revue in which the song "These Foolish Things" was heard when it was new; the second image shows sheet music for the song. The third and fourth images present two sources for Lee's interpretation of "These Foolish Things" -- each one containing a different rendition, however. To listen to the 1943 radio broadcast version that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you will need to track down the Benny Goodman LP pictured last. As for the CD viewable in the third photo, it is one of many compact discs that contain a different radio version, dating from the early 1950s. Lee prefaces that version with her recitation of some verses from a William Butler Yeats poem. Some Public Domain CDs have edited out the recitation.)



XVI. Songs From Peggy Lee's Pre-Recording Period

The following tunes were sung by Peggy Lee before her days with The Benny Goodman Orchestra. An asterisk indicates that Lee commercially recorded the given song at a later stage of her singing career.

1. "Body And Soul"
audition number for The Sev Olsen Orchestra, 1940
sung with Will Osborne's Orchestra, late 1940 and early 1941

2. "Clouds"
(an Ernest Charles composition)
sung solo -- not chorally -- for a music contest, 1937

3. “Come Sweet Morning” ("Viens Aurore")
(presumably, the English version by R. H. Elkin)
high school end-of-semester event, 1935
high school graduation commencement ceremonies, 1937

4. "Deep In A Dream"
frequent request at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

5. "Deep Purple" *
probably sung in 1939, when the lyric became a hit, and in the ensuing two years

6. "Dipsy Doodle, The"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

7. "Exactly Like You"
sung with Will Osborne's Orchestra, late 1940 and early 1941

8. "God Bless America"
sung at the Minneapolis Auditorium while momentarily serving as featured singer of the Water Follies, 1940

9. "Goody Goody" *
Lee implied to have sung it at WDAY, some time between 1937 and 1939

10. "Glory Of Love, The" *
amateur contest, around 1935

11. "His Coming" ("Eh Ist Gekommen")
(a Robert Franz - Friedrich Rückert composition)
music contest, 1937

12. "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" *
audition number for The Will Osborne Orchestra, 1940

13. "I Come To Thee"
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936

14. "I Dream Of Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair"
(Stephen Foster)
sung while performing at the Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis, 1940




(Images seen above:" Norma Deloris Egstrom, aka Peggy Lee, in photos taken between 1935 and 1941, the exact year and location unknown.)

15. "I Never Had A Chance" *
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was young, probably around 1934

16. "I Thought About You"
Lee implies to have sung it at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, and to have considered it a favorite, 1940
Corroboration has come from her accompanist at the time, organist Lloyd Collins.

17. "I'm In The Mood for Love"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; played by Lloyd Collins on organ and presumably sung by Lee, 1940 (source: Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

18. "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"
sung for the semi-classical Sunday matinee at the Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, 1940

19. "Ivory Palaces"
played on the piano -- and presumably sung, too -- in Nortonville's Lutheran Church, around 1930

20. "Little Boy Blue"
(an Eugene Field poem, set to music by Ethelbert Nevin)
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936

21. "Little Sir Echo"
Lee is said to have sung this number for her neighbor's child in Fargo, as a lullaby, around 1940

22. "Man I Love, The" *
audition number for Frank Bering, 1941
also sung, during the period when she was working as a carnival barker, to two young men who recommended that she audition for the Jade Lounge, around 1938
probably sung previously at WDAY, too, 1937 or 1938

23. "Moonglow"
a favorite as a child; also sung while with The Doc Haines Orchestra, some time between 1934 and 1936

24. "Music Goes Round And Round, The"
frequent request at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

25. "My Blue Heaven"
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was very young, around 1927

26. "Red River Valley"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

27. "Solitude"
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was young, probably around 1934

28. "Stardust"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

29. "Sylvia"
(Clinton Scollard poem, set to music by Oley Speaks)
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936




(Images shown above: a couple of magazines dedicated mainly to transcribed song lyrics, both featuring Peggy Lee on the cover. The January 1949 volume of Well-Known Songs includes the lyrics of "Don't Smoke In Bed," which were first recorded and had been partially written by Peggy Lee, although only her friend Willard Robison was officially credited as songwriter. The April 1943 volume of Hit Parader contains a few lyrics that Lee would go on to record in later years, one of them being "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe.")

30. " 'Tain't What You Do"
sung at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

31. "These Foolish Things" *
audition song, 1937 or 1938 (see comments in this page's preceding entry)

32. "Twilight On The Trail"
amateur contest, around 1935

33. "When The Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along)"
learned as a child, in Jamestown, and sung back then, around 1926

34. "Wishing (Will Make It So)"
singled out by Lee as an early favorite of hers; hence my tentative assumption that she sang it, around 1939

35. "Would God I Were A Tender Apple Blossom"
semi-classical Sunday matinee at the Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, 1940

36. "You Oughta Be In Pictures"
audition number for KVOC and The Doc Haines Orchestra, some time between 1934 and 1936

37. "Teach Me To Pray, Lord"
(Albert Simpson Reitz )
hymn sung by Lee at the commencement ceremonies, during her graduation from high school, 1937

38. "Thanks For The Memory"
another avowed favorite of Lee's; probably sung around 1937 or 1938, when the song was brand new, and also in ensuing years

39. "You're A Little Sweet Heartache"
allegedly sung, as a lullaby, to a child neighbor, in Fargo, around 1940


Regrettably, not one of the above-listed performances from the singer's early years (May 1920 - July 1940) has been preserved. Her earliest extant performances are studio recordings and radio broadcasts from her years with The Benny Goodman Orchestra (August 1941- March 1943).



XVII. Appendix I: Sources And Reliability

A general sense of confusion motivated me to prepare this page.  Over the years, as I kept on reading and learning more about Peggy Lee's pre-recording years, I also kept on finding that the sources at my reach did not offer the exact same order and chronology of events. Feeling that my sense of confusion was exponentially increasing, I set out to make sense of the divergent data for my own edification. Initially, I concentrated on my specific period of interest:  Lee's performing days after she left North Dakota and before she joined The Benny Goodman Orchestra.  Once I finished working on that specific period, I came away with the impression that the results were worth sharing, and I undertook the preparation of the earliest version of this page.  Finally, as I began to incorporate the material about Hollywood, St. Louis and Minneapolis, I slowly began to realize that the intended page wouldn't be reasonably complete without coverage of Lee's North Dakota years.  Such coverage has actually proven far more challenging, in part because it is not one of my research areas of interest, and in part because handling the considerable amount of available detail about them is a very time-consuming proposition.  

This page's account is thus a collage of all the sources at my reach. Obviously, the account's reliability is partially dependent on such sources, and on how much I have chosen to trust each of them. Furthermore, I must acknowledge that I am not using (do not currently have access to) certain primary sources (local newspapers from the first half of the twentieth century, historical documents from the same period) which arguably are more reliable than the ones that I have consulted.  Similarly worth acknowledging: the pursuits at hand are admittedly far more biographical than discographical, and hence somewhat outside of the scope of this discography's main trajectory.

For all the reasons mentioned or implied in the preceding paragraph, it should go without say that this page cannot possibly be free of factual errors.  I hope that corrections will come forth as time marches on.  My main goal is precisely to have all the extant, divergent sources collated into an easy-to-modify and easy-to-update text (one malleable enough to handle the contributions of better documentation as/if it turns up).  





(Images seen above: Five versions of Peggy Lee's autobiography. The first two are the 1989 American hardcover edition on Daniel I. Fine Publishers and the British 1990 hardcover version on Bloomsbury. According to some of my sources, the British version was published before the American one. I have found no confirmation of that claim, however. The British version adheres to a chronological order, whereas the American version does not. To Lee's consternation, the publisher of the American version opens with the singer's chapter about her days with Benny Goodman, and then moves back to her earlier years. Another difference between the two versions is that, unlike the American edition -- and according to another report that I have yet to confirm -- the British edition does not include a list of Lee's albums and singles. As for the other photos seen above, they are paperback editions of Lee's autobiography. The earliest paperback, released in the United Kingdom by MacMillan's Pan sub-division in 1991, can be seen in the third photo. The fourth photo shows Berkley's 1992 paperback reprint of the American version, whereas the fifth photo shows Bloomsbury's own 2002 paperback reprint of its British hardcover version. The 2002 reprint adds an Epilogue and Appreciation by Will Friedwald. It also provides a substantially updated list of singles and albums by David Torresen. Among its minuses, this 2002 reprint omits selected photos found in the original edition.)

Of the extant sources, special consideration must obviously be given to Peggy Lee's autobiography. Admittedly, her approach to chronology tends to be approximate rather than exact, but such tends to be the case for many an artist's autobiographical account. We should bear in mind that Lee wrote this text by herself (without the benefit of a ghostwriter or a researcher), and that she did so nearly 50 years after the events that concern this discography's present page.

Obviously, this artist was focused on the task of writing her memoirs. She claimed that a very specific question remained in her mind through the process: "I started to think of writing the book when I was in New Orleans after ... heart surgery. There I was, convalescing in a room crammed with flowers from all over the United States, from Europe, Japan, with hundreds of messages of love and encouragement signed by all kinds of remarkable people -– a bellboy at a hotel where I once stayed, the President of the United States regretting that the emergency has canceled my engagement to sing at the White House. And I found myself asking, ‘How did I, Norma Deloris Egstrom, little Miss Nobody, get here from Jamestown, North Dakota?’ " The results of her writing should thus be evaluated though the lens of that self-posed question.

In addition to the autobiography, I have paid close attention to dozens and dozens of newspaper and magazine interviews that have been published over the decades. In the late 1990s, a very large portion of such items was jointly transcribed by David Torresen and myself. After they were placed in Peggy Lee's official website (of which Torresen is sole webmaster), such interviews and articles have proven helpful to many fans and researchers, including some of the book writers to be mentioned below.




(Images seen above: Two of these photos show the 2006 hardcover edition of Peggy Lee's biography, released by MacMillan's Henry Holt And Co. The very first photo displays the 2007 paperback reprint of the American edition; this reprint was published by MacMillan's Picador Press.) The hardcover seen in the second photo belongs to the original American edition. The cover visible in the third photo is said to be actually shared by two editions of the biography, one on hardback, the other on paperback, both on Aurum Books. The last photo obviously displays a different biography, released by Simon & Schuster as a hardcover in 2014.

As part of my research for this discographical page, I have naturally consulted Peter Richmond's and James Gavin's above-shown biographies of the singer. I have been particularly interested in comparing the chronology of each book with the sequence of events that can be gleaned from Lee's own autobiographical comments. (In passing, I would like to thank both authors for including my name in the Acknowledgments sections of their respective books, even though I had no direct contact with either of them. Gavin's two references to this discography were especially appreciated.)

Published in 2006, Richmond's account is valuable because he interviewed residents of the towns in which Norma Deloris Egstrom (Peggy Lee) lived during her early years. He also received worthwhile documentation from local individuals and institutions invested in preserving the history of the North Dakota towns where Egstrom spent her formative years.

Wes Anderson is among the people who are very active in the promotion of the aforementioned preservation effort. The curator of the Barnes County Historical Society and Wimbledon's Community Museum, Anderson has regaled Lee fans with a variety of newspaper clips about the young Miss Egstrom. Over the last few years, he has been posting them in the bulletin board of the official Peggy Lee website. I myself re-read them shortly before the last major update of this page (February 2012), with the intention of incorporating to the page some tidbits of note. Fans of Peggy Lee also owe to Anderson the upload of a 1950 clip, which shows the singer serving as Grand Marshall of the Twelfth North Dakota Winter Show, held in Valley City (the county seat of Barnes County).

Published in November of 2014, James Gavin's account also draws, in part, from rare newspaper clippings and interviews. The general tenor of his biographical portrait is problematic, however. (A large percent seems to rely on interviewees who held grudges against his subject. There has also been word of mouth, to the effect that the author's research and writing was primarily oriented toward fulfilling the preconceived persona that he wanted to develop through his narrative.) Be that as it may, the book does offer worthwhile factual detail. It has allowed me to fill long-standing gaps in the present discography -- particularly within this very page.



Another book source available to Peggy Lee fans is Robert Strom's chronicle of the singer's career. Strom relies largely on magazines and newspaper articles to present chronological capsules of Lee's life and career, from 1920 to 1995. The front cover of this 2005 McFarland & Co. text is seen above. This publication is particularly noteworthy for the many rare black & white photos of Lee that it contains.

Diving Deep For Sea Shells is actually an autobiography by harpist Stella Castellucci, who was a member of Peggy Lee's touring group from 1953 to 1956 (the Decca period), and also played for her periodically between 1957 and 1960 (Capitol years). Co-authored with Edgar Amaya and published by Balboa Press in July of 2014, this fine memoir naturally concentrates on Castellucci's life and contributions to the world of harp music, but many of its pages contain references to the times that Miss Castellucci shared with Miss Lee. It is worth noting that the harpist and the vocalist remained friends until the latter's passing.

As of early 2015, the above-mentioned texts are the only existent books entirely dedicated to Peggy Lee. Such a state of affairs is bound to change within the next few years. At least one more Lee book is in the making, as well as a Hollywood biopic which is likely to generate further biographical accounts.


XVIII. Appendix II: Peggy Lee And The Midland Continental Railroad Connection



(Photos seen above: Remnants of the Midland Continental Railroad, in whose history the life of the young Peggy Lee is embedded. The first photo shows a section of the tracks that still remain in Jamestown. The second photo showcases the train's pathway in Nortonville, where the tracks no longer exist. Wimbledon's railroad tracks are spotlighted in the other two photos. These Wimbledon tracks point south in photos #3, north in photo #4. Peggy Lee spent her pre-teen and teen years living by the Midland Continental Railroad in all the aforementioned towns/cities -- Wimbledon, Nortonville, Jamestown.


In Her Own Words

"I had a fierce pride in that railroad," wrote Peggy Lee in her autobiography. "It not only had a great steam engine," Lee added, "but also a truck and a Model-A Ford on railroad wheels. When there wasn't enough freight, they would use the truck or the Model-A Ford (which they called Snowbird) to deliver the mail or to take the cream cans in to the dairy ... You see, it was a very important railroad because it was the only way the miles and miles of flat prairie could be connected and carry all those freight cars, refrigerated cars and flat cars so they could get to all those far off places! .... And when I got a little older, if I ever heard someone make a derogatory remark about it, I would take advantage of my position as editor of the high school paper in Wimbledon and write a scathing editorial." Peggy Lee (née Norma Deloris Egstrom) was referring to the Midland Continental, a humble railroad whose single track stretched for 67 miles of North Dakotan land, running through three counties within the estate's southeastern area. In her senior high school year, she would indeed write a defense of the Midland Continental, whose worth can be gleaned from the fact that it was published not in the high school section of Wimbledon's local paper but in Valley City State Teachers College's newspaper. "People would laugh at the Midland Continental Railroad," she re-stated, during a candid conversation with jazz writer Gene Lees. "And I would get so angry because I thought of all those wonderful dear things the train did. Like, a mother was going to have to go to a hospital or something. She would stand by the track, and the train would stop for her and take her to the nearest hospital."


The Tracks Of Norma's Early Years



(Images seen above: Photos representative of the one city (Jamestown) and two towns (Nortonville, Wimbledon) where Peggy Lee spent most of her childhood and adolescence. The first photo, taken around 1920, shows Jamestown's Midland Continental depot, where Peggy Lee's father worked. Taken at an unknown date within the first half of the twentieth century, the middle photo spotlights an unidentified church in Nortonville. I am left to wonder if it could be the small town's Lutheran church, where Lee and other family members were attending services when a fire broke out at their then-residence, the Nortonville Midland Continental depot. The last photo is identified in one of my sources as Wimbledon House Hotel, Kline Hotel, Wimbledon, North Dakota, and it is not dated. When Peggy Lee was living in Wimbledon, a two-story brick hotel across her depot home was said to be the only one in town. If it is true that only one hotel existed, perhaps the structure seen in this photo was an earlier, wood version of the same hotel. Alternatively, there could have been another hotel in Wimbledon, no longer existing by the time that Peggy Lee arrived.)

The Midland Continental Railroad was a consistent presence in the young life of the future Peggy Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom to a Midland Continental station agent in Jamestown. She retained fond memories of the station: "I would follow my daddy to work at the depot ... When he would let me walk along with him, I would run and hold onto his finger, like a handle. And then down at the depot, he was very busy. He was the station agent. He would be there with a green visor in his head. He gave me paper and those ink-pad stampers. I'd stamp everything I could lay my hands on ... There was a little boy in Jamestown that used to play with me at the depot. Our big pastime was to go into the warehouse and find this huge box of jelly beans. We must have eaten a lot of jelly beans. I loved the black ones. We would watch the trains come in and out. Then Daddy would take me home."

When Norma Deloris was eight years old, her father was transferred from the Midland Continental headquarters in Jamestown to Nortonville, where the company had a much smaller depot. After spending the initial year(s) living in a Nortonville house, the family ended up moving to the depot's second floor, where they stayed until a gas stove explosion made the premises temporarily uninhabitable.

When Lee was fourteen years old, his father was transferred once more, becoming at that time Wimbledon's Midland Continental Station master. The second floor of the Wimbledon depot served as the residence of Norma, her father, and her stepmother. (All her siblings had left the household by then.) Wimbledon was the line's very last stop in its northern direction, with the open prairie covering the subsequent miles of land.

By then a teenager, Norma became periodically involved in the Wimbledon depot chores. Norma's stepmother Min Schaumberg had also become a Midland Continental employee, and the company was keeping her busy with assignments a few miles away, in the Millarton station. When her father had drunk too much to be able to perform his job effectively, Peggy Lee would willingly fulfill the depot tasks that her father would basically leave up to her to do. Those included both physical labor (e.g., stoking the depot's four stoves with about a ton of lignite) and office work (e.g., preparing per diem reports). The 14-year old girl would also be asked to exchange waybills and run other errands across the tracks, at the depot for the so-called Milwaukee Road line. (Its full name was the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Long after Peggy Lee had left North Dakota, the Milwaukee Road would merge with the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, whose nickname was the Soo line. Hence, from the 1960s onwards, the "Milwaukee Road" name would be phased out, and "the Soo line" would become the name normally used.)


The Brief History Of A Small But Mighty Train Line



(Images seen above: the Midland Continental train, shown in the first photo at its inaugural trip in 1913. Posing nearby are the train's officers and the concert band of Wimbledon, where the photo was taken. In the second photo, the train is captured in motion, going through Jamestown Junction nearly fifty years after its inaugural trip.)

The Midland Continental Railroad was originally planned as an ambitious train line which would stretch for 1,800 miles, crossing the entire US American nation in a north-to-south (rather than west-to-east) direction. The chief inspiration for this 1906 railroad project was actually an earlier, even more ambitious undertaking that was still ongoing at the time: the Panama Canal. Begun in 1880 and completed in 1914, the canal aspired to be a bridge between two oceans. Somewhat similarly, the Midland Continental Railroad was conceived as a bridge that would connect North America all the way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico (or, more specifically, from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Galveston, Texas). A major selling point behind the concept was that, at the time, most of the other U.S. railroad lines traveled west to east (and vice versa), whereas this projected line would be covering the other two cardinal directions. In a state such a North Dakota, crowded with railroads, a line strategically built to intersect many another railroad had the potential of bringing abundant profits.

In the end, only the first two stages of the Midland Continental grand plan were completed. Both stages were geographically circumscribed to North Dakota. The first, involving the construction of the line from Edgeley (LaMoure County) to Jamestown (Stutsman County), was carried out between 1909 and 1912. The second called for the continuation of the tracks up north, to Wimbledon (Barnes County). Being a more easily manageable goal than the previous one, completion of that second stage did not take long; it was begun and finished in 1913. An additional half a mile of track was completed as well, taking the railroad past Wimbledon, to Frazier. Never advancing past its planning phase, the third stage of the project would have extended the line all the way to North Dakota's Grand Forks, located in the estate's border with Minnesota.

The project was besieged by a series of untimely and adverse events, most of them stemming from the advent of World War I. In a nutshell, the war occasioned a significant loss of revenue and, both within the United States and abroad, a scarcity of prospective investors. By 1916, the two men who had originally provided financial backing had had to bow out. When the bank foreclosed on the loan granted for the project, all the remaining shares were purchased by Frank Seiberling, a third partner. Seiberling saw fit to remain involved with the Midland Continental from 1916 to 1966, when he finally sold it to the Soo Line and Northern Pacific railroads.

(The original Midland Continental partners were a Canadian-born, Chicago-raised corporate lawyer named Frank K. Bull, and a manufacturer of agricultural equipment named Herbert Sydney Duncombe, whose company's headquarters were in Wisconsin, and in whose honor Sydney, a town near Jamestown, was named. As for third partner Frank Seiberling, he had founded the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 1898 and would remain its president from 1906 to 1921. Seiberling would also back two projects which could have become keystones in the annals of American transportation ... had they succeeded. One was the railroad project under discussion. The other was an American attempt at transatlantic travel by airship, which he financed in 1911. A previous attempt, had failed, and so did this second one: fifteen minutes after its departure from New Jersey's Atlantic City for a test drive, the airship exploded 500 feet above the sea level, killing its five-men crew and horrifying the in-land crowds that had gathered by the shore to enjoy the sight of the airship sailing in the air. Goodyear would have better luck in later decades, when its airships would be restricted to promotional travel over the United States, and dirigibles would end up becoming commonly associated with the company's brand -- but Seiberling was no longer part of the company by that time.)




(Images seen above: a segment of the Railroad Commissioners' Map of North Dakota, released in 1913, and an undated photo showing unit 402 of the Midland Continental train. A violet line in the center of the map indicates the trajectory of the Midland Continental, beginning in Edgeley and ending in Wimbledon. On the top right, a blue line illustrates part of the trajectory of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad -- later to be known locally as the Soo line -- including its Wimbledon intersection with the Midland Continental line.)

After the war, the Midland Continental Railroad re-oriented itself, leaving behind its former ambitions of geographical grandeur and becoming content with its status as a locally oriented yet moderately profitable line. According to railroad historian F. Stewart Mitchell, the railroad company posted losses only four times during the period in which it was solely owned by Seiberling -- a statistic that indeed qualifies the company as moderately profitable. As for the railroad's "local orientation," the official Midland Continental train schedule consisted of just a dozen stops or so, between Edgeley and Wimbledon, including Nortonville, Millarton, and Sydney. Nonetheless, Lee lets us know that the railway's rather provincial nature allowed for ample flexibility: "The train would stop wherever people were waiting along the track, often using the railway to take them to the nearest doctor or to pick up some mail or baggage."

The severely downsized line could thus take pride in various traits that made it useful, even special -- and not just to local dwellers. Its modest 77 miles of track notwithstanding, it still ran through not one, not two, but three counties. Of even greater note was the already mentioned orientation of its path: unlike most other adjacent lines, which ran east to west (and vice versa), the Midland Continental ran north to south (and vice versa). A trio of Midland Continental stations (Edgeley, located in the route's southern tip, Jamestown near its center, and Wimbledon on its northern tip) were conveniently placed near the depots of big lines that also made stops in all three towns/cities. Therefore, one of this small line's services was as a connection between bigger lines. "Those other lines -- the Milwaukee, the Northern Pacific, the Sioux line, the Great Northern, the Santa Fe -- all kept us busy transferring from one line to another," reminisced Peggy Lee in her autobiography. Many an out-of-town passenger must have appreciated the Midland Continental's provision of such a service. For their part (and as illustrated by previously quoted passages of Peggy Lee's autobiography), local residents doubtlessly were appreciative of the Midland Continental's more fortuitous function as transportation for town dwellers, whether in the face of an emergency or while in leisurely mood to visit relatives in nearby towns -- like Lee and her family did on many occasions. Of even more fundamental importance was the line's other main activity: freight transportation. As a matter of fact, in the years that followed Lee's departure from North Dakota (and while transportation by car was becoming more common), the Midland Continental Railroad ended up being used almost exclusively as a freight carrier.

The Midland Continental remained active until around May 1969, at which time its track was heavily damaged by a estate-wide flood that brought in record amounts of snow and rainfall. The line officially closed in 1970. (Afterwards, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway in Jamestown and the Soo line in Wimbledon have taken over the few miles of tracks that are still operable, using them for freight and coal transportation.)


The Wimbledon Depot





(Images seen above: The first three photos spotlight Wimbledon's Soo or Milwaukee Road depot and its two tracks, with each successive photo coming closer to the depot itself. These photos date from around 1920. A fourth view of Wimbledon's Soo depot is supplied by the last photo, taken at an unknown -- if visibly snowy -- date. The most worthwhile aspect of this yellow-framed photo is not in its foreground, however: Peggy Lee's mid-1930s home, the Midland Continental depot, is partially visible in the background. Notice also, to the left of the Midland Continental depot, part of a two-story brick building; it's a hotel, described by Lee at some length in her autobiography, and also shown below, in more recent color photos.)

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Wimbledon's Midland Continental Depot is the only surviving Midland Continental Railroad station today. Built in 1913, it was originally located to the northeast of town. In 1920, it was moved to a more strategic location in town: across from Wimbledon's other station, which belonged to the Milwaukee Road railroad. From 1920 through the years in which Peggy Lee resided there (1934-1937) to present time, the depot has remained in that second location.

The foresight of Wimbledon's residents is to be thanked for the survival of the depot. In 1971, after the Midland Continental Railroad had fully ceased its operations, Wimbledon's Community Museum board bought the station, thereby saving it from suffering the same eventual fate as the line's other depot structures. (I do not know if the fact that Peggy Lee had once inhabited the depot factored in the museum's wise decision to purchase it. Said to have 4 small museums, the town seems to hold great reverence for its past. At the time of the 2000 Census, over 61% of residents were 35 years or older, and the population count was 237. The 2010 Census showed a 21-digit decrease.)

Damaged by the same 1969 flood that led to the closure of the railway, the depot did not re-open until the 1990s, when it became a humble museum facility with limited funds. (It did not have even electric power.) Around the year 2000 -- a couple of year before Peggy Lee's passing -- the museum's board began plans to promote and re-conceive the depot as a historical site in the annals of transportation, and also as the erstwhile home of Peggy Lee. The site's historical importance was ratified in 2003, when North Dakota railroad historian F. Stewart Mitchell wrote a successful proposal to enter it into the National Register for Historic Places. (Mitchell is the authoritative source for much of what is known about the Midland Continental Railroad.) After receiving a substantial donation from the estate of local resident Myrna Bultema in 20007 -- and after other local donations that followed, along with a couple of grants -- the museum and a committee of volunteers set about to stabilize the structure of the damaged depot, and to restore it to the way it had looked when Peggy Lee was calling it home.




(Images seen above: photos of Wimbledon's Midland Continental depot, on 401 Railway Street, as it looked early this century, before it was restored to its original look. The first shot, taken at some distance, shows the back of the depot. Midland Continental train's caboose #710 can be seen, lying in front of the depot house, in the second photo, along with a flatcar that is viewable in the third photo.)

The chosen date for the grand opening of the restored facilities was May 26, 2012, which would have been Peggy Lee's 92nd birthday, had she not passed away in 2002, a few months shy of her 82d birthday. Now the depot's first floor has a station master / ticket office, a freight room, a bathroom and waiting rooms, all of them reconstructed to look like they did back in the station's heyday. The exterior façade has reverted to its original colors, cream with some green details. The front's wooden platform floor is back in place. The second floor, consisting of four rooms, has been restored to reflect Lee's living quarters back in the 1930s (including period hardware, vintage clothing, antiques, etc.).

On opening day, a fine portion of Lee's song interpretations were made available for listening through headphones, provided for that special occasion. Visitors were also able to enjoy various professionally prepared poster exhibitions, some of them pertaining to the history of the Midland Continental Railroad and the Wimbledon depot. Two other exhibitions detail Lee's life and career; one concentrates on her early years in North Dakota, the other on her later life and successes. Lee-related memorabilia was on display, too -- three of her show business dresses, a pair of shoes, a seascape painted by her, et cetera.



(Images seen above: Present-time photos of the 1913 depot, after having been restored to the way it looked during the first half of the twentieth-first century.)

The opening counted with the blessing and the attendance of Peggy Lee's family, including her granddaughter Holly Foster-Wells, who is based in Los Angeles, and who gave a cordial, very well-received speech for the occasion. A year before the opening, Foster-Wells had told the Fargo-Moorehead periodical In Forum that Peggy Lee "was very proud of her North Dakota roots and she always wanted to help give back to North Dakota in some way, and so we feel that way. I do hope the people go out and support the museum, otherwise these buildings get torn down and forgotten.” (The full article, dating back to 2011, when the restoration was in the second of its three phases, can be read at In Forum's website.)




(Images seen below: Current pictures of the rooms in the depot's second floor, looking like they did when Norma Deloris Egstrom -- aka Peggy Lee -- inhabited them. Shown herein are the kitchen, one of the two bedrooms, the living room, and the carpeted corridor or sitting room near the staircase. The penultimate photo focuses on the station's freight entrance and its reconstructed deck or platform. Period details include a ramp, used to transport the freight from the train's caboose to the freight room. The last photo spotlights the signpost that identifies the location as Wimbledon's Midland Continental Depot and Peggy Lee Museum. Behind the sign, a two-story red brick building is also visible. This is the same hotel, nowadays abandoned, that Peggy Lee describes in her autobiography as "old and deserted; a family lived there -- a mother and father and a little girl named Helen -- but there were almost never any guests ... Helen was my playmate ... I can still see that hotel. There was a check-in desk and a big book to register names and a bell to tap ... There was even a dining room, and on the second floor were rooms, but only two beds had mattresses ... Helen said no one ever stayed there ... )



(Images shown above: Samples from the exhibits prepared for the re-opening of Wimbledon's Midland Continental depot on May 26, 2012. One of the exhibits, dedicated to the story of the train line, was displayed primarily in the walls of the depot's first floor. A sample can be seen in the first photo. The exhibits dedicated to Peggy Lee's life and career were placed mostly in the second floor, along with memorabilia such as the album covers and the dress of hers that is partially visible in the third photo.)



The Jamestown Tributes

Whereas the town of Wimbledon gave, by far, the most in-depth 92nd birthday tribute to Peggy Lee, Jamestown and Fargo also partook on the celebration. “A Tribute To Miss Peggy Lee” was offered by vocalist Stacy Sullivan (accompanied by pianist Jon Weber and bassist Steven Doyle) at the Jamestown College Reiland Fine Arts Center on May 25, and again on May 26 in Fargo, at Island Park's The Stage. The concerts were preceded by an illustrated history of Peggy Lee, prepared and presented by local historian Steven Stark. Both events are said to have been very successful with audiences. Also of significant local impact was a proclamation made by the mayor of Jamestown, in whose Trinity hospital Peggy Lee was born. Along with mentioning a few of Peggy Lee's awards and career achievements, the proclamation states the following: "I, Katie Anderson, Mayor of Jamestown, North Dakota, do hereby proclaim May 25 and May 26, 2012 Peggy Lee Days. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of Jamestown to celebrate the music legacy of Miss Peggy Lee, and to recognize the important role her music has played in this great nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs."

The May 2012 proclamation was not North Dakota's first major acknowledgment of Peggy Lee. Earlier in the month, Lee was among the inductees in the newly created North Dakota Rock-Country Music Hall of Fame, too. And back in 1975, the estate bestowed on Lee its Theodore Roosevelt North Dakota Roughrider Award, which is periodically given to "present or former North Dakotans who have been influenced by this state in achieving national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor upon North Dakota and its citizens." At the time, a portrait of her was hung in the lower level of the Capitol building -- as is customary for each winner of this prize. Furthermore, Peggy Lee was made the recipient of two honorary doctorates, one from North Dakota State University (1975) and the other from Jamestown College (2000).



(Photos seen above: A hall in the lower level of North Dakota's capitol building. Its walls are filled with portraits of the recipients of the Theodore Roosevelt North Dakota Roughrider Award, bestowed on North Dakotans deemed worthy of such an honor by the state's governor in conjunction with the secretary of state and the state's historical society. The wall on sight features the portraits of the first, second, third, fifth and twelfth award recipients: Lawrence Welk, Dorothy Stickney, Ivan Dmitri, Eric Sevareid, and Peggy Lee, respectively. Governor William Guy, responsible for co-creating this award at the start of his tenure - 1961 to 1973 -- is the man posing next to Lee's portrait in the second photo, and also one of the four men staring at the same portrait in the first photo. According to one of my sources, Lee was actually declared a winner of the award back in 1963 -- a claim which would make her the third recipient of the prize -- but the singer's busy schedule led to the postponement of the award ceremony until she was finally able to attend it, in 1975, under Arthur A. Link's governorship.)


A "Geophysical" Portrait Of Lady Lee

Portrait Of A Lady is the title of an essay about Peggy Lee that was written by her friend and admirer, jazz critic Gene Lees. It seems fitting to conclude these biographical capsules of Lee's early life in North Dakota with Lees' evocative opening paragraph: "The roads of North Dakota, like those of the prairie states and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba that lie just across its northern border, run in straight lines, north to south, east to west. Even in the western part of the state, where the Missouri River, long ago the highway of discovery of the Lewis and Clark expedition, is in the early stage of its long journey to the Mississippi, the roads just cross it in those never-ending straight lines. Their occasional jogs are arbitrary, made by man, who wrote all these straight lines on the map. There is nothing to impede the roads or the wind. It comes sailing out of the west, never slowing even at Chicago to the east. And, much of the time in winter, it comes out of the north, whipping the dead grasses that protrude from the earth and its bleak skin of old snow, and slashing whatever flesh is in its way like a stream of razor blades. The last winter before Norma Deloris Egstrom left North Dakota, the temperature went down to 63 degrees below zero Fahrenheit; the following July it rose to 120 degrees."

By 1940, the former Norma Deloris Egstrom had indeed left North Dakota -- gone with the wind to Chicago in the east, and destined to travel from coast to coast in the years still to come. Gone was she, but she would never forget. "North Dakota as a whole is my hometown," she was still saying three decades later, when radio host Fred Hall interviewed her. "I learned so much from the character of the people there, a certain honesty and integrity that I wouldn't trade for anything," she would tell critic Larry Kart in 1983.

During yet another interview, conducted in 1975, Lee also made a direct connection between her work ethics and the life that she had led in North Dakota. "In some concerts I’ll do as many as 40 numbers. In Las Vegas I’ll do two shows a night with perhaps 20 numbers at each performance. This takes an enormous amount of strength. Searching my life to find the source of this strength, I think it comes partly from the ability to laugh at myself, not taking myself too seriously, and partly from growing up in North Dakota. It was a very bleak and difficult existence there, from 40 below in the winter to 110 in the summer. In those extremes I had to laugh to keep my sanity. The environment also gave me extra physical endurance that I’d have missed in an easier climate. So, in a special sense, I’ve always carried part of my earliest home life around with me."

Thus, for the rest of her life, Peggy Lee proudly carried with her memories of the expansive land and the ever-present railroad which had forged the character of young Norma Egstrom.

(Images seen below: front and back covers of Peggy Lee's last album for Capitol Records, released three years before she received North Dakota's Roughrider Award. Her swan song for the one company that she considered her professional home, this album was proudly and defiantly called Norma Deloris Egstrom From Jamestown, North Dakota -- not Peggy Lee From Capitol Records, Hollywood. The entire back cover is taken over by a map of the region of North Dakota where Egstrom roots were, with Jamestown, Valley City, and Wimbledon clearly visible. Readers interested in a continued narrative on Lee's musical career are recommended to move next to this discography's page about her tenure with The Benny Goodman Orchestra.)