Sheree North

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Sheree North
Sheree North 1975.JPG
Sheree North in 1975
Dawn Shirley Crang

(1932-01-17)January 17, 1932
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedNovember 4, 2005(2005-11-04) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesDawn Shirley Bethel
Sherree Bessire
Shirley Mae Bessire
  • Actress
  • singer
  • dancer
Years active1951–2000
Fred Bessire
(m. 1948; div. 1953)

John "Bud" Freeman
(m. 1955; div. 1956)

Dr. Gerhardt Sommer
(m. 1958; div. 1963)

Phillip Alan Norman
(m. 2003)

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.

Early life[edit]

North was born Dawn Shirley Crang[1] in Los Angeles, California, on January 17, 1932, the daughter of June (née Shoard) and Richard Crang. Following her mother's remarriage to Edward Bethel, she was known as Dawn Shirley Bethel.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] (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.[2] She reprised her role in the film version, Living It Up (1954), starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.[citation needed] 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.[3]

20th Century-Fox[edit]

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.[4]

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".[5] 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.[6]

Sheree North on the cover of Life (March 21, 1955)

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Later years[edit]

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).[citation needed]

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).[citation needed]

When she was not working in films, she worked in musicals and many other theatrical productions. She appeared on Broadway doing a lively routine in the musical Hazel Flagg (1953), and won a Theatre World Award. This led directly to her being cast in the film Living It Up (1954). In 1962, she appeared on Broadway as Martha Mills in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, with Jack Kruschen, Elliott Gould, and Barbra Streisand in her Broadway debut. North also appeared in productions of Irma La Douce, Bye Bye Birdie, and Can-Can. In 1965, she took over from Shirley Knight in a Los Angeles production of Dutchman that coincided with the 1965 Watts riots. The production was controversial and was blamed by conservatives for inciting unrest. It was picketed, ads in newspapers were blocked, and North's car was set on fire. Despite that, the production ran for a year.

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 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).

Ed Asner as Lou Grant and Sheree North as Charlene Maguire, his new girlfriend, in a fifth-season episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

A favorite of film producer/director Don Siegel, she appeared in four of his films: in 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 Telefon. Other notable performances were in The Gypsy Moths (1969) with Burt Lancaster and Gene Hackman; and as Burt Lancaster's ex-lover in Michael Winner's Western, Lawman (1971) with Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, and Albert Salmi. She also appeared in the crime drama The Organization (1971) with Sidney Poitier, and in The Outfit (1973) with Duvall, Joe Don Baker, and Karen Black.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, North appeared in guest spots on TV shows, including Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan & Wife, Matlock, Family, and Magnum, P.I.. She played Lou Grant's girlfriend in 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 Steven Bochco's 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. Her last screen role was in John Landis' black comedy Susan's Plan (1998).[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

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; the marriage ended a year later. Her third marriage was to a psychologist, Gerhardt Sommer, with whom she had another daughter, Erica Eve. The marriage ended in divorce in 1963.[citation needed] At the time of her death, North was married to her fourth husband, Emmy Award-winning title designer Phillip "Phill" Norman.[6]

On November 4, 2005, aged 73, North died of complications following surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.[7] [8]




Awards and honors[edit]

Theatre World Award

  • Won: For performance in Hazel Flagg (1953)

Emmy Award

  • 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)


  1. ^ Theatre World 2005–2006; accessed December 26, 2014.
  2. ^ Sheree North at the Internet Broadway Database
  3. ^ "Anything Goes! on DVD". Television Academy Foundation's Archive of American Television. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Sheree North". Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b Oliver, Myrna (2005-11-05). "Sheree North; blond bombshell recast career with character roles". The Boston Globe.
  7. ^ Some sources claim that it was cancer-related surgery but no reliable first-hand sources disclose the precise nature of the surgery, nor did her family.
  8. ^ Oliver, Myrna (7 November 2005). "Sheree North, 72; Stand-In for Marilyn Monroe Forged a Lengthy Acting Career". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 January 2022.

External links[edit]