Friday, September 10, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Helen O'connell, Big-Band Singer


SAN DIEGO - Helen O'Connell, the quintessential big-band singer of the 1940s, died yesterday at age 73.

She died of cancer less than a month after her last appearance with a big-band touring show, longtime manager Gloria Burke said.

Her husband, composer-conductor Frank DeVol, and three of her four daughters were with her when she died at a hospice, Burke said.

Hitting the road as a big-band singer at age 16, Miss O'Connell was still a teenager when she was launched to stardom in 1939 by recording "Green Eyes" with Bob Eberly as a vocalist with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.

A fresh-faced, girl-next-door personality, Miss O'Connell popularized the songs "Tangerine," "Amapola," "Jim," "I Remember You," "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry" and "When The Sun Comes Out."

She was a darling of GIs in World War II, but in 1943 she stepped out of the limelight to raise a family.

Last month, she toured with a big band and performed for the last time at a music fair in Valley Forge, Pa., on Aug. 14. After experiencing chest pain, she was unable to continue and returned home to San Juan Capistrano, Calif. She was admitted to a La Jolla hospital where she had surgery on Aug. 27, Burke said.

During her career she appeared with the orchestras of Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Glenn Miller, the Pied Pipers and singer Don Cornell.

In the 1950s, she was a regular on television. She was a host of CBS' "TV's Top Tunes" in 1953, and the network's "The Russ Morgan Show" featured her singing in 1956.

From 1956 to 1958 she was a sidekick to Dave Garroway on NBC's "Today Show," and she had her own twice-weekly, 15-minute program, "The Helen O'Connell Show," on NBC in 1957.

For nine years she was hostess of the Miss Universe Pageant.

Born in Lima, Ohio, on May 23, 1920, Miss O'Connell began her singing career in 1936.

She was married to Clifford Smith Jr., heir to a Boston investment fortune, from 1941 to 1951, and, for a stormy three years, to novelist Tom T. Chamales, author of "Never So Few" and "Go Naked in the World," from 1957 until his death in a house fire in 1960. She married DeVol in 1991.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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