Obituary: Dorothy Kingsley

Dorothy Kingsley, screenwriter: born New York 14 October 1909; twice married (three sons, three daughters); died Carmel, California 26 September 1997.

"I never think of myself as a real writer," said Dorothy Kingsley, looking back on a long career. "I only wrote because I needed the money." The money was steady, and came principally from MGM, who employed this prolific, witty writer for 16 busy years on such musicals as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kiss Me, Kate, and no less than seven vehicles for the swimming star Esther Williams.

Born in New York to an actress mother and a journalist father, Kingsley moved with her mother to Detroit after her parents divorced. After her own marriage was dissolved in the late 1930s, she took her three sons to Los Angeles, determined to support them by becoming a gag writer. She wrote radio comedy for Bob Hope and, later, for the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who started her in screenwriting when he and his dummy Charlie McCarthy appeared in RKO's Look Who's Laughing (1941). This low- budget second feature was a surprise smash hit, and Kingsley also contributed material to its successful sequel, Here We Go, Again (1942).

She then started writing original screen stories and submitting them to the studios. MGM's legendary producer Arthur Freed was impressed with her work and had her placed under contract - her first assignment, to write additional dialogue for the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical Girl Crazy (1943). She was also asked to bring some order to the chaotic screenplay of Bathing Beauty (1944), a Red Skelton-Esther Williams musical, on which six other writers had already laboured. The result of her endeavours was a top-grossing film that made Williams one of the studio's biggest stars.

Her fourth script for the "Chlorine Queen" was Neptune's Daughter (1949). Frank Loesser, who was writing the score, told Kingsley that he'd composed a surefire duet, but didn't know what to do with it. After hearing the song, she wrote a new scene, in which Williams and Ricardo Montalban could sing it. The number, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", won the 1949 Best Song Oscar.

After writing the screen version of Sam and Bella Spewack and Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate (1953), Kingsley was asked to refine Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's script for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Deciding that Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) had too much to do and his wife Milly (Jane Powell) too little, she wrote a scene in which Milly taught Adam's brothers how to woo a female. She then got Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul to write "Goin' Co'tin' ", one of the film's most winning song-and-dance numbers.

Reviewing the film version of Rodgers and Hart's musical Pal Joey (1957), Time magazine stated, "Almost everything that could be done wrong the moviemakers have done wrong in this production, and yet somehow the picture comes out remarkably right." Columbia Pictures had indeed cut out most of the Broadway show's songs while bowdlerising the remaining ones, and Kingsley's script had changed the lecherous Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth) from an adulterous wife to a widow, disinfected John O'Hara's original dialogue, and allowed the reptilian Joey Evans to give up his womanising ways by the final scene. Yet, the film was still far sexier and sharper than most screen musicals, studded with classic Rodgers and Hart songs from other sources, and blessed with the perfect Joey in Frank Sinatra. So pleased was Ol' Blue Eyes with Kingsley's contribution to Pal Joey that he later accepted, sight unseen, the screen version of Cole Porter's Can-Can (1960), which she co-wrote.

In 1967 Kingsley and Helen Deutsch co-wrote the profitable film version of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. Clearly, the experience gave Kingsley a taste for soap opera; in 1969 she created and wrote Bracken's World, an hour-long television series set in the mythical Century Studios. Variety called it "the classiest soap yet. The setting is the entire 20th Century-Fox lot." Perhaps Bracken's World was too classy for the general public; it lasted only two seasons. After its cancellation, Dorothy Kingsley retired from writing and concentrated on her social activities, her children and her second marriage, to William Durney, owner of a seafood company and a winery.

For 27 years her name was absent from film credits, until 1994, when the Disney corporation remade Angels in the Outfield, her 1951 comedy- fantasy about an eight-year-old orphan girl (Donna Corcoran) whose prayers turn a losing baseball team into a world-beating one. Despite some abusive reviews, the remake was a smash hit - Kingsley's last.

When Pat McGilligan interviewed her eight years ago for Backstory 2, his book on screenwriters, he asked which of her films she preferred. After singling out Pal Joey and Angels in the Outfield, she said, "The others, I always think, `Gee, why didn't we do this?' or `it should have been better . . .' "

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor