Dona Drake

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Dona Drake
Dona Drake.jpg
Born Eunice Westmoreland
(1914-11-15)November 15, 1914
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Died June 20, 1989(1989-06-20) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Rita Rio, Una Velon, Rita Shaw[1]
Occupation Actress, singer, dancer
Years active 1933–1977
Spouse(s) William Travilla (1944-1989) (her death)
Children Nia Novella Travilla (b. 1951)

Dona Drake (born Eunice Westmoreland; November 15, 1914 – June 20, 1989) was an American singer, dancer and film actress in the 1930s and 1940s. She also toured in an all-girl orchestra in the early 1940s.

Early life[edit]

She was born Eunice Westmoreland in Miami, Florida, in 1914 to Joseph Andrew Westmoreland of Arkansas and his wife, Novella Smith of Alabama. She was one of their five children.[2]


Entering show business in the 1930s, she used the names Una Velon, Rita Rio and Rita Shaw.[1] She settled on the stage name Dona Drake in the early 1940s. Studio publicity during her heyday incorrectly stated that Drake was of Mexican origin and was born Rita Novella.[3] (Novella was actually her mother's first name.) U.S Census reports of her family history show her grandparents were one Black couple and one couple that was Black/White.

Because of her features and dark curly hair, film makers often cast her when they needed to fill the role of an ethnic character that looked native, gypsy, or middle eastern. . She is perhaps best known for playing the American Indian maid of Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest. She also appeared as an Arab girl opposite Bob Hope in Road to Morocco in 1942. In 1944 she appeared in a B-movie titled Hot Rhythm as one of the leading characters, a big band singer. This movie featured Irene Ryan (Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies) as the ditsy secretary. She had a notable "non-ethnic" role as the second female lead in the 1949 comedy The Girl from Jones Beach, playing opposite Eddie Bracken. The year before she gave a memorable comic performance as the fortune hunting sister in So This Is New York.

In the early 1940s, Drake toured with an all-girl orchestra called "The Girl Friends" throughout the United States.[4] Fellow actresses Marie Wilson, Toby Wing, and Faith Bacon were also part of the orchestra.

Personal life[edit]

In 1936, Drake was questioned by the FBI about the murder of her then-boyfriend and known mobster, Louis Amberg. She claimed to only know him as "Mr. Cohen" and had no idea what he did for a living.

Drake married fashion designer William Travilla August 19, 1944. They were married until her death and had one daughter, Nia (b. August 16, 1951 - d. October 1, 2002).[2] William Travilla appeared on the 24 March 1960 episode of "You Bet Your Life", hosted by Groucho Marx; he introduced his elegantly-dressed wife, Dona, to the audience.[5]


Drake died in Los Angeles, California on June 20, 1989 at the age of 74 of pneumonia and respiratory failure. She was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.[6]


Film and television
Year Title Role Notes
1935 Moonlight and Melody Rita credited as Rita Rio
1936 Strike Me Pink Mademoiselle Fifi credited as Rita Rio
1938 Sweet Shoe Rita Rio credited as Rita Rio
1938 Beautiful, But Dummies Model credited as Rita Ray
1939 Gals and Gallons Orchestra Leader credited as Rita Rio
1939 Rita Rio and Her Orchestra Rita Rio played self in this 10-minute short[7]
1941 I Look at You Rita Rio With Alan Ladd.
1941 Fresh as a Freshman Rita Rio
1941 Aloma of the South Seas Nea first film credit as Dona Drake[3]
1941 Louisiana Purchase Beatrice
1942 Road to Morocco Mihirmah credited as Dona Drake
1943 Star Spangled Rhythm herself performs song "On the Swing Shift" with Marjorie Reynolds and Betty Jane Rhodes
1943 Salute for Three Dona Drake and Her Girl Band credited as Dona Drake
1943 Let's Face It Muriel
1944 Hot Rhythm Mary Adams
1946 Without Reservations Dolores Ortega
1946 Dangerous Millions Elena Valdez
1948 Another Part of the Forest Laurette Sincee
1948 So This Is New York Kate Goff
1949 The Doolins of Oklahoma Cattle Annie
1949 The Girl from Jones Beach Connie Martin
1949 Beyond the Forest Jenny
1950 Fortunes of Captain Blood Pepita Maria Rosados
1951 Valentino Maria Torres
1952 Kansas City Confidential Teresa
1953 The Bandits of Corsica Zelda
1953 Son of Belle Starr Dolores
1953 Down Laredo Way Narita
1953 Adventures of Superman Joyce episode 35 "The Dog Who Knew Superman" 9th episode of 1953; aired 14 November
1954 Superman Flies Again Joyce theatrical re-release of 3 episodes of the television series included episode 35[8][9]
1954 Princess of the Nile Mirva
1954 City Detective Francesca 1 episode
1955 Soldiers of Fortune Cheu 1 episode
1955 The Lone Wolf Lee 1 episode


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