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, (his father was of Scotch/Irish descent, his mother Irish but raised in the U.S.) his family moved to the states shortly after his birth. His parents separated when he was two, and his mother took the family to Paris, where she opened a successful dress shop. Dick and Bob grew up proper members of European society, traveling around the world and attending school in Switzerland and at a Jesuit academy in Paris.
When the Depression hit, his mother was forced to close shop. She brought her family to New York and found work as a singer and voice teacher. Dick attended school at the Peekskill Military Academy but soon began to get the show business bug himself. 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 left school in 1933 and went to Hollywood, where 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 1939 Dick tried 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 1942 when, expecting his first child, he left for greener pastures. He organized his own band, which quickly fell victim to the draft, and then briefly sang with Benny Goodman before finding a home with Tommy Dorsey.
Haymes stayed with Dorsey for a year-and-a-half, but near the beginning of 1944 he decided to go solo and soon had a recording contract with Decca and his own CBS radio program, in which he teamed up with singer Helen Forrest and orchestra leader Gordon Jenkins. He also signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox and began what would be a very successful film career, starring in many of the top Fox musicals of the era, including Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe and State Fair.
Near the end of the war, facing the prospects of being drafted, Dick 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 his Fox contract ran out, and he was picked up by Universal for two pictures. In 1949 he co-hosted the Club 15 radio program with the Andrews Sisters and in 1950 the Carnation Contented Hour with Jo Stafford. His records were still selling well but a troubled home life began to take its toll. Problems with drinking and his handling of money contributed to the end of his marriage, and his career began 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.
Dick also met and fell in love with 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. His decision to register as a ''resident alien'' during the war had come back to haunt him. If that wasn't enough, the IRS also came after him for back taxes.
Dick 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., but his good fortune was short-lived. Dick Haymes died in 1980 after losing a fight with cancer.