Ginny Simms

Photo of Ginny Simms
  • Birth Name

    Virginia Ellen Simms
  • Born

    May 25, 1913
    San Antonio, Texas
  • Died

    April 4, 1994 (age 80)
    Palm Springs, California
  • Orchestras

    Tom Gerun
    Kay Kyser

Born in San Antonio, Texas, singer Ginny Simms moved to Fresno, California, while still a young girl. She be­gan tak­ing pi­ano lessons as a teen and planned to be­come a mu­sic teacher. While ma­jor­ing in mu­sic at Fresno State Teachers College, she formed a singing trio with two soror­ity sis­ters. Calling them­selves Triad in Blue, they per­formed on lo­cal ra­dio. When the other two young women quit to get mar­ried, Simms found work with the California-based or­ches­tra of Tom Gerun, whose pop­u­lar hot jazz band of the late 1920s and early 1930s had in­cluded Woody Herman and Tony Martin. Heard by Kay Kyser, the Ol’ Professor signed Simms as his fe­male vo­cal­ist in 1936.

Simms spent over five years with Kyser, tour­ing con­stantly with the group and ap­pear­ing on its pop­u­lar College of Musical Knowledge ra­dio pro­gram. She of­ten sang duets with male lead vo­cal­ist Harry Babbitt as well as group num­bers with Ish Kabibble and Sully Mason. Simms be­gan record­ing un­der her own name on Okeh Records in late 1940 while still a mem­ber of Kyser’s band, giv­ing her a chance to pre­sent a more se­ri­ous side to her tal­ents. Vocalion, a sub­sidiary of Kyser’s la­bel, Columbia, also re­leased her songs with Kyser un­der the name Ginny Simms and Her Orchestra. She be­came one of the most pop­u­lar band vo­cal­ists of her day, plac­ing first in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1941 poll for best fe­male band singer and third in 1942.

Rumors cir­cu­lated of ro­mance be­tween Kyser and Simms. She re­port­edly wanted to marry him at one time, but he was­n’t ready, and when he later popped the ques­tion she had changed her mind.

Simms ap­peared with Kyser’s or­ches­tra in three RKO films: That’s Right—You’re Wrong, You’ll Find Out and Playmates. When RKO of­fered her a con­tract of her own, she ac­cepted, leav­ing Kyser in December 1941. The chance to stay in California, where she owned a farm with her fa­ther, proved too tempt­ing. She had barely seen her fam­ily since go­ing on the road and had­n’t spent a Christmas with them since 1936. She wanted to set­tle down. I was so tired and I had to rest,” she ex­plained in an in­ter­view. We were on the go all the time, and I wanted a home of my own—and some rest.”

Radio Success

Living at her farm on week­ends, Simms took an apart­ment in Hollywood dur­ing the week. She soon be­gan mak­ing ap­pear­ances on ra­dio and picked up her own five-minute pro­gram on CBS, spon­sored by Kleenex tis­sues, only to have it can­celled in May due to war short­ages. Unable to pro­duce enough prod­uct to keep on store shelves, Kleenex cut back on ad­ver­tis­ing. She quickly found an­other spon­sor in Philip Morris and opened the 1942 fall sea­son on NBC with her own thirty-minute Johnny Presents show.[1]

Simms be­came one of the most pop­u­lar ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties of the war years. Her pro­gram con­tin­u­ously ap­peared among the top five for each of its sea­sons, win­ning ac­co­lades from ra­dio in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als. She emerged as the most suc­cess­ful ex-band vo­cal­ist on the air­waves, even top­ping Frank Sinatras pop­u­lar­ity.

Simms worked tire­lessly for the war ef­fort. Unable to tour over­seas due to her weekly ra­dio con­tract, she per­formed at nearby bases and de­voted much of her air time to en­ter­tain­ing and help­ing sol­diers. Her pro­gram ini­tially con­tained seg­ments where ser­vice­men from all three branches of the armed forces were al­lowed to make phone calls to whomever they pleased, whether that be friends, fam­ily mem­bers, or fa­mous celebri­ties. As the war pro­gressed, her show changed for­mat sev­eral times, al­ways with a fo­cus on the war. Dropping the phone call seg­ments, she be­gan to in­ter­view sol­diers in camp and those who had just re­turned home from over­seas. The show later vis­ited hos­pi­tals and talked to wounded sol­diers.

As the war neared its end in 1945, Simms’ pro­gram changed for­mat again, fea­tur­ing dis­charged sol­diers in tal­ent seg­ments aimed at giv­ing them a chance to en­ter show busi­ness. This for­mat proved highly pop­u­lar, and copy­cat se­ries be­gan to ap­pear on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions across the coun­try. The Simms show was sued by an ac­tor who claimed to have in­vented the idea, say­ing that Simms and Philip Morris had stolen it. A judge dis­missed the suit and ruled that the idea could­n’t be patented.

Decline in pop­u­lar­ity

While Simms proved dy­na­mite on the ra­dio, her record­ing and film ca­reers failed to take off. She stopped record­ing for Okeh af­ter leav­ing Kyser, and due to the mu­si­cian’s union record­ing ban that started in August 1942 she did­n’t sign with an­other la­bel un­til Columbia in 1944, where she sang backed only by a vo­cal group for the first few of her dozen re­leases, un­til the ban was lifted in November. Though she sold records and placed high on many polls for fa­vorite fe­male singer, she never man­aged a ma­jor hit, re­main­ing pri­mar­ily a ra­dio star.

Simms’ con­tract with RKO pro­duced two mi­nor film roles in 1942. She played an­other small part for Universal in 1943 be­fore MGM signed her for a ma­jor role, star­ring with George Murphy in the 1944 fea­ture Broadway Rhythm. She made two more mi­nor films with Universal and then ap­peared as the fe­male lead in the fan­ci­ful 1946 Warner Bros. Cole Porter biopic Night and Day, which be­came her last film ap­pear­ance that decade.

Rumors and pop­u­lar leg­ends ro­man­ti­cally link Simms with then re­cently-di­vorced MGM chief Louis B. Meyer and cite her re­fusal to marry him as the im­pe­tus for the quick de­cline of her ca­reer post-war. A spurned Meyer re­port­edly can­celled her con­tract and ru­ined her chances for suc­cess. The truth is much more mun­dane how­ever. Simms’ ca­reer re­mained strong for sev­eral years af­ter work­ing for MGM. Her de­cline was a com­bi­na­tion of many fac­tors, in­clud­ing an abrupt shift in the ra­dio in­dus­try that af­fected a num­ber of top stars.

In spring 1945, at the height of her ca­reer, Simms left NBC and Philip Morris for a higher pay­check and a new pro­gram on CBS, spon­sored by Borden’s. Salary de­mands by ra­dio tal­ent had grown dur­ing the mid-1940s, draw­ing con­cern from both net­works and spon­sors. By spring 1947, pro­gram bud­gets had reached an all-time high, fi­nally push­ing ex­ec­u­tives to re­act with a mass purge of ex­pen­sive pro­gram­ming in fa­vor of cheaper al­ter­na­tives. Even top stars like Abbott and Costello felt the axe of can­cel­la­tion. Those who man­aged to re­turn that fall did so at a re­duced pay­check. Simms, whose Borden show had never reached the same level of pop­u­lar­ity as her pre­vi­ous pro­gram, was not among the lucky few who sur­vived.

The bud­get cuts of 1947 af­fected Simms in more ways than one. Many of the axed pro­grams had orig­i­nated from Hollywood, where salaries were higher. As a re­sult, ra­dio pro­duc­tion shifted al­most ex­clu­sively back to New York in the late 1940s. Simms, un­able to find work in California, headed east in the sum­mer of 1947. She put to­gether a night­club act and bided her time un­til CBS fi­nally signed her as fe­male vo­cal­ist for Percy Faith’s Coca-Cola ra­dio pro­gram, The Pause That Refreshes the Air.

Simms, how­ever, was un­happy in New York. She had mar­ried Beverly Hills en­gi­neer Hyatt Dehn in 1945,[2] and the cou­ple had a son in July 1946. Working on the East Coast forced Simms to leave her child in California, and she quickly found that she missed her fam­ily too much. She re­signed from Faith’s pro­gram in December 1947 and re­turned home.

Another fac­tor in Simm’s de­cline is the col­lapse of sev­eral in­de­pen­dent record la­bels in 1946 and 1947. Having signed with ARA in early 1946, she found her record­ing ca­reer in limbo later that year when the com­pany filed bank­ruptcy and went into re­ceiver­ship. The la­bel was home to many top names at the time, most of whom, like Simms, had to wait out the le­gal pro­ceed­ings to ei­ther be re­leased from their con­tracts or have their con­tracts and mas­ters sold to an­other la­bel.

Once clear of ARA, Simms signed with Sonora Records, a di­vi­sion of Sonora Radio, in early 1947. She re­leased sev­eral record­ings for that la­bel but by mid-year Sonora had stopped pro­duc­ing new disks. In November, they con­firmed what many had sus­pected and an­nounced that they were no longer in the record busi­ness. Simms had to sue the la­bel in 1949 to re­cover the $5,000 re­main­ing of her $10,000 con­tract guar­an­tee.

Later years

Without a ra­dio pro­gram or a record­ing con­tract, Simms vir­tu­ally dropped off the in­dus­try’s radar. She worked spo­rad­i­cally on the night­club and the­ater cir­cuit, but al­ways more of a ra­dio per­former, she was never at ease on the stage, and her shows re­ceived luke­warm re­views. A home­body, she spent the rest of the 1940s tak­ing care of her fam­ily, giv­ing birth to an­other son in 1950. CBS con­sid­ered team­ing her with fel­low ex-Kyser vo­cal­ist Babbitt for a ra­dio pro­gram in 1949, even go­ing so far as putting to­gether an au­di­tion, but it never ma­te­ri­al­ized. She did­n’t re­turn to the air un­til 1950, when a fan-turned-pro­ducer cre­ated for her a 15-minute Sunday night pro­gram on ABC called Song Shop.

Briefly back in the lime­light, she found her­self cast in the star­ring role of the 1951 Allied Artists film Disk Jockey, which also fea­tured per­form­ers Tommy Dorsey, Russ Morgan, Sarah Vaughn and George Shearing. 1950 and 1951 also found her pitch­ing prod­ucts for var­i­ous com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Chevrolet, Rheingold Beer and Blue Bonnet mar­garine. In 1951, she re­placed Dinah Shore as co-host of The Tide Show, along with Jack Smith, spon­sored by the de­ter­gent com­pany of the same name. The show was can­celled in 1952. Unable to ef­fec­tively cap­i­tal­ize on her ef­forts, she qui­etly semi-re­tired from show busi­ness.

Simms con­tin­ued per­form­ing spo­rad­i­cally into the early 1960s, but her de­sire to re­main in California kept her at home most of the time. She and Dehn di­vorced in 1950, only to rec­on­cile and then di­vorce again in 1951, Simms cit­ing men­tal cru­elty. She was briefly mar­ried to Bob Calhoun soon af­ter and then mar­ried for­mer Washington state at­tor­ney gen­eral Don Eastvold in 1962. Eastvold filed for di­vorce in 1963, charg­ing her with men­tal cru­elty, but the cou­ple rec­on­ciled and re­mained to­gether un­til her death from a heart at­tack in 1994, age 80.

Notes

  1. Johnny was the name of the fa­mous bell­hop used in Philip Morris ad­ver­tis­ing. Many of their spon­sored shows fea­tured the Johnny Presents ti­tle, with the voice of Johnny in­tro­duc­ing the pro­gram. Simms’ show was com­monly called by that ti­tle in its early years though later it be­came known in­for­mally as The Ginny Simms Show.
  2. Dehn was co-founder of the Hyatt Hotel chain.

Music

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  • Three Little Fishes
    Kay Kyser (Ish Kabbible, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ginny Simms), Brunswick (1939)
  • Hello, Mr. Kringle
    Kay Kyser (Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ish Kabbible), Columbia (1939)
  • Fit to Be Tied
    Kay Kyser (Ginny Simms), Columbia (1939)
  • Friendship
    Kay Kyser (Ish Kabbible, Ginny Simms, Jack Martin, Harry Babbitt), Columbia (1940)
  • Chatterbox
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms), Columbia (1940)
  • Blue Lovebird
    Kay Kyser (Ginny Simms), Columbia (1940)
  • I'd Know You Anywhere
    Kay Kyser (Ginny Simms), Columbia (1940)
  • Sighs and Tears
    Ginny Simms, Okeh (1940)
  • Why Don't We Do This More Often
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms), Columbia (1941)
  • Sometimes
    Ginny Simms, Okeh (1941)
  • Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat
    Ginny Simms, Okeh (1941)
  • Walkin' by the River
    Ginny Simms w/ Nat Brandwynne, Okeh (1941)
  • Suddenly It's Spring
    Ginny Simms, Columbia (1944)
  • I'm in a Jam
    Ginny Simms, Columbia (1944)
  • Somewhere in the Night
    Ginny Simms, ARA (1946)
  • What Is This Thing Called Love?
    Ginny Simms, Sonora (1947)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

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  • Screenshot
    "I've Got a One Track Mind"
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms)
    from the film You’ll Find Out, RKO (1940)
  • Screenshot
    "Like the Fella Once Said"
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms)
    from the film You’ll Find Out, RKO (1940)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Radio

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  • The Ginny Simms Show (w/ Frank Sinatra)
    December 28, 1945 (CBS) 28:45
  • The Ginny Simms Show
    January 4, 1946 (CBS) 27:13
  • The Tide Show
    June 10, 1952 (CBS) 14:40
  • The Tide Show
    June 17, 1952 (CBS) 14:31

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 18 Apr. 2016.
  3. “Ginny Simms.” IMDb. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.
  4. “Ginny Simms Decides to Settle Down.” The Milwaukee Journal 20 Dec. 1941: Green Sheet 1.
  5. Abbott, Sam. “Hollywood.” Billboard 24 Jan. 1942: 7.
  6. Abbott, Sam. “Hollywood.” Billboard 11 Apr. 1942: 8.
  7. “On the Records.” Billboard 11 Apr. 1942: 68.
  8. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  9. “Coast Sked's Summer Shuffle.” Billboard 6 Jun. 1942: 7.
  10. Abbott, Sam. “Hollywood.” Billboard 19 Sep. 1942: 7.
  11. Frohlich,Shirley. “Program Reviews: Johnny Presents Ginny Simms.” Billboard 19 Sep. 1942: 8.
  12. Chasins, Gladys. “Picture Tie-Ups for Music Machine Operators.” Billboard 1 May 1943: 64.
  13. Coons, Robbin. “Star Is Farmer's Daughter.” The Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT] 10 Aug. 1943: 6.
  14. “The Groaner Gets the Votes.” Billboard 12 Feb. 1944: 14.
  15. Advertisement. Billboard 11 Mar. 1944: 14.
  16. “Final Standing in Billboard Poll of Music Preferences of Hi School Kids.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 12.
  17. “Groaner and Thrushes Air-Rated.” Billboard 9 Sep. 1944: 14.
  18. “First Annual GI Music Popularity Poll.” Billboard 16 Sep. 1944: 12.
  19. “It's Rehabilitation on the Air.” Billboard 7 Apr. 1945: 12.
  20. “Crosby and Hildegarde Lead Tab.” Billboard 12 May. 1945: 17.
  21. “Ginny Simms Set for Jerry Wayne Spot and Bordens.” Billboard 26 May 1945: 12.
  22. “James, Crosby, Dinah Still No. 1 Faves of Bobby-Soxers.” Billboard 9 Jun. 1945: 17.
  23. “Actor Loses Suit Against Ginny Simms.” The Pittsburgh Press 27 Jun. 1945: 31.
  24. “2nd Annual G.I.'s Tab of Music.” Billboard 14 Jul. 1945: 14.
  25. “No Dreams of Stardom Forecast The Career of Miss Ginny Simms.” The Montreal Gazette 8 Jan. 1946: 3.
  26. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 16 Feb. 1946: 96.
  27. “Thompson Garners Four 1sts in 15th Annual Radio Editors Poll.” Billboard 9 Mar. 1946: 9.
  28. “Hollywood Commercial Network Shows Which Build Those Peatman Points.” Billboard 9 Mar. 1946: 18.
  29. “Colleges' Band-Chirp Choices.” Billboard 6 Jul. 1946: 21.
  30. “Ginny Simms Mother Of Son.” The Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT] 24 Jul. 1946: 10. “ARA 'Talent' Outcome to Have Auction Effects.” Billboard 12 Oct. 1946: 16.
  31. Advertisement. Billboard 3 May 1947: 31.
  32. “Must Cut Fees to Keep Going', Say Sponsors.” Billboard 31 May 1947: 5.
  33. “Teeners 57.4% for Pop Tunes, Disks as Gifts, Survey Shows.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 39.
  34. “Nightclub Reviews: Starlight Room, Waldorf-Astoria, New York.” Billboard 16 Aug. 1947: 40.
  35. “Network Program Reviews and Analyses: The Pause the Refreshes the Air” Billboard 6 Sep. 1947: 11.
  36. “Sonora to Drop Single Releases.” Billboard 29 Nov. 1947: 20.
  37. “Jane Froman New Coca-Cola Warbler.” Billboard 27 Dec. 1947: 5.
  38. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 18 Sep. 1948: 39.
  39. “Music as Written.” Billboard 12 Feb. 1949: 20.
  40. “CBS Eyes Sims, Babbitt Musical.” Billboard 2 Apr. 1949: 5.
  41. “Philadelphia Earle Adds Bills.” Billboard 23 Apr. 1949: 51.
  42. Clary, Patricia. “Ginny Simms Back On Radio Through Efforts of A Fan.” St. Petersburg Times 1 Sep. 1950: 30.
  43. “Spots Put Stars in Admen's Eyes.” Billboard 11 Nov. 1950: 4.
  44. “Stars to Sing Video Jingles.” Billboard 24 Feb. 1951: 5.
  45. “Ginny Sims Given Divorce.” Ottawa Citizen 13 Mar. 1951: 16.
  46. “Divorces.” Billboard 21 Apr. 1951: 50.
  47. “Music as Written.” Billboard 12 May 1951: 14.
  48. Advertisement. Spokane Daily Chronicle 20 Nov. 1951: 11.
  49. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Dec. 1959: 10.
  50. “Asks Divorce of Ginny Simms.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 20 Nov. 1963: 3.
  51. “Obituaries.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune 7 Apr. 1994: 8B.
  52. “Big-band singer Ginny Simms dies.” Wilmington Morning Star 6 Apr. 1994: 4B.