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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dora Hall


She was known as "The Queen Of The Vanity Records". And "vanity" took on a whole new meaning with Dora Hall.

But first, "What is a vanity record?" you ask. "And who the hell is Dora Hall?"

You better sit down for this.

A vanity record is an album or single that a completely unknown person makes for commercial sale outside of independent or major labels.

They never "pay their dues" the way most actual stars do with hard work, constant touring, daily practice and nightly performance. And most of all, making connections (after all, it's not always WHAT you know but who you know.)

The vanity act often has little to no live performance history or review, no music industry credentials or experience. Someone who basically makes records based on nothing else but their own self perceived enormous talent.

Basically, a self-made, self appreciated and self-assured star in their own right. They often entice friends and family to buy their self distributed records and basically live delusionally in their own superstar fantasy. Sometimes, they'll take out self written, superlative filled advertisements to entice others to buy their music.

99.9% of these acts NEVER get noticed by the music industry (professional or independent) and most want nothing to do with them as they expect some level of "dues paying". Those who do it this way are perceived as arrogant, stuck up and overly demanding with no basis other than themselves.

Not much is known about Dora Hall prior to her vanity career. It's been said she was a so-so cabaret act in the '20s, (she claimed she was entertaining troops during World War I.) But in 1926 she met and married Leo Hulseman, who became a wealthy disposable cup magnate and the founder and CEO of the Solo Cup Company.

But in the early '60s, Dora Hall, now an aging grandmother had decided to re-enter show business. But the industry wasn't interested in an inexperienced elderly grandmother with virtually no track record whatsoever.

No biggie. Her husband was more than happy to make her a star. Experience and industry expectations? BAH! He was a multi-millionaire and he could spend that money any damn way he pleased.

He set up a couple fake record labels, Reinbeau (pronounced "Rainbow"), Premore, and Cozy. Almost EXCLUSIVELY for recording his wife's songs.



There was one other artist on the Solo Cup labels, somebody named Larry Taylor (not the Canned Heat bassist).

But how would Leo Hulseman get his wife's music out to the public? Commercial radio rarely plays anything (then or now) from unsolicited, unknown acts in enough rotation to garner any kind of attention. But NEVER one whose career was basically BOUGHT. (There were STRICT laws against payola on the radio back then.)

Again, no biggie. He simply GAVE them away (or included mail-order coupons) on or in the packaging of his Solo Cozy Cup products.

The Solo Cozy Cup was an environmentalist nightmare neatly packaged with bottomless cups and disposable paper (later plastic) cone shaped cups. On every package was a free record offer. It often didn't mention Dora Hall's name or even what song you're getting, just a "Top Tune Record". And all you had to do was check your particular genre on the order form and aside from the cost of a stamp. It was free, a mystery with grooves. So many did. just to see what they would get. Larger packages often had a randomly selected record included in the packaging....   

Solo Cozy Cups were ubiquitous in coffee shops in the early-mid '70s. The ones who bought them for home use were often those weird old ladies who thought they were so modern and convenient in spite of the fact everybody else, including their own husbands HATED them..... 


   
 Well, no doubt this was stirring some, albeit mediocre amount of attention. Who was this strange woman who made some of the most godawful covers of '60s pop songs the human ear has ever heard?



And why did her music always come with Solo cup products?

Well, needless to say, Leo Hulseman was going to make his wife a superstar, no matter what. The laws against payola on the radio were one thing.

But there was NOTHING against payola on TV.

Hulseman also owned a TV studio in Culver City, CA. Which he rented out to various TV networks to produce shows in. But his biggest ambition was to produce a HUGE variety show where his wife, Dora Hall was the star. And in 1971, he did. And Dora Hall was flanked by several B-list names of the time (Frank Sinatra Jr., Phil Harris, Rich Little, Rosey Grier, etc.) in a variety show called "Once Upon A Tour".

At the time, TV variety shows (Tony Orlando & Dawn, Sonny & Cher, Donny & Marie, etc.) were all BIG in the '70s (only to be completely - and actually mercifully - killed off forever by the Pink Lady show in 1980. Look for more about that here tomorrow.)

It didn't matter to the other stars who Dora Hall was or how she got to where she was, Or that she had problems singing on key. Leo Hulseman cut HUGE checks for their appearances. And the money DID talk.



He shopped the show around to the three commercial TV networks back then (ABC, NBC and CBS.) But the networks wanted none of it. So he syndicated the show. Prime time entertainment starved independent TV stations (or network stations during off-network hours) could air it that way.

But just as much as the entertainment (or whatever it was), the show was to sell Solo products. And of course, the included Dora Hall record offers.

There were a few more of these shows. But Dora Hall was well into her late '70s by this time and having serious trouble adapting to the changing times (disco namely.) And all of her syndicated shows bombed in the ratings. And by 1980, Solo cups were sold without record offers (although she did made one interesting inroad before the end. When the very first consumer video tape machines came out in the late '70s, she offered free video tapes of her old TV shows - with the purchase of Solo Cups, of course.)

And Dora Hall faded back into obscurity She died in May 1988.

However, she did maintain a very small, but loyal fan club. And her fans (what few there were) have maintained a fan site in her memory.

http://dorahall.tvheaven.com/index.html

So think about that with your next red Solo cup of whatever.......

15 comments:

  1. Believe it or not, one Dora Hall single actually charted for one week on legendary Chicago hit station WLS. "Hello Faithless" squeaked in at #39 on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey dated December 15, 1962, dropping off the chart the following week.

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  2. Ahhh yes, Dora Hall, the ORIGINAL Red Solo Cup lady. I remember those records that were given away with Solo cup products, as well as the "Once Upon a Tour" TV special. Believe it or not, one Dora Hall single actually charted on legendary Chicago top 40 station WLS for one week: "Hello Faithless" appeared on the December 15, 1962 Silver Dollar Survey, peaking at #39. I'm guessing a lot of people in the Chicago area bought Solo cups for the upcoming Christmas holiday that year!

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  3. My dad gave me "Dora Hall Sings Disco" sometime in the mid 70's. It was his attempt to bridge the musical gap between his era of Top 40 and mine I guess. It was a super sweet gesture and I would have never wanted to hurt his feelings so I would listen to it some when he was home. It was truly horrendous! Kind of wish I had it now just for laughs...

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  4. dj sista whitenoise, I feel your pain. But hey, you only got one dad. :) I can't believe she actually tried DISCO. But then again, so did Ethel Merman....Cheers!

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  5. I don't know anything about her more "adult" work, but I absolutely adored "Children for Dora Hall". Maybe she just missed her mark. Her kids songs were fun and I still catch myself humming "tony the Pony". :)

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    1. I loved that record, too! No idea how I got it, as my mother wasn't one to send away for free stuff. Maybe my grandmother did. In any event, I still no every word to "Mr. Boogie Woogie," and it's been almost 40 years.

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  6. I have a copy of "I Got You Babe" and "Hang On Sloopy" that I got with a bunch of other 45's in the late 70's from a bar when they took them out of the juke box. Who needs radio airplay anyway, when your record is in a juke box in Janesville Wisconsin?

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  7. So what that she was not well known (who is at the start anyway). She tried to do something with her life that she wanted to do. I don't care for her music either really, but she tried and she had a dream (perhaps a nightmare to the writer of this "blog") which is more than can be said for many others. Good for Dora Hall.

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    1. Not a "nightmare" to me. Just a pop culture oddity. I'm just the reporter.

      Cheers!

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  8. I always wondered who the heck Dora Hall was, when I was a kid I somehow had a 45 rpm record called "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" but even as a little boy I knew it wasn't the Hit record version, so I just assumed it was one of those "sound-a-like" low-budget records. How do we determine for certain what a "vanity" artist is? I've known singers who were quite good, who did self-produced records, and maybe wouldn't HAVE GOTTEN a break from major labels and the music business was tough both then (and certainly now). I know that for myself, I did radio and tv jingles, many many nightclubs, had a small label record contract, and self-produced one single - the records that others produced for me were non-hits, but they tried and I did my best as well. I had legit managers and agents (George Scheck was my manager for a time, he had managed Connie Francis and at one time, Bobby Darin) but in my opinion my "timing" was off, meaning that the days of the stand up singer were essentially over while a harder rock sound was beginning to dominate the music scene. So, was I too, to some degree, a "vanity" act or a reasonably good singer who didn't have the important breaks come his way?

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  9. I grew up listening to a Dora Hall record called The Wonderful World of Children. I never knew who Dora Hall was.

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  10. There was in fact at least one other artist credited on the Cozy Records label: Bill Justis, former hit maker. Who knows what he had to do with these instrumental numbers, or if Hulseman just paid Justis to slap his name on there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NuuBICRtrs

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    1. I remember seeing his name on Cozy/Premore/Reinbeau Records. Like you mentioned, he might have been just a contact in Hulseman's Rolodex to add some semblance of balance to his labels. But the labels were really just a side hobby with Hulseman and it was the disposable cup company that really paid the bills. I often wondered why he never got into the $1.98 budget label business as he might have gotten some kind of mediocre return and wider distribution of his music.

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    2. Well, there was also "Larry Taylor." See the photo of the "Bay Face" recording above. (-:

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  11. Walking down the street, when I recognize the tune playing in my head: Dora Hall's recording of We'll Sing in The Sunshine" from God knows when. My Grandmother, a faithful solo cup user, gave me a couple Dora Hall 45s, and I was always curious about her, but I didn't have the internet back then. So I took out my phone and googled her. INTERNET YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN! Thanks for the much appreciated info. Dora Hall's voice wasn't great but it wasn't bad. It was a bit comfortable, friendly sound. I'm glad she wasn't Forgotten.
    Info, it's much appreciated.

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