Peggy Lee


The Fargo Express

by Eckert Goodman

Sometime in the unforeseeable future, Peggy Lee may put in an eight-hour stint and feel that she’s done a day’s work. But, judging from the actress-singer-songwriter-artist’s current behavior, that will be a banner day.

Directors know that a session in front of the cameras can be as intensive an effort as a GI’s hike in the hot sun. A lot of them make sure their stars are tenderly tucked into bed almost as soon as the cameras have stopped grinding.

But to Peggy, such work is like an hors d’oeuvre before dinner. All it does is whet her appetite for activities yet to come. Here, for instance, is a typical Lee schedule – after a day’s shooting of her new film, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, when the cameras have been tucked in for the night.

An hour or two at the typewriter, working on a novel.

A breather in her art studio, where she may work on either a piece of sculpture or an oil painting.

A session at the piano in the “moody music room” of her Norman French home in Westwood Hills, to polish the lyrics she’s doing for a Disney cartoon.

A slight interruption while she goes over the homework of her 10-year-old daughter Nicki.

A rehearsal for a forthcoming recording date.

A consultation with her agent and manager.

And so finally to bed!

But Peggy’s life wasn’t always this simple. Last fall, when she was making The Jazz Singer, she really put in a full day. At that time, she was finishing up a book of verse, singing in a nightclub, and keeping frequent recording, radio and TV dates. Right now, lighthorse Peggy Lee appears to be tapering off – bud don’t count on it!

Wonder when Peggy sleeps? She snoozes soundly for from three to four hours nightly. She’s also schooled herself in what she calls “the Thomas Edison technique,” – dropping off, as the famed inventor did, for 10-to-20 minute catnaps whenever and wherever she gets the chance throughout the day. “I can fall asleep almost instantly,” remarks Peggy, “on anything from a chair to a table top.

Half Swedish and half Norwegian by descent, the former Norma Egstrom was born in the little town of Jamestown, North Dakota, on May 26, 1920. She’s one of six children of widower Marvin Egstrom, local station agent on the tiny Midland Continental Railroad. During her teen-age years, Peggy worked on nearby farms, milking cows, cooking for threshers, shocking grain and pitching hay, to add to the family’s barely adequate income.

From the time she first entered high school, the ash-blonde would-be Jenny Lind knew what she wanted to do – sing! A few days after she’d received her diploma in 1938, she took off for Hollywood.

After failing to ring any bells in the film capital, Peggy returned to Fargo, North Dakota, where she eventually landed a job singing over radio station WDAY. Next came engagements in Minneapolis, where orchestra leader Will Osborne was sufficiently impressed to sign her up. When Osborne dissolved his band three months later, Peggy got a date at Palm Springs, California, and then one at a Chicago hotel. Here Benny Goodman heard her and offered her a contract.

While touring with Goodman, Peggy married his chief guitarist, Dave Barbour. The couple subsequently retired to Hollywood, where he formed a band and the two collaborated on original songs. Before their divorce last summer, they had produced together a score of numbers, climaxed by such record-breaking hits as “Golden Earrings” and “Mañana,” which sold an incredible 2,000,000 discs. Nicki is their daughter.

Last January Peggy wed film actor Brad Dexter, her steady for months. It’s the first venture into matrimony for the easy-going 35-year-old native of Goldfield, Nevada.

After her successful debut with Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer last January, Peggy was signed for her forthcoming movie. She’s also being tested for the title role in a film based on the life of Helen Morgan, the torch singer of the ‘20s.

Peggy collaborated on the score of Everybody Comes to Rick’s. She hopes to have her novel finished “within a year or so,” and is studying sculpture seriously.

All in all, a busy young lady! But Peggy’s underlying quality, like the timbre of her singing, is probably best summed up by the title of her newly-published book of verse, Softly – With Feeling.