Sheree North (born Dawn Shirley Crang; January 17, 1932 – November 4, 2005) was an American actress, dancer, and singer, known for being one of 20th Century-Fox's intended successors to Marilyn Monroe.
North was born Dawn Shirley Crang in Los Angeles, California, on January 17, 1932, the daughter of June Shoard and Richard Crang. Following her mother's remarriage to Edward Bethel, she was known as Dawn Shirley Bethel.
She began dancing in USO shows during World War II at age 10. In 1948, she married Fred Bessire. She bore her first child at age 17 in 1949, and continued dancing in clubs under the stage name Shirley Mae Bessire. (Already married at this age, her legal name at this time was Dawn Shirley Bessire.)
North made her film début as an uncredited extra in Excuse My Dust (1951). She was then spotted by a choreographer performing at the Macayo Club in Santa Monica, and was cast as a chorus girl in the film Here Come the Girls (1953), starring Bob Hope. Around that time, she adopted the stage name Sheree North. She made her Broadway début in the musical Hazel Flagg, for which she won a Theatre World Award. She reprised her role in the film version, Living It Up (1954), starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In early 1954, at age 22, she appeared in a live TV version of Cole Porter's Anything Goes on The Colgate Comedy Hour, with Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, and Bert Lahr.
In 1954, North signed a four-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. The studio had big plans for her, hoping to groom her as a replacement for the studio's leading—and increasingly uncontrollable—female star Marilyn Monroe. Fox tested North for leading roles in two of their upcoming productions, The Girl in Pink Tights and There's No Business Like Show Business—two films that had been offered to Monroe—while North was wearing Monroe's own studio wardrobe. After her screen tests, though, North was not cast in either film. In March 1954, North had a brush with scandal when she was revealed to have once danced in a bikini in an 8 mm erotic film. Fox capitalized on the publicity, as the studio previously had with Monroe's nude calendar posing in 1952.
In 1955, she was assigned the lead role opposite Betty Grable in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955), a role that Marilyn Monroe had refused. Media attention surrounding Monroe's suspension, and North's hiring resulted in North appearing on the cover of Life with the cover line "Sheree North Takes Over from Marilyn Monroe". How to Be Very, Very Popular did not live up to the hype Fox had generated, though North had appeared on What's My Line? to publicize the film and had been asked point-blank by one of the panelists if she has been associated with Monroe. The movie received mixed reviews from critics and was a moderate box-office success. Despite this, film historians, then and now, cite North's electrically charged dancing to "Shake, Rattle and Roll" as the film's most memorable scene.
In an attempt to promote North, Fox studio executives lobbied to cast her in films surrounded with popular stars. The studio had campaigned to cast her in a film with comedian Tom Ewell, hoping to repeat the success he had with Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (1955). Soon thereafter, the studio assigned North and Ewell to appear together in the romantic comedy The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, plotting the story of an army lieutenant whose husband tries to get her discharged. To promote the film, North posed for several publicity shots showing her legs. When the majority of the shots were released, only her legs appeared, with the tagline "Believe it or not, these legs belong to an army lieutenant." The film premiered with much fanfare in January 1956, and became a box-office success, grossing over $4 million in the United States.
North's follow-up was The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956), a lavish musical in which her singing voice was dubbed by Eileen Wilson. She received fourth billing under Gordon MacRae, Dan Dailey, and Ernest Borgnine. It was an attempt by the studio to broaden North's audience appeal, and while it earned favorable reviews from critics, it did not become the success for which Fox had hoped. In 1956, Fox signed another blonde bombshell in the person of Broadway actress Jayne Mansfield to a contract, and began promoting her instead of North. Although Fox gradually lost interest in North, the studio continued to offer her a string of films. She was offered the lead role in a film called The Girl Upstairs, in which she would have parodied Monroe's on-screen persona.
When North's agent suggested she decline the film, Fox put her on suspension for two months. When her suspension was lifted one month later, North agreed to appear in The Way to the Gold, but only on the assurance that Elvis Presley would be her co-star. When Presley withdrew due to salary disagreements, he was replaced with Jeffrey Hunter, with whom North often quarreled. In the film, North attempted to progress from her blonde bombshell image, playing a sarcastic waitress, and while the film drew mixed reviews, it was a box-office success.
She next starred in No Down Payment (1957), a melodrama about the lives of multiple families living in a California subdivision. Tony Randall played her alcoholic husband in the film. Although critically acclaimed, it was not a box-office success. The following year, she appeared in her final two films for Fox. In Love and War (1958) was a war drama film pairing her again with Jeffrey Hunter, and also with Robert Wagner, Dana Wynter, and Hope Lange. It was not a critical or financial success. Although the musical film genre had declined in profitability, she next co-starred in Mardi Gras (1958) with Pat Boone and Tommy Sands. It was her final film under her contract.
After North's contract with Fox ended in 1958, her career stalled, although she continued to act in films, television, and on the stage throughout the rest of her life. She guest-starred on episodes of The Untouchables and Gunsmoke (both 1963). North joined the cast of I Can Get It for You Wholesale in 1962, which featured Elliott Gould and introduced Barbra Streisand. She later guest-starred on a series of popular television series, including Ben Casey, Burke's Law (1963–65), The Virginian (1964–66), The Big Valley, The Iron Horse (both 1966), and The Fugitive (1965–67).
After an eight-year absence from film acting, North accepted a lead role in the B-movie science-fiction film Destination Inner Space (1966). The film opened to only a minor release in 1966 and has rarely been seen since. North co-starred with Elvis Presley in one of his final films, The Trouble with Girls (1969). While not working in film, she worked in musical theater and many theatrical productions during her 40-year career. In 1965, she took over for Shirley Knight in a Los Angeles production of Dutchman, which coincided with the 1965 Watts riots. The production was controversial and was blamed by conservatives for inciting unrest. It was picketed, ads were blocked from the newspapers, and North's car was set on fire. Despite that, the production ran for a year. She had appeared on Broadway doing a lively routine in the musical Hazel Flagg (1953), consequently winning a Theatre World Award. This led directly to her being cast for the film, Living It Up (1954). In 1962, North appeared on Broadway as Martha Mills in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, with Jack Kruschen, Elliot Gould, and a young Barbra Streisand in her Broadway debut. North also appeared in productions of Irma La Douce, Bye Bye Birdie, and Can Can.
From the 1960s onward, North focused mainly on becoming a solid and versatile character actress, appearing on almost every television Western, cop show, and medical drama produced from the 1960s through the 1990s. She displayed a fine talent for comic timing on many of the situation comedies of the era. She was a favorite in several made-for-television movies. She also earned Emmy nominations for appearances on Marcus Welby, M.D. (1969) and Archie Bunker's Place' (1979).
A favorite of film producer/director Don Siegel, she appeared in four of his films: Madigan (1968) opposite Richard Widmark; in Charley Varrick (1973) with Walter Matthau; as John Wayne's long-lost love in the actor's final film The Shootist (1976); and in Telefon (1977). She had supporting roles in two Charles Bronson movies, Breakout (1975) with Robert Duvall, and the aforementioned Telefon. Other notable Sheree North performances are 1969's The Gypsy Moths with Burt Lancaster and Gene Hackman; as Burt Lancaster's ex-lover in director Michael Winner's 1971 Western, Lawman with Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, and Albert Salmi. She appeared in the 1971 crime drama The Organization with Sidney Poitier, and appeared in 1973's The Outfit with Duvall, Joe Don Baker, and Karen Black.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, North appeared in guest spots on Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan & Wife, Matlock, Family, and Magnum, P.I.. She played Lou Grant's girlfriend on several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She co-starred with Sheldon Leonard in the short-lived CBS sitcom Big Eddie in 1975. During the 1980–81 season, North starred in I'm a Big Girl Now with Diana Canova, Danny Thomas, and Martin Short. The series aired 19 episodes. In 1980, she played Marilyn Monroe's mother in the made-for-television film Marilyn: The Untold Story. In 1983, she appeared in the ensemble cast of the Steven Bochco series Bay City Blues. The hour-long drama series aired eight episodes. North later appeared in two episodes of The Golden Girls as Blanche Devereaux's sister Virginia. In the 1990s, she appeared as Cosmo Kramer's mother Babs Kramer in two episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld. North's last onscreen role came in John Landis' black comedy Susan's Plan (1998).
North was married four times and had two children. In 1948, at age 16, she married Fred Bessire, a draftsman, with whom she had a daughter, Dawn. The marriage ended in 1953. In 1955, she married television writer Bud Freeman, and the marriage ended a year later. Her third marriage was to psychologist Gerhardt Sommer, with whom she had another daughter, Erica Eve. The marriage ended in divorce in 1963. At the time of her death, North was married to her fourth husband, Emmy Award-winning title designer Phillip "Phill" Norman.
- Hazel Flagg (February 11, 1953 – September 19, 1953)
- I Can Get It for You Wholesale (March 22, 1962 – December 8, 1962)
- The Glass Menagerie (Laguna-Moulton Playhouse – January 3, 2000)
- Excuse My Dust (1951) as Six Girl Club Member (uncredited)
- Here Come the Girls (1953) as Chorine with Elephant (uncredited)
- Living It Up (1954) as Jitterbug Dancer
- The Girl in Pink Tights (1954) (uncompleted)
- How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955) as Curly Flagg
- The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956) as Lt. Katy Whitcomb
- The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956) as Kitty Kane
- The Way to the Gold (1957) as Henrietta 'Hank' Clifford - waitress
- No Down Payment (1957) as Isabelle Flagg
- In Love and War (1958) as Lorraine
- Mardi Gras (1958) as Eadie West
- Destination Inner Space (1966) as Dr. Rene Peron
- Madigan (1968) as Jonesy
- The Gypsy Moths (1969) as Waitress
- The Trouble with Girls (1969) as Nita Bix
- Lawman (1971) as Laura Shelby
- The Organization (1971) as Mrs. Morgan
- Charley Varrick (1973) as Jewell Everett
- The Outfit (1973) as Buck's Wife
- Breakout (1975) as Myrna
- The Shootist (1976) as Serepta
- Survival (1976) as Sheree
- Telefon (1977) as Marie Wills
- Rabbit Test (1978) as Mystery Lady
- Only Once in a Lifetime (1979) as Sally
- Maniac Cop (1988) as Sally Noland
- Cold Dog Soup (1990) as Mrs. Hughes
- Defenseless (1991) as Mrs. Bodeck
- Susan's Plan (1998) as Mrs. Beyers (final film role)
- The Bing Crosby Show (CBS, January 3, 1954) as Herself
- The Colgate Comedy Hour (one episode, 1954) as Bonnie
- Shower of Stars (one episode, 1954)
- What's My Line? (one episode, 1955) as Herself
- Playhouse 90 (one episode, 1957) as Suzy
- The Witness (one episode, 1961) as Blossom Knight
- The Untouchables (one episode, 1963) as Claire Simmons
- Gunsmoke (one episode, 1963) as Avis Fisher
- The Eleventh Hour (one episode, 1963) as Peggy Lewis
- Breaking Point (two episodes, 1963) as Susan Beaumont / Lisa Adams
- The Great Adventure (one episode, 1964) as Agnes Lake
- Ben Casey (two episodes, 1963–1964) as Gloria Cooper / Lisa Adams
- The Greatest Show on Earth (one episode, 1964) as Gloria
- Burke's Law (three episodes, 1963–1965) as Cleo Delaney / The Maharani of Kooshipoo / Myrtle 'Gigi' String
- The Loner (one episode, 1965) as Cora Rice
- The Virginian (two episodes, 1964–1966) as Della Saunders / Karen Anders
- Run for Your Life (one episode, 1966) as Jeannie Lake
- The Big Valley (one episode, 1966) as Libby Mathews
- The Iron Horse (one episode, 1966) as Alix Henderson
- Code Name: Heraclitus (1967, TV Movie) as Sally
- Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (three episodes, 1965–1967) as Sally / Mary
- The Fugitive (two episodes, 1965–1967) as Willy / Marianne Adams
- Mannix (one episode, 1968) as Rose Anderson
- Here Come the Brides (one episode, 1968) as Felicia
- Then Came Bronson (one episode, 1969) as Gloria Oresko
- My Friend Tony (one episode, 1969) as Vivian
- The Name of the Game (one episode, 1970) as Mrs. Palmer
- The Most Deadly Game (one episode, 1970) as Lottie
- The Interns (one episode, 1971) as Beth Calico
- Vanished (1971, TV Movie) as Beverly West
- The Smith Family (one episode, 1971) as Sheree
- Alias Smith and Jones (one episode, 1972) as Bess Tapscott
- Rolling Man (1972, TV Movie) as Ruby
- Cannon (one episode, 1972) as Millie Carroll
- Jigsaw (one episode, 1972)
- Trouble Comes to Town (1973, TV Movie) as Mrs. Murdock
- McMillan & Wife (one episode, 1973) as Dr. Marion Voight
- Snatched (1973, TV Movie) as Kim Sutter
- Kung Fu (one episode, 1973) as Noreen Gallagher
- Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (one episode, 1973) as Evelyn Knight
- Hawkins (one episode, 1973) as Debbie Lane
- The Streets of San Francisco (one episode, 1973) as Donna Coughlin
- Maneater (1973, TV Movie) as Gloria Baron
- Key West (1973, TV Movie) as Brandi
- Hec Ramsey (one episode, 1974) as Esther Helpinstall
- Winter Kill (1974, TV Movie) as Betty
- Kojak (two episodes, 1974) as Mrs. Giancana
- Hawaii Five-O (one episode, 1974) as Doris Brown
- Barnaby Jones (one episode, 1974) as Roxy Morgan
- Wide World Mystery (one episode, 1974) as Mrs. Janet Swimmer
- The Whirlwind (1974, TV Movie)
- Movin' On (two episodes, 1974) as Dinah
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show (two episodes, 1974–1975) as Charlene Maguire
- A Shadow in the Streets (1975, TV Movie) as Gina Pulaski
- Medical Center (three episodes, 1971–1975) as Karen Porter / Sylvia Ronston
- Big Eddie (1975) as Honey Smith
- Marcus Welby, M.D. (one episode, 1976) as June Monica
- Most Wanted (1976) as Melissa Dawson
- Family (one episode, 1976) as Constance Hume
- Baretta (one episode, 1977) as Amy
- Future Cop (one episode, 1977) as Claire Hammond
- Westside Medical (two episodes, 1977) as Laurie
- Hallmark Hall of Fame (one episode, 1977) as Adele Serkin
- The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977, TV Movie) as Layla Burden
- Fantasy Island (one episode, 1978) as Julie
- A Real American Hero (1978, TV Movie) as Carrie Todd
- Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979, TV Movie) as Lettie Norman
- Women in White (1979, TV Movie) as Lisa Gordon
- Portrait of a Stripper aka The Secret Life of Susie Hanson (1979, TV Movie) as Sally Evers
- Archie Bunker's Place (two episodes, 1979) as Dotty Wertz
- A Christmas for Boomer (1979, TV Movie) as Dorothy
- Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980, TV Movie) as Gladys Baker
- I'm a Big Girl Now (1980, cast member) as Edie McKendrick
- Legs (1983, TV Movie) as Ida
- Bay City Blues (four episodes, 1983) as Lynn Holtz
- Magnum, P.I. (one episode, 1984) as Blanche Rafferty
- Scorned and Swindled (1984, TV Movie) as Maxine Wagner
- Trapper John, M.D. (one episode, 1985) as Tilly Whiteside
- ABC Afterschool Special (one episode, 1986) as Madelyn
- Matlock (two episodes, 1986) as Alice Jenkins
- Murder, She Wrote (one episode, 1987) as Norma Lewis
- Jake Spanner, Private Eye (1989, TV Movie) as Mrs. Bernstein
- Freddy's Nightmares (one episode, 1989) as Joyce Burton
- Hunter (one episode, 1989) as Dorothy Nickens
- The Golden Girls (two episodes, 1985–1989) as Virginia Hollingsworth
- Dead on the Money (1991, TV Movie)
- Seinfeld (two episodes, 1995–1998) as Babs
Awards and honors
- Won: For performance in Hazel Flagg (1953)
- Nominated: Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series, Marcus Welby, M.D. episode "How Do You Know What Hurts Me?" (1976)
- Nominated: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Archie Bunker's Place (1980)
- Theatre World 2005–2006; accessed December 26, 2014.
- Sheree North at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Anything Goes! on DVD". Television Academy Foundation's Archive of American Television. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from Its Beginnings to the Present (paperback). New York: MacMillan. p. 222. ISBN 0-02-860429-6.
- Sheree North at Variety.com
- Oliver, Myrna (2005-11-05). "Sheree North; blond bombshell recast career with character roles". The Boston Globe.
- Sheree North profile, Filmreference.com; accessed December 26, 2014.