The Blonde Bombshell

Sheree North and Her Highlands Home

By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer

Actress and dancer Sheree North, born Dawn Shirley Crang in Los Angeles in 1932, was one of the Hollywood blonde bombshells of the 1950s—best known as being pushed by a Hollywood studio as a possible alternative or replacement of Marilyn Monroe.

North in 1975
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By the time North had moved into a townhome complex in The Highlands in the 1990s to live out her last chapter of years, the heyday of her acting days were long over.

It was in the early 1950s, in nearby Santa Monica, that North was “discovered” by a choreographer while performing inside the Macayo Club. This landed her a part as a chorus girl in “Here Comes the Girls,” a 1953 picture starring Bob Hope. Broadway stage work was going on at this time for North with Hazel Flagg.

This was a time when North’s acting career was picking up a good head of steam, and her personal life had already been moving at a breakneck speed.

The champagne blonde actress had married in 1948 at the age of 16 to a 24-year old Los Angeles draftsman named Fred A. Bessire. But, there was trouble in paradise for this young couple; by 1953—and after producing the first of two daughters she would have in her lifetime—North’s marriage to Bessire ended in divorce court.

North soon landed a role in “Living it Up,” the 1954 film starring comics Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. That same year, 20th Century-Fox signed North to a multi-year film contract.

The studio believed that North could become the answer to replacing their own Marilyn Monroe, the studio’s top blonde bombshell actress who was becoming increasingly troubled and undisciplined.

Cover girl
Photo courtesy of Life

In March of that year, two minutes of film footage nearly cost North her Hollywood dream: News of a scandalous film clip from 1951, called “Tiger Dance,” showed a bikini-clad North dancing in a style made for adult-only viewership.

North survived the scandal, but the following year would prove to be critical in her budding screen career.

In 1955, North was to star in the heavily promoted film “How to Be Very, Very Popular.” Life Magazine would put the leggy and shapely North on the cover with the hyped-up tagline “Sheree North Takes Over From Marilyn Monroe.”

Despite the magazine’s cover wording, North told Life, “Marilyn’s an institution like Coca-Cola and who’s gonna replace that?”

To further promote “Very, Very Popular,” North appeared on the then-popular TV game show “What’s My Line?” The actress was one of the episode’s “mystery guests.” The show provided a brief biography of sorts about North for the television viewing audience.

While dolled up in a dress with straps and pearl-shaped string earrings, North answered the questions of the blindfolded panelists.

One question put to North was, “Have you any children?” She answered, “Yes, I do.”

Another questioner asked, “Are you in the theater?” North answered, “Yes, I am.”

North proved to be natural at fun making when a panelist asked her whether in her films does she “ever sing and dance?” North responded with, “Only half of that could be considered to be right. And we’re not too sure at this time of that.”

But the question that gave her away was when one of the panelists asked North if she has “ever been mentioned in the same league as Marilyn Monroe?” North shot back with, “I think that all of us have.”

The next questioner finally identified her with, “Are you Sheree North?”

“Very, Very Popular” did not live up to the expectations of 20th Century-Fox.

Something else in North’s personal life would also begin in 1955 that would not live up to her own expectations of blissful happiness: She married music publisher John Freeman.

Another round of trouble in paradise ensued—the couple divorced the following year.

Though her film career would show glimmers of promise in the next couple of years, ultimately it would peter out in 1958, when her film contract expired and was not renewed.

Another marriage to psychologist Gerhardt Sommer would begin that same year—and end in 1963.

North went on to do some film and a lot of television work for many years to follow before her acting career ended all together in 1998.

By then, North was living in Pacific Palisades and had a decades-long relationship with Emmy Award-winning film title designer Phillip Norman. The couple married in 2003.

North’s last home was a 1,600-plus-square-foot townhome with two bedrooms and two baths. The Palisades Highlands unit was built in 1973. It is tucked away, along a rural section of Palisades Drive.

North’s townhome would be any Hollywood star’s idea of a peaceful and rustic getaway. The unit has a patio that features views of Santa Ynez Canyon Park.

And if the hiking bug ever had struck North, the wavy-haired dancer could dance along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, which has a trailhead just a short walk or drive away. North’s quiet residence was also a comfortable walking distance to the Santa Ynez Reservoir.

In 2005, just a couple of years after marrying for the fourth and final time, North passed away at the age of 73 during cancer surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.