One of the most popular male vocalists of the 1940s, Dick Haymes is often considered to have the best baritone voice of the twentieth century. Haymes worked with several bandleaders before beginning a solo career that took him to Hollywood stardom. His brother, Bob, was a successful songwriter.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Haymes’ father was of Scotch/Irish descent, and his mother was Irish but raised in the United States. His parents separated when he was two, and his mother took him to England, where she attempted to break onto the London stage. Not finding any success, his father sent them tickets to the United States, and he and his mother settled in New York, while his father stayed in Argentina. His father refused to grant his mother a divorce, and the couple remained estranged until his father’s death.
Haymes’ mother soon found interest from a wealthy American businessman and retired general. The result of that interest was the birth of his brother, Bob, in 1923. A former showgirl, their mother dragged the boys across the Americas and Europe as she attempted various endeavors such as breaking onto the Broadway stage and operating dress shops in Rio de Janeiro and Paris. She vacillated between a number of wealthy lovers, often leaving her sons in the care of others or sending them to boarding schools in the United States, Switzerland, and Canada.
Dick and Bob spent most of their youth moving back and forth between France and the New York area. Dick got the show business bug early. In 1931, he made his debut as a singer in an amateur production at the Hotel Monmouth in New Jersey. He impressed bandleader Johnny Johnson, who asked him to join the band at the hotel for the summer.
When Dick returned to school in the fall, he continued to sing with various local bands and formed his own group, which played at school functions. He hitchhiked to Hollywood in 1935 in an attempt to get summer work in the film industry. While there, he formed a band called “The Katzenjammers,” which quickly folded. He then took a job, without pay, singing on Los Angeles radio station KHJ. The job was short-lived, and he found work as a stuntman and extra at MGM studios.
In 1937, the family briefly settled in California, where Dick’s mother hobnobbed with movie stars, before returning to New York. Both brothers set their sights on singing. Many auditions later, Haymes landed a spot with Bunny Berigan’s orchestra in 1939 but left after only a few dates. Berigan’s band was in serious decline at that point, and Haymes had other ambitions.
Haymes found sporadic work singing on the radio and decided to try his hand as a songwriter. After pitching his work to bandleader Harry James, he ended up being hired as a vocalist. His deep baritone voice quickly won over both the critics and the public. He remained with James until the end of 1941 when, expecting his first child, he left for greener pastures.
In January 1942, Haymes signed with CBS for his own three times weekly radio series, and in May, he organized his own band in which he was to play piano as well as sing. The endeavor quickly fell victim to the draft, and he joined Benny Goodman as vocalist. He left Goodman at the end of 1942, finding a new home with Tommy Dorsey.
Haymes stayed with Dorsey for only a few months, going solo in May 1943. He signed a recording contract with Decca and in August signed a film contract with Twentieth Century Fox, beginning what would be a very successful screen career. He starred in many of the top Fox musicals of the era, including Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe and State Fair. He hosted his own new CBS radio program from 1944 to 1948, teamed up with singer Helen Forrest in the first two years. The pair often recorded together. Haymes also appeared on various other radio programs in the 1940s and 1950s.
Near the end of the war, Haymes faced the prospect of being drafted, and he registered as a resident alien, waiving his right to citizenship in order to avoid being called to duty. He claimed he only did so due to a family crisis which needed his attention. He later volunteered for the service but was refused on medical grounds, so he became one of the USO’s most ardent volunteers instead.
In 1947, when his Fox contract ran out, Haymes signed with Universal for two pictures. His records still sold well but a troubled home life began to take its toll. Problems with drinking and his handling of money caused his career to suffer. During the early 1950s, he appeared in several B movies and starred in an action/adventure radio series on ABC. His contract with Decca ended in 1952.
Haymes also married actress Rita Hayworth during this time. When she went on location to Hawaii, then a U.S. territory, he followed, but upon trying to re-enter the states he was arrested for not having re-entry papers and threatened with deportation to Argentina. If that wasn’t enough, the IRS also came after him for back taxes. In 1953, he estimated he was $140,000 in debt.
Haymes began drinking more and more. He made a few recordings for Capitol in the late 1950s before moving to Ireland in 1961, where he spent the decade cleaning up his life. He began to make a comeback in the 1970s and returned to the U.S. in 1972, but his chance at good fortune was short-lived. Dick Haymes died in 1980 after losing a fight with lung cancer.