Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Who Was Dora Hall?

Curious viewers in the 1970's, looking for anything to watch one Saturday evening, might have happened on a strange program. Brought to them by the Solo Cup Corporation, Once Upon a Tour, starred Frank Sinatra, Jr, Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, Rich Little, Phil Harris and "introduced" Dora Hall. Dora Hall?!?!

Why were these random performers thrown together? And who was Dora Hall? Dora Hall, better known as Dorothy Hulseman was the wife of Leo Hulseman, owner & CEO of the Solo Cup Corporation. Is it beginning to make sense now? Mrs. Hulseman had been a cabaret singer in the 1920's when she met Leo Hulseman. They married and she gave up her career to become a wife, mother and grandmother. Having deferred her dreams for forty years, the sixty something dynamo finally decided to do something about them. Using the fortune they had built from their disposable cup company, Leo Hulseman started up his own record companies and "Dora Hall" was born.

But how would he get his beloved wife's records distributed? Regular record companies were skeptical and assumed nobody would buy records performed by an elderly grandmother. So Leo decided to do it all himself, making Dora Hall's records freebies, available to Solo Cup customers. Larger items had the records packaged with them. Smaller, cheaper items had proofs of purchase that could be mailed in exchange for a record of "Top Chart Hits!" While the Hulsemans certainly believed that people would like these albums, they didn't really promote Dora Hall as being the singer, at least not on the packaging or mailers. People didn't realize they were getting songs sung by a sixty-plus year old grandmother until they opened the package.

Her first broadcast special was originally offered to the networks as a fully sponsored special that would run during prime time. None of the networks accepted it, so Leo self-syndicated the special, offering local stations an hour of programming they were being paid to air. (Filled with commercials for Solo Cup products.) Based on the previously mentioned lineup of "celebrities", Dora Hall was pretty much surrounded by performers who were mainly interested in getting a paycheck.

So while some have mocked Ms. Hall for her vanity albums and fake record labels, she's actually a fairly decent singer. Would she have been a recording star without the backing of Solo Cup? Probably not, but she would have given a wonderful show at the local senior center. And besides, who can mock a seemingly nice lady whose husband was merely letting her pursue the dream she deferred for him? Rather than a story about a vain woman and her clueless husband, the whole thing is actually kind of sweet.

Ms. Hulseman/Hall passed away in 1988 at the age of 88.