The Sentimental Gentleman's Lady
This is the novelistic account of the life of Jane New Dorsey of Dublin, Georgia, who grew up to realize her dream of being a successful singer and dancer. Never in her wildest, youthful dreams could she ever conceive of being married to one of the most famous men in America and one of the greatest big band leaders in the history of music. Her eight and one-half year marriage to the band leader, Tommy Dorsey, was both passionate and tempestuous to say the least.
Jane Carl New was born to Dublin attorney Stephen Parker New and his wife, Ruth Hightower New, on October 23, 1923. Jane attended elementary school a few blocks from her home. The New family, including brothers Stephen Jr. and William Hightower New, left their home at 515 Tucker Street in Dublin and moved to Washington, D.C., when the elder New was appointed an attorney for the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1936.
Jane, who lived at 410 Cedar Street in northwestern Washington, studied dancing at the Phil Hayden Studios in Washington, D.C. and drama at the Abilene School of Theater in New York after her graduation from Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C. During years of World War II, New became a speciality dancer and understudy to the lead female singer in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies, starring Milton Berle, Illona Massey and Arthur Treacher.
Jane, beautiful dancer and a fine singer with a natural singing voice, became a regular dancer in the famous Copacabana Club in New York City.
New's first, and albeit short, marriage to Bob Mizzy didn't work out well. Mizzy had been married to another dancer of a sorts, the burlesque stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee.
Miss New, somewhat short at five-feet, four-inches tall, found new fame as a chorus line dancer in the Colonial Inn in Miami.
One night, while dining at the Casino Gardens, Tommy Dorsey's club near Los Angeles, Jane noticed Dorsey coming over to her table where she was dining with friends. Jane noticed that the tent card on her table contained a misspelling of Dorsey's last name.
Jane began to poke fun at and flirt with Dorsey, who offered her a job managing the room where he was performing. In his book "Livin' In a Great Big Way," Peter J. Levinson wrote, "The bandleader-proprietor was intrigued by New's sassy personality. Dorsey and New left togther in his car. The great Dorsey was not used to a woman talking back to him, much less a woman he had just met."
Jane and Tommy, whose 137 hits on the Billboard Charts exceeded those of both Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, began dating four to six weeks later.
During the winter of 1948, Dorsey proposed his hand in marriage to Jane by handing her a five-carat diamond ring. Jane accepted and immediately set out for Miami to resign her position at the Colonial Inn, but not before stopping in at her parents' home to tell them the wonderful news.
Fred Dickensen, in a 1948 article for The Oregonian, wrote, "She was lovely, and she was lonely. Furthermore, she was hungry. Jane New slammed the door of the empty icebox in the Florida home of her absent hosts and then went to the telephone. When the musician, Tommy Dorsey, was a from a few miles away in Miami, Jane said, 'All right, Tommy, you win. If you feed me, I'll marry you.'"
Jane and Tommy were married in the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta on March 27, 1948. Her parents and Dorsey's mother witnessed the unpretentious civil ceremony. The couple honeymooned on his yacht, "The Sentimentalist." Although it was his third marriage, Dorsey, known as the Sentimental Gentlemen because of his big hits, I'm Getting Sentimental Over You and Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia, told Jane and their families, "This is it. This is the real thing."
Jane did manage to land one movie role, although minor, in the jam session of the 1954 movie, A Star is Born, starring Judy Garland and James Mason.
Jane and Tommy had two children, Catherine and Stephen.
The on again, off again, marriage began to fall completely apart in the summer of 1956. After bitter preliminary court proceedings, the court ordered that both of the Dorseys could live in their palatial home in Greenwhich, Connecticut, but in separate and locked bedrooms.
On November 26, 1956, Tommy Dorsey, at the age of 51, died all alone, behind his locked bed room door. The coroner ruled that the Sentimental Gentleman died from choking on his evening dinner.
Dorsey's death came only two days before the Dorseys were scheduled appear in court toward a divorce.
With the dissonance gone in her life, Jane Dorsey turned her life around. Not as wealthy as her lifestyle would dictate, Jane successfully took her fight to secure the rights to her husband's musical arrangements. As the owner and manager of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, she oversaw the operation of band which performed hundreds of times each year, including a visit to Dublin a decade or so ago.
"There was one main love in her life, and that was my father. And, she never completely got over is death. " said son Stephen Dorsey after Jane's death on August 28, 2003.
Jane was buried beside her beloved, embattled husband in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. At the base of her slab are engraved the words, "Tommy Called Her His E Flat."