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1950s / Dagmar - First Late-Night TV Star
Anyone remember Dagmar? Dagmar Lewis (born Virginia Ruth in 1921) was an American actress, model and television personality of the 1950s. As a statuesque, busty blonde, she became the first major female star of television, receiving much press coverage during that decade. After her marriage to Angelo Lewis in 1941, she moved to New York where he was a naval officer. She adopted Jennie Lewis as her stage name (taken from her married name, Virginia Lewis). To keep busy, she became a fashion photographer's model--which got the buxom blonde noticed. Although she had no show business experience, she was cast in a Broadway musical revue, Laffing Room Only. In 1950, Lewis was hired by Jerry Lester as his sidekick for NBC's first late-night TV show: Broadway Open House (1950–52), the forerunner to The Tonight Show. Lester renamed her Dagmar. Billed as "a girl singer," she was instructed to wear a low-cut gown, sit on a stool, and play the role of a stereotypical dumb blonde. No one remembers her ever singing on the show. With tight sweaters displaying her curvy 5'8" figure (measuring 42"-23"-39"), her dim-bulb character was an immediate success, and the show emerged as a surprise hit for NBC. Dagmar soon attracted much more attention than Lester and showed that she was both bright and quick-witted when she appeared in sketches. Lester enjoyed making occasional jokes about her "hidden talents." Her personal appearances created a sensation, leading to much press coverage and a salary increase from $75 to $1,250 per week. With Dagmar getting all the attention, Lester walked off his own show in May 1951, and Dagmar carried on as the program's sole host. On July 16, 1951, she was featured on the cover of Life Magazine. However, Broadway Open House came to an end one month later. Undaunted, Dagmar became one of the leading personalities of early 1950s live television, doing sketch comedy on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, The Bob Hope Show, and several other programs. In 1952, she hosted Dagmar's Canteen, a 15-minute program that aired at 12:15 a.m. on Saturday nights. She sang, danced, interviewed servicemen, and performed comedy, but the show was cancelled after just 12 weeks. She died a month before her 80th birthday in 2001.