Striking Gold

A little background on, and some much needed clarification about, the history of Dean’s Girls, the Golddiggers and the Dingaling Sisters.
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This account isn’t meant to be a thorough chronicle of the annals of The Dean Martin Show’s female singer-dancers, but rather, a straightforward summary of their formation and transformations through the years — one that will correct some oversights, errors and omissions that have appeared elsewhere over the course of time.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Gals

As noted in the introduction to this site, beautiful women were a vital component of The Dean Martin Show from its inception.

One of the two main guest stars on the very first episode was the lovely Diahann Carroll, a glamorous star of stage and screen already well known to the American public even before her landmark role three years later as the first African-American female star of a weekly television series on Julia. She would be the first of many pretty women to whom Dean would play host over the next nine years.

The other marquee guest on that first show was Dean’s fellow Rat Packer, Frank Sinatra, who, in one sketch, brought with him a gaggle of gals for a little on-set party, thus helping to establish the swinging atmosphere that would henceforth not only prevail, but grow over time.

In the weeks and months that followed, really observant audience members (the majority of them, most assuredly, men) could begin to pick out a face or two from among the female regulars on the show, but most of these performers remained largely in the shadows, with Dean and his guests commanding center stage.

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STAR-STUDDED PREMIERE:
(above) The Chairman of The Board (right) and the Host with The Most (left) bookend the future Dominique Deveraux on Dean’s debut program; (below) Frank helps buddy Dean get the party started on the latter’s series bow.
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Golden Girls

Today, when discussing the cast and crew of The Dean Martin Show, most Dinophiles generally refer to the female singer-dancers who appeared on the series during its first five years on the air as “Dean’s Girls”; and for purposes of maintaining a common and succinct umbrella label for them, we continue to do so in this presentation.

But in fact, the term “Dean’s Girls” wasn’t actually invoked on the show until the third season (1967-68), when it was used initially to christen a trio of singers (Melissa Stafford, Julie Rinker, and Diana Lee) drawn from the ranks of the chorus that backed Dean and his guests. As Lee Hale relates in an amusing anecdote in his book Backstage at The Dean Martin Show, the appellation given to the newly-formed troika actually represented a compromise over a much naughtier name dreamed up by producer Greg Garrison that probably wouldn’t make it past network censors even today, let alone in far more prudish 1967.

But despite the initial flap over what to call them, the new threesome were about as wholesome as the Lennon Sisters, even if the star of the show was hardly Lawrence Welk. In time, though, as the “Dean’s Girls” rubric gradually came to encompass an expanding set of regular female singers and dancers who increasingly interacted with the host and his guests, the interplay grew a bit jauntier and more mature.

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FOXY TRAILBLAZERS: The first ladies known as “Dean’s Girls” were (above, left to right) Melissa Stafford, Julie Rinker and Diana Lee. The designation was later used to refer to all of the female singer/dancers on the program, such as the beaming phalanx below, which, in addition to Diana and Melissa in the front row, also includes Jeri Jamerson and Diane Davis in the row right behind them.
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Summer Stock

During the heyday of network television variety shows in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was common practice when the regular season ended to repeat only a couple of months’ worth of episodes of the variety series that occupied the timeslot during the cold weather months, in order to make room over the summer, when fewer homes were tuned in, for testing new program ideas. At the same time, these first-run tryout series provided a fresh platform for promoting the networks’ upcoming new fall programming.

Thus, following custom, when The Dean Martin Show took its summer break after the first and second seasons, replacement variety shows filled the void, earning respectable, if not spectacular, ratings.

By the time the main occupant of the ten o’clock hour on Thursday nights was well into its third season (1967-68), it was becoming increasingly apparent that The Dean Martin Show’s enticing female denizens were playing an integral part in the success of the program, which, after a shaky start during its maiden year, had gone on to become a top Nielsen hit.

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NEED A LIFT? DEAN TO THE RESCUE!:
During the early years of the series, the king of Thursday night TV often cavorted with his all-girl retinue in little mid-show vignettes preceding the station break.

Gold Rush

Awareness of how big a draw the series’ female regulars were doubtless figured into the calculations of producer Greg Garrison when he began thinking about a show to fill Dean’s time period for the summer of 1968. If pretty girls were what audiences wanted to watch, why not build a whole program around them? After all, there was plenty of precedent for such vehicles (and the public’s appetite for them), including a whole franchise of movie musicals popular in the 1930s which were choreographed by the great Busby Berkeley and featured a kickline of leggy chorines known as “The Gold Diggers”.

Some thirty years later, those gals certainly remained fresh in the mind of Dean Martin Show primo contributor Lee Hale, who suggested reviving the famous name — which, due to repeated typists’ errors, became contracted to one word: Golddiggers. Lee was given the plum assignment of overseeing the group, with Greg Garrison’s gal Friday, Janet Tighe, assisting in the talent search.

Auditions were held and performers cast, but these ingénues would not be counted on to carry the show by themselves. Buttressing the proceedings as co-hosts would be the offspring of two show biz vets, Frank Sinatra, Jr., a fine singer in his father’s tradition, and Joey Heatherton, a sensational (and sensationally sexy) singer-dancer who was the daughter of a fellow that had made his name with — of all things — moppet audiences: TV’s Merry Mailman, Ray Heatherton. And just to make sure that there was some on-camera adult supervision for all of these promising Young Turks, seasoned funnyman Paul Lynde was brought on board for comic relief.

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STAR BILLING: When the first Golddiggers series rolled out in the summer of 1968, it wasn’t the members of the group, but the known quantities of co-hosts Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Joey Heatherton, that made the cover of TV Guide to hype the new program on the eve of its debut.

Going For The Gold

Premiering June 20, 1968 in the protected Thursday at 10 berth, with a 1930s-era motif modeled after its namesake predecessor, Dean Martin Presents The Golddiggers not only held onto a substantial portion of the star’s regular season ratings, but became a smash in its own right as the top-rated show of the summer season.

With a lively and successful series now under their belts, and a catchy moniker now emblazoned in the minds of both young audiences and older ones that remembered the original bearers of the name, the 12 members of The Golddiggers had become overnight stars — collectively, if not individually.

That led to their being invited to make several appearances on Dean’s show during the 1968-69 regular season, and in turn, a return engagement for their own series in the summer of 1969. This time around, the focus shifted from the 1930s to the 1940s, Lou Rawls and Dean’s daughter, Gail Martin, supplanted Frank Jr. and Joey as co-hosts, and several of the first set of Golddiggers were replaced by new girls; but Paul Lynde, a frequent guest on Dean’s program, was back in the saddle as the familiar comedic presence.

The 1969 summer edition of The Golddiggers also proved a winner, and in their second year, the troupe’s cachet only grew larger. Timed to coincide with their sophomore season was the release of their debut album, featuring songs that they had sung on their program. They were booked in nightclubs and other venues around the country, went on tour to Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia with Bob Hope, popped up as guests on other television shows, and, of course, made frequent appearances on Dean’s series during the 1969-70 season.

Thus, there was little question that they’d return to fill in again for Dean during the summer of 1970, but this time, Greg Garrison decided to shake up the status quo, ditching the Depression- and World War II-era themes that had been utilized for the first two seasons and imbuing not only the series, but its female stars, as well, with a more contemporary look.

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READY FOR TAKE-OFF:
The 1969 Golddiggers earned their wings by continuing to fly high in the ratings.

Solid Gold

Of the 10 women who comprised the 1970 Golddiggers, only four were holdovers from the previous set, and two of them had joined the group after the 1969 summer series had already ended.

As the 1930s- and ’40s-set look of the series gave way to a modern mien, not only were the sketches and song selections brought up-to-date (save for the closing production number), but so were the hairstyles, make-up and costumes of the girls. Indeed, all one has to do to appreciate the difference is compare pictures of The Golddiggers taken before and after 1970: The earlier photos look like vintage shots from the late 1960s; the later ones look as though they could have been taken today.

Another major change for the 1970 telecast was a radical shift in locale: Greg Garrison cut a deal with British impresario Lew Grade to transport the show across the pond (where it was less costly to produce), thus giving birth to The Golddiggers in London, a series that resounded on both sides of the Atlantic (that is, on both NBC and British TV), wherein the acquired taste of droll British comic Marty Feldman could be introduced to American audiences, while the English could partake of comedian Charles Nelson Reilly, dancer Tommy Tune and a bevy of American beauties. The result: more ratings gold, and amped-up revenues.

And for the first time, each girl was given an opportunity to step into the limelight, with each permitted a solo on a different episode. Up to this point, for all of the attention that they had been receiving, and even though their recognizability quotient was growing with every appearance, the girls themselves remained largely in the background. That, however, was now changing, and was about to change even more — Big Time.

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COVER GIRLS: By the time The Golddiggers In London premiered in the summer of 1970, the group’s fame had risen high enough to land its members on the cover of TV Guide all by themselves, leaving no doubt about whom the series’ main attraction was.
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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES:
THE 1969 GOLDDIGGERS (above, left to right): (front row) Lezlie Dalton, Nancy Bonetti; (second row) Michelle DellaFave, Barbara Sanders, Joy Hawkins, Paula Cinko; (third row) Peggy Hansen, Jackie Chidsey, Holly Smith; (fourth row) Suzy Cadham, Rosetta Cox; (top row) Debi McFarland.
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THE 1970-71 GOLDDIGGERS (below, left to right): (bottom row) Paula Cinko, Jackie Chidsey, Michelle DellaFave, Tara Leigh, Liz Kelley; (top row) Wanda Bailey, Rosetta Cox, Pauline Antony, Susan Lund, Pat Mickey.golddiggers-railroadcolorad.jpg

Bringing Home The Gold

After U.S. soldiers returned from the battlefields of Europe following the end of World War I, a popular song of the time posed the question, “How you gonna keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?”

A similar situation confronted both The Golddiggers and their burgeoning multitude of fans when the girls arrived back in the States in the fall of 1970 for the start of the sixth season of The Dean Martin Show.

It was the dawn of a new decade, and not just television, but American society as whole, was rife with ferment.

Dean’s series itself was at a crossroads, transitioning from its first five years as a traditional Music-Variety skein dominated by its star host to a faster-paced hour with a growing cast of regulars that reflected the influence of the new number one gun in town, not only on the NBC schedule, but in all of prime time — Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (ironically, Dan and Dick had received their first big break on TV hosting a 1966 summer replacement series in Dean’s time slot).

Some of the changes on Dean’s show were cosmetic: a redecorated set with brighter colors, Dean opening the program with an upbeat tune rather than a monologue and even the star’s well-known theme song, “Everybody Loves Somebody”, replaced by a bouncy new jingle.

Also gone was the familiar fire pole that Dean had slid down at the top of each show since the start of the second season. It was supplanted by a kind of open elevator on which the host would ride down — not alone, but each week with a different member of The Golddiggers by his side.

For by now, the group had grown so successively popular with each passing season of their own series that the decision was made to use them full-time as the regular female singer-dancers on Dean’s show. On many episodes, they would be allotted their own number, and each week, they would actively participate in other musical segments and in comedy sketches, and would join Dean at the end of the program for a concert-style medley (more about that below). But that wasn’t all.

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THE HIGH LIFE: On his show, Dean often made his entrance from above, whether sliding down a pole, hurtling down steps or descending from the flies on a sofa. At the opening of each episode during the sixth season, a motorized platform carried him from the balcony to the stage, accompanied by a different Golddigger each week.

Ring for The Dingalings

Viewers already growing familiar with individual members of The Golddiggers were now going to get to know four of them even better. Because just as had been done several years earlier when three singers were plucked from the chorus to be the seminal “Dean’s Girls”, so, now, were four gals chosen from the larger set of Golddiggers to form a subset — a more intimate quartet, dubbed The Dingaling Sisters.

The sobriquet itself might have struck some as being a tad demeaning, even in that less enlightened era; but if anything, the talent of the troupe triumphantly transcended their title — to the point where in today’s social climate, most would regard it as simply being intentionally ironic.

All four members of the Dings — Michelle DellaFave, Tara Leigh, Susan Lund, and Wanda Bailey — continued performing with the larger ensemble, but also did their own numbers, which, during this first year, tended to be hipper, more funk- or rock-oriented tunes than those rendered by the parent group.

So, by 1970-71, the women of The Dean Martin Show were no longer merely an afterthought or pretty ornamentation, but rather, a fundamental and talented presence that commanded a significant portion of the program’s air time…and viewers’ interest.

vlcsnap-105206.jpg FIRST EDITION: THE 1970-71 DINGALING SISTERS: (above, left to right) Susan Lund, Wanda Bailey, Tara Leigh and Michelle DellaFave

Spinning Gold

The least fair criticism ever lodged against The Golddiggers was that they either couldn’t sing or just weren’t very good at it. Dusting off the turntable and playing any of the three LPs that the group cut between 1969 and 1971 — their self-titled debut album, their Christmas package (We Need A Little Christmas) and their final set (The Golddiggers: Today!) — is all that it takes to dispel that myth once and for all.

Listening to any of those three discs reveals intricate harmonies, impressive solos and a facility for handling a wide range of musical styles.

The quality of the work stands as a testament not only to the vocal talents of the girls, but also the writing and production skills of the men behind the scenes: bandleader Van Alexander, vocal coach Jack Halloran, songsmith Geoff Clarkson, and of course, songwriter and all-around project supervisor Lee Hale.

Though long out-of-print, all three albums remain highly sought-after collector’s items, and occasionally pop up for sale on eBay and in used record stores.

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GOLD RECORDS: The Golddiggers’ stacks of wax include their maiden voyage on vinyl (issued July 1969); their yuletide garland (Fall 1969); and their crowning achievement, Today! (Fall 1971).

Welcome To Their World

One of the choicest televised showcases for The Golddiggers’ vocal abilities came when they would join Dean each week during the 1970-71 season for a medley of songs that topped off the night’s program. The segment not only enabled the girls to be heard, but seen to great effect, as well — with the inclusion of plenty of entrancing, picture-perfect close-ups.

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Seated in a plush, relaxed, intimate milieu, the host and the ladies would open with a few bars of “Welcome To My World”, then wend their way through a lush set of three numbers. The selections, superbly arranged and woven together by resident musical maestro Lee Hale, and orchestrated by the show’s longtime conductor, Van Alexander, leaned heavily toward optimistic, uplifting tunes such as “On A Clear Day”, “Look For The Silver Lining”, “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing”, “The Best Things In Life Are Free”, “Street of Dreams” — melodies which, in less capable hands, could come off as syrupy, schmaltzy — or worse, both.

But shaped by Lee Hale’s magic touch, and rendered mellifluously by Dean and The Golddiggers, the results were instead a soothing symphonic serenade that transported viewers into a tranquil respite from the worries of a troubled world and made the perfect nightcap for Thursday’s primetime lineup, just ahead of the end of the work week.

Performed absent the usual clowning and banter, it was a quiet little corner of the program where each week, Dean and The Golddiggers could literally make beautiful music together. And for those watching at home, it was a chance to float away with them on a velvet cloud of sheer sonic serenity.

To the eyes and ears of this observer, these priceless moments stand as the most sublime ever to appear on television.

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OUT OF THIS WORLD:
Dean and The Golddiggers make the sweetest music this side of Heaven.vlcsnap-105879.jpg

A Golden Opportunity

At some point during the course of the 1970-71 season of The Dean Martin Show, two separate forces would converge to inspire in producer Greg Garrison an entrepreneurial epiphany.

The first of these factors would originate not in Hollywood, but in Washington, D.C.:

Following a five-year investigation of the three television networks’ long-standing dominance of evening program schedules, the Federal Communications Commission in 1970 dealt a sharp blow to ABC, CBS and NBC with the declaration of the Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR).

The new edict forced network-owned and –affiliated stations in the top fifty markets (and thus, effectively in the rest of the country, as well) to reduce the amount of network-supplied programming that they could carry between 7 and 11 PM (6 and 10 PM Central and Mountain time) from three-and-a-half hours to three each night (an exception was made for news programs, thus allowing the three network evening news broadcasts to continue airing during the first half-hour of prime time).

While the rule was fought tooth and nail by the Big Three, fearful of any erosion of their power, it was spearheaded by the Westinghouse station group and championed by other network affiliates because it enabled local stations to pocket more advertising revenues from the lucrative evening time periods.

But there was another party also supportive of — and destined to benefit from — the new restriction on networks: Independent producers. They would gain not only from PTAR, but also from a newly enacted corollary — the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (Fin-Syn) — which, for the first time, prohibited the networks from syndicating programs to television stations. or even retaining a financial stake in shows that they had originally broadcast, once the programs went into syndication.

So now before it seems as though the history of The Golddiggers has somehow wandered off into an esoteric excursus on 1970s federal telecommunications regulatory policy, here’s how it all comes together:

With the sudden opening up of half-hour tracts of prime real estate up and down the television landscape, Greg Garrison became one of the production company owners who saw a chance to expand his holdings. And unlike many of his fellow program developers, for his first venture, he didn’t have to build a new structure from scratch — he already had a successful property that had proven itself over the course of three summer stays in network territory: The Golddiggers.

And like any shrewd businessperson who always keeps an eye on the bottom line, Greg Garrison detected yet another plus to this new set of circumstances: In spinning off The Golddiggers from The Dean Martin Show to their own weekly syndicated series, he could still maintain a pulchritudinous presence on Dean’s program by keeping The Dingaling Sisters on that show — in the bargain, saving money by reducing overhead at the network level (specifically: having to pay only four female regulars instead of ten or more), while at the same time, taking advantage of the economies afforded by the lower budgets of syndicated series to turn a tidy profit with the larger set of girls on the new Golddiggers skein.

It was a simple equation — More girls + More exposure + Better cost containment = More money coming in…and a great deal for fans of both The Golddiggers and The Dingalings.

24-Karat Gold

So it was that when the new Prime Time Access Rule went into effect in the fall of 1971, television audiences were greeted by a panoply of new schlocky syndicated fare — and amidst all of the dross, one glistening, golden jackpot: Dean’s girls now in not just one, but two spots on the prime-time schedule.

Making its debut in various time periods on close to two hundred stations around the country, Chevrolet Presents The Golddiggers offered a weekly half-hour version of the formula that had worked so well in one-hour-length for three summers on NBC. In fact, as the title of the series conveys, Chevrolet, which had sponsored the network telecasts of the show, chose to remain in the driver’s seat, chauffeuring the ladies as they traveled the road to syndication.

Reprising his role from The Golddiggers in London as in-house comic was Charles Nelson Reilly, joined by F Troop’s Larry Storch. And, as on the previous versions of The Golddiggers, the women themselves performed a mix of up-tempo numbers and ballads, and participated in comedy sketches.

But one new wrinkle in this version of the series was that it featured a different big-name guest star each week — generally male, but occasionally, female.

The majority of The Golddiggers themselves were drawn from the last group that had appeared on the previous season of Dean’s show. A lot of incorrect information about the lineup on the syndicated version has been published elsewhere; here (we believe and hope) is an accurate accounting:

From the 1970-71 season of The Dean Martin Show, five of The Golddiggers — Jackie Chidsey, Susan Lund, Liz Kelley, Francie Mendenhall and Janice Whitby — went on to the first year of the syndicated series (1971-72), joined by freshmen Tanya DellaFave, Jimmi Cannon, Nancy Reichert and Lee Crawford.

Two of the ’70-71 Golddiggers, who had also been members of The Dingaling Sisters — Michelle DellaFave and Tara Leigh — stayed with the latter group on the ’71-’72 edition of Dean’s show, and Lynne Latham (who actually had been a dancer on the show during the 1969-70 season) and newcomer Taffy Jones, rounded out the quartet.

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PORTRAITS OF PERFECTION:
THE 1971-72 GOLDDIGGERS (above,
left to right): (top row) Tanya DellaFave, Lee Crawford, Jimmi Cannon; (middle row) Susan Lund, Jackie Chidsey, Liz Kelley; (bottom row) Janice Whitby, Nancy Reichert, Francie Mendenhall

Don’t Touch Your Dial

While The Golddiggers were basking in glowing ratings in the pastures of syndication, their sisters — The Dingaling Sisters, that is — were involved not just in reinvigorating the flagship of the Greg Garrison empire, The Dean Martin Show — they were helping to remake it.

Audiences tuning in on September 16, 1971 for the seventh season premiere of the series must have gotten quite a jolt. There, instead of Dean Martin opening The Dean Martin Show (as everyone had grown accustomed to seeing for the past six years), viewers witnessed four of the most dazzling–looking women ever to light up the TV screen, styled to the max and dressed to the nines in lamé halter tops and hip huggers, performing a showstopping song-and-dance intro sure to catch the attention of even the most listless couch potato.

That same 20-second grabber would serve as the introduction to the show for the entire season and signaled the upgraded importance of The Dingaling Sisters to the series.

Following the girls, Dean would slide down his now-reinstated fire pole (sometimes by himself, sometimes with one or more guests negotiating their own poles) and perform the opening song. But either at the beginning of that number or not long thereafter, The Dingalings would be back on screen, joining Dean and his guests. To be sure, Dean was still the star, but even at the top of the show, he was now sharing the stage — thankfully not with a comedian, as he once did with Jerry, but with four lovely and talented gals in the persons of Michelle, Tara, Lynne and Taffy.

And those four would accompany him each week not just at the start of the program, but also for a game of musical questions, a medley, and the show’s closing number. And, of course, they also had their own number on each episode.

Between The Golddiggers on their show and The Dingalings on Dean’s, this was, for devotees of these groups, truly a second Golden Age of Television.

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THERE’S SOMETHING BIG COMING UP ON YOUR SCREEN:
The Dingaling Sisters open — and come close to stealing — the show, during the 7th season.
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vlcsnap-4822657.jpgCOZYING UP TO THE BOSS: Huddled around Dean are THE 1971-72 DINGALINGS (clockwise from far left): Michelle DellaFave, Taffy Jones, Tara Leigh, and Lynne Latham.

All That Glitters…

Pleased with the ratings report card from their freshman year, underwriter Chevrolet and the TV stations housing their program both agreed to renew The Golddiggers in syndication for the new fall semester beginning in September 1972.

Five members of the previous season’s class returned (Jackie Chidsey, Susan Lund, Liz Kelley, Francie Mendenhall and Jimmi Cannon) and three new ones (Loyita Chapel, Karen Cavenaugh and Rebecca Jones) registered to join them. Manning the peanut gallery to crack wise were comedians Jackie Vernon and Lonnie Schorr.

The basic format remained unchanged and audiences stayed loyal, thus making the shows — which were relatively inexpensive to produce — quite profitable for Greg Garrison.

But revenue from the TV series wasn’t the only source of income that Garrison derived from The Golddiggers. In their time away from the set, the girls toured the country, not only playing nightclubs and other entertainment spots, but also lending some showbiz pizzazz to such otherwise mundane events as car shows, county fairs and even retail store openings. The ladies themselves were, of course, paid for these appearances, but nowhere near a level befitting their stature as headliners of a popular weekly television series. After a while, the low wages and grueling schedules began to chafe.

With discontent in their ranks already mounting, the final straw for the girls came during a sojourn in Mexico, wherein, due to a cascading string of hapless events, they found themselves stranded across the border.

They eventually made their way home, but as member Susan Lund told Fanfare magazine — and as reprinted on the TV Party Golddiggers page — “That was the end of the line for us. We had a little party. We all put our false eyelashes in a pile and burned them. Then we put all our falsies in a pile and we burned them. Then we all hugged each other and talked about how wonderful it had been.”

For Greg Garrison, the only thing left to do was pull the plug. The Chevrolet series vanished from the airwaves in the spring of 1973, before most of that season’s original episodes had ever even had a chance to be repeated.

vlcsnap-3347156.jpgHOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: THE 1972-73 GOLDDIGGERS, seen here returning to their roots for the 1972 Christmas episode of Dean’s show (clockwise from far left): Francie Mendenhall, Jackie Chidsey, Loyita Chapel, Karen Cavenaugh, Rebecca Jones, Jimmi Cannon, Liz Kelley and Susan Lund.

Worth Their Weight In Gold

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (the NBC ranch, that is, in beautiful downtown Burbank), the air may have been far more rarefied, but the atmosphere was somewhat less than idyllic.

As the eighth season got underway in the fall of 1972, ratings for the jewel in Greg Garrison Productions’ crown, The Dean Martin Show, were beginning to slip, and the star of the show himself seemed to be exhibiting both less enthusiasm, and less energy, for the job.

Continuing to provide a boost of adrenaline to the proceedings were The Dingaling Sisters, whose personnel went through a bit of shuffling to accommodate other needs.

Michelle DellaFave, the very popular and talented blonde member of the group, was enlisted for duty on a new syndicated venture that Garrison was launching, The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters, on which she was paired with actress-singer Lonette McKee to form a new duo, The Soul Sisters.

Tara Leigh and Lynne Latham were retained for The Dingalings, and two new ladies, Jayne Kennedy and Helen Funai, were brought aboard to complete the foursome. (Each of the latter two broke new ground on the series; for details, see their individual profiles in the Dean’s List section of this site).

In late autumn, the lineup grew even more complex, as Tara and Lynne departed, Michelle was brought back and rookie Lindsay Bloom was added.

However, because segments of the show were by now sometimes being taped weeks apart and out-of-sequence, there were a handful of episodes shown in late 1972 and early 1973 in which the first set of Dingalings (Tara, Lynne, Jayne and Helen) would appear at, say, the beginning of the show, and then later in the same hour, the second season set (Michelle, Jayne, Helen and Lindsay) would suddenly be seated next to Dean for their weekly medley (or vice-versa!).

But no matter which combination was on at any given time, there was little doubt that The Dingalings were more than pulling their weight in helping to shore up the show’s declining ratings.

By the end of the season, though, the erosion was significant enough — especially in the increasingly crucial demographic measurements, where the series was shown to be lagging in pulling in the 18-34 crowd that advertisers covet — that the decision was made to completely revamp the program. This time, it wasn’t just a fresh coat of paint that would be applied; the whole slate would be wiped virtually clean.

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THE 1972-73 DINGALINGS, TAKE ONE:
(clockwise from left): Helen Funai, Jayne Kennedy, Lynne Latham, Tara Leigh; (center): Some fella from Steubenville, Ohio whom we heard made it big.
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vlcsnap-8859078lrg.jpgTHE FINAL FOUR: THE 1972-73 DINGALINGS, TAKE TWO (clockwise from left): Lindsay Bloom, Jayne Kennedy, Michelle DellaFave, Helen Funai; (center): Guess who!

Gold Plated

In September 1973, The Dean Martin Show would be reborn as The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, and moved out of the Thursday night 10 PM time period that it had held for its first eight years of life to the Friday at 10 o’clock slot, when fewer homes altogether were watching television, and the available audience skewed much younger (a brilliant move by network executives for a series that already had an aging audience base).

All of the regulars from past seasons, save for Dean’s longtime accompanist, Ken Lane, were dispatched — and no, The Dingalings were not spared the axe. There were some new female faces on the show, but none with which audiences could grow as comfortable as they had with the earlier ones, nor any to which Dean himself could relate in the same easygoing way.

The extent to which The Dingalings had been propping up the series for at least the last year was now plainly evident. Their departure, along with the audience’s rejection of the other changes that had been made, were reflected in diminishing ratings. By mid-season, the new format was thrown out, replaced by celebrity roasts that had proven to be the only popular feature of the new Comedy Hour and would now occupy the full hour for the rest of the season.

Although the roasts would continue to be seen for several more years thereafter, they would be telecast in the form of specials. The ninth season of Dean Martin’s regular weekly primetime television series — and the first in years without any of the original generation of Golddiggers or Dingalings — would be the last.

Golden Sunset

The women that Lee Hale auditioned and selected, and which Greg Garrison — and ultimately, Dean himself — approved to be on The Dean Martin Show and The Golddiggers series during those first eight years embodied an extraordinary group of performers.

These were not the June Taylor Dancers (of Jackie Gleason Show fame) or The Rockettes or any other assemblage of pretty but anonymous chorus girls. After all, how many of them are remembered and celebrated more than a quarter century after they last worked together?

More than just having looks, figures, voices and dance moves that could draw notice, The Golddiggers, Dingalings and Dean’s Girls exuded distinctive personalities and charm that penetrated the barrier between TV screen and viewer. Much like the above-the-title stars of television series who grow to be familiar and comforting fixtures in people’s homes, so, too, did these supporting players become warm and welcome parts of viewers’ lives.

But by the end of the 1972-73 television season, this precious treasure trove of talent, to which so many had grown so accustomed, would fade from the airwaves, their likes never to be seen again.

For those who had shared Dean Martin’s love of beautiful women who could enchant audiences with their singing, dancing and dynamic presence, this all-too-brief moment in time was coming to a close; the sun was setting on El Dorado.

Gold Dust

There were later incarnations of The Golddiggers that were constituted with all-new lineups, mainly to back Dean on his TV specials and for his Las Vegas nightclub engagements. But this newer generation was attired, choreographed and presented in a much more demure fashion than preceding ones, and without the exposure afforded by a weekly television series, never achieved anywhere near the impact of earlier iterations.

So it is on those memorable sets of female performers from the prime years of The Dean Martin Show and The Golddiggers summer and syndicated series that this effort has cast its attention. And it is on the audiences who watched them so long ago, but remember them vividly still, that these female performers have forever cast their spell.

(Additional, individualized information about all of the aforementioned performers, as well as others, can be found in the Dean’s List section of this site.)

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