In the late 1930s, entertainer Dorothy Page proved to movie goers that cowgirls were just as capable of riding and singing while catching bad guys on screen as their male counterparts. She brought to the roles she played a voice above those usually heard and a more sufficient acting ability. Studios hoped those talents would make her as popular as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
Dorothy Page was born Dorothy Lillian Stofflett on March 4, 1904, in Northampton, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Levi J. Stofflet and Annie C. Benkhart. She educated in local schools, including Penn Hall, a school for girls in Chambersburg, and the Northampton High School.
While attending Cedar Crest College where she majored in music, in the early 1920s, she was chosen by the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia as a model for a Saturday Evening Post cover. Dorothy’s portrait was painted by the famous portrait painter Neysa McMein as ‘one of America’s ten most beautiful women’. However, her first appearance in the public eye was almost her last, as she intended to become a housewife and mother.
On July 3, 1925, Dorothy married Waldo Shipton, in Detroit, Michigan. They met while both were in college. Shipton, born in 1899, majored in medicine and after graduating, started a practice in Detroit. Dorothy gave birth to two girls, Barbara Jane, born in 1926, and Dolores Maryann, born in 1929.
Dr. Shipton had a busy practice, but in the early years of the Depression, many of his patients could not always pay for his services. In the interest of bringing in additional income, Shipton urged Dorothy to try out in the ‘Youth in America’ auditions being conducted by orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. Shipton, of course, knew his wife was a talented vocalist. Much to their surprise, Whiteman chose Dorothy as the winner. Thus began her career in radio.
Soon Dorothy became a star on NBC radio in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. She sang with many name bands of the day and occasionally worked on the musical comedy stage. Her singing voice was a contralto and became much in demand by the radio audiences.
Differences between Dorothy and her husband, perhaps caused by her popularity and being away from home, caused them to divorce in 1932. Their daughters were sent to New England where they were raised by Shipton’s parents.
Continuing her career proved no problem for Dorothy, as she remained a radio favorite for many years. In 1935, she was a regular on the show PADUCAH PLANTATION which was written and hosted by humorist Irvin S. Cobb. She played the role of Lucy Virginia, sweetheart of David Henderson (played by John Mather). Cobb played the go-between for the lovers, who were confronted by great parental objection. The show was aired over the NBC-Red Network.
In 1935, Universal Pictures signed Dorothy to a contract. Her first feature was MANHATTAN MOON, in which she starred opposite Ricardo Cortez. She played a dual role: a French nightclub singer and the singer’s double. This must have been a formidable task for her, since she had to learn to speak with a French accent, as well as learn camera angles and new songs. MANHATTAN MOON received favorable public response.
Her second feature for Universal was KING SOLOMON OF BROADWAY (1935), in which Edmund Lowe and Pinky Tomlin co-starred. Tomlin also wrote the songs. Basically, a gangster movie, the best and most entertaining scenes were in the nightclub. This feature was only moderately successful.
Dorothy’s third feature was for Republic Studios. MAMA RUNS WILD (1938) was a comedy vehicle for Mary Boland and Ernest Truex, leaving a small role for Dorothy who didn’t even get to sing. The movie received poor reviews. In late 1938, Grand National Pictures signed Dorothy Page to star in their planned series of westerns featuring a singing cowgirl. They storylines were typical B-western fare. The first of these was WATER RUSTLERS, released on January 6, 1939. In this, Dorothy played the part of rancher Shirley Martin, who was assisted by her foreman Bob Lawson (played by Dave O’Brien) in driving a greedy land baron out of the territory. The storyline was interspersed with a few songs. Dorothy proved to be a pretty good cowgirl, because in real life she loved all outdoor sports and was very fond of horseback riding. These traits worked to her advantage as acting was more realistic. Unfortunately, the movie-going public was not too keen on a woman in the lead role in a western, and the movie fared poorly.
RIDE’ EM COWGIRL, released on January 20, 1939, cast Page as Helen Rickson, a girl who confessed to a crime her father was accused of committing. She sets out to find the real culprit, with the assistance of Milton Frome.
The last of the series, THE SINGING COWGIRL, was released later, in June. Again, Dorothy played a rancher who fought off rustlers. Her leading man again was Dave O’Brien. The public clearly wasn’t going to accept a singing cowgirl, judging by the box office results, and Grand National chose not to make any more in the series. This movie was their last ‘official release’, and after releasing a few imports, went out of business. Dorothy Page also left the business to again become a housewife.
On December 20, 1939, in Las Vegas, Dorothy Stofflett, formerly radio singer and movie actress Dorothy Page, married Los Angeles attorney Frederick D. Leuschner. They resided on his ranch in Tarzana, California, until his death from a chronic heart condition on December 8, 1941, at the age of thirty-six. During this brief marriage, Dorothy started a new career. She bought old run-down Hollywood homes, remodeled them, and sold them for a tidy profit. She continued this for some time after Leuschner’s death.
Dorothy’s final marriage was to Henry Clark McCormick of Fresno, California. They resided on his ranch there, and many of the chores were overseen by Dorothy. Dorothy also bought a 1700-acre cotton ranch in Pecos, Texas, and harvested the cotton for many years.
In the mid-1950s, Dorothy Page was diagnosed with cancer. This illness was to plague her for several years. She underwent surgery many times and took all kinds of medicines to alleviate the symptoms and pain. Henry McCormick left her about this time, perhaps unable to cope with her agony, and they later divorced.
Dorothy moved to LaBelle, Florida, not far from the medical center in Fort Myers where she received treatments. She lost her battle with cancer, dying on March 26, 1961, age 57.