Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Life of Dorothy Squires
by Johnny Tudor

My Heart is Bleeding

xxxx , , May-09-17
My Heart is Bleeding by xxxx There have been many ‘Rags to Riches’ stories and even stories that go like this one almost back to rags again, but there can be nothing quite like the life of Dorothy Squires. Edna May, as she then was, was born in 1915 in a gipsy caravan in a small heavily industrialised town in South Wales. Following coal mining and the steel works, tin production became grey Llanelli’s most important activity. Her life, in all its days of multi millionaire glory to the sad days of her impoverished ending is captured by biographer Johnny Tudor with a sensitivity and understanding that could only come from someone who knew her well.

He tells us that ‘show business’ was in her blood from the start. Her grandfather ran rides in a travelling fairground and her father ran the coconut shy. Her self-belief and her fiery spirit became clear very early on. She had the loudest voice in her junior school choir and her fists were always ready to meet any challenges.

At fifteen she went to work in the tin plate factory but she didn’t last there very long. She set to thinking about a ‘show-biz’ future. Against her father’s wishes she joined a dance band. To avoid his ire, she climbed out of her bedroom window and changed into her dance-band frock in a telephone box. This was a demonstration of the determination and self-belief that would eventually take her to stardom!

She had just about enough for the fare and took the train to London. Discovering that the Royal Academy of Music was not quite her cup of tea, she was directed to the Charing Cross Road where most of the theatrical agents offices were. Luck held out a tentative hand to her. Naively she burst into an agent’s office and asked if she could audition. A pianist and fellow Welshman, who also happened to be the father of our author, Bert Cecil spoke up for her. Next thing she was to sing with Bert at the piano in a posh London hotel.

She had no roof over her head so Bert took her to stay with Johnny’s grandparents. Her first big break came when she successfully auditioned for Billy Reid’s accordion band. This would become more than just a singing engagement.

Broadcasting regularly her voice matured and the 5ft 2ins blonde bombshell was there with her first big-hit songs all written by Billy. Billy Reid quickly became one of the biggest show business names of his generation. It was Dorothy’s newfound strength of character that produced their first recording contract. Her first record, The Gipsy was a big hit.

Although this professional partnership was a brilliant success, Dorothy was now singing with the Paul Whitman band in New York. Billy began drinking heavily and quite unnecessarily became very jealous of his very attractive young partner. Billy did try to make amends. He offered to buy her a mink coat but Dorothy used the £2,500 to put down a deposit on what was to become her iconic home, a mansion, St. Mary’s Mount in Bexley.

Dorothy took a trip back to her roots in Llanelli. She restored the Astoria cinema where she had her first show-biz dreams. Here she established her producing and directing skills, giving opportunity to two, little known young comics, Morecambe and Wise and many others.

Dorothy’s old school friend Betty ‘Boop’ Newman was working as an extra on a film and had become friendly with one of the bit part actors and asked him if he would like to join her at one of Dorothy’s parties and Roger Moore entered Dorothy’s life.

Dorothy and this handsome young man soon became very close she took him to Hollywood to try to further his career. They married in New Jersey in 1953, there was much love between them in the eight years they were together. As time moved on, cracks began to appear in the relationship.

Before this trip across the Atlantic, Dorothy had stormed audiences at her first show at the London Palladium. She was asked to appear at the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. It’s a mark of her great success there that both Elvis Presley and Edith Piaf became big fans. Roger went off to Italy to make a film. It was some time, before he returned with his new love, later his third but not last wife, an Italian actress, Luisa Mattioli. The loss of Roger was a big blow in Dorothy’s life.

Returning from her ten years spell in America she found that the public had almost forgotten her.
But with her drive and determination her success was on the up; it was time to hit the London Palladium again. Johnny and also from Wales, comedian Stan Stennett appeared as supporting artists on the bill. From this height it was a long fall down. Due to her many extravagances and her excessive litigations she was made bankrupt and was soon homeless.

She responded to an offer of a home from a fan in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales not far from where she began. This extraordinary life story is set out, in all its amazing glory and its cruel ending, by Johnny Tudor in such a graphic and absorbing way it demands reading.




Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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