About The Artist
Marilyn Orlando was born to Fred and Mary Orlando in San Jose, California. She had a brother named Ricky. She grew up in a rural setting of farm animals, oak trees and orchards. Her parents bought prune orchards in the Edenvale area of San Jose (near what is now IBM property). She attended Notre Dame High School and studied fine arts at San Jose State University. She attributed her artistic talent and singing voice to her mother and performed in pageants, fairs, on the radio and television shows.
In May of 1953, she was part of "The Civil Servants Revue" show put on for the Santa Cruz County Employees. The hope was that the show would raise about $700 to $1,000 to benefit the fund. The show featured many young singers, but Wayne Williams wrote of one person was the 'most notable'. Marilyn Orlando who had been called San Jose's 'Sweetheart of Song' had just had her tenth birthday two days prior. Wayne wrote, that she "...literally wrapped up the audience with her dynamic, vivacious delivery of five popular tunes. Marilyn was applauded enthusiastically at the end of each number and was called back for encores."
Other performers were Anne Leal from Santa Cruz, doing pantomimes of Betty Hutton, Johnny Ray, Stan Freberg, and Helen Kaner, garnering her own share of encores. Mona Rae Morgan of Santa Clara did a tap-dance number and in another number, juggled three batons.
We were provided a copy of an old "California Hayride" program that had a short bio on Marilyn. When she was in the first grade, she sang in the Annual Christmas Show at her school and later, represented her school in a County-wide Talent Contest. In 1950, she was chosen "Junior Queen" at the Santa Clara County Fair. The program indicated she was all of 10 years old at the time but seemed to know what direction her life was going - towards teaching and music. While she enjoyed entertainment, her focus was to get a good education.
Marilyn was featured in the local (San Jose) Mercury News TV Log on Sunday February 14, 1954, touting her as a popular TV star. At that time she was just ten years old. The article said she was known as a 'personality singer.' The article mentions that in a Bay Area poll of Favorite Female Stars, she finished third behind Patty Prichard (her fellow singer on the Hayride show) and Marjorie Trumbull. She was also in the "Star of Stars" category and finished fourth behind Liberace, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and Jack Webb. Behind her in the voting were people like Julius La Rosa, Loretta Young, Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball.
That 1954 article mentions she appeared in a school show in 1950. The principal Leonard Herman told her parents she out to be entered in the County-wide Beverly-Burbank Jamboree talent contest. She was one of the top two finishers. In the audience was Armand Girard who invited her to appear on the Hayride show. That led to numerous appearances in the Bay area and benefit shows as well.
A 1954 Hillbilly and Western Hoedown Magazine article, Cottonseed had indicated Marilyn and little Johnny Guess were "branded for stardom". Marilyn was said to have impressing the audiences all season long while Johnny was a newcomer.
She started with the Hayride gang in early 1954. She never had singing lessons, though she would work through her songs with her mom "off and on" during the week and attended the rehearsals before each Thursday night broadcast. Her parents owned a ranch and she lived a typical outdoor life in jeans and plaid shirts. She had five cats, a dog and two young steers that her father helped her raise.
That show had quite a talent lineup and included such names as Carolina Cotton, Eddie Dean. Big Jim DeNoon was the leader of the house band backing up the acts. The show was aired over KPIX out of San Francisco. In another publication, we find that other acts included Patty Prichard, Johnnie Guess (another young performer), Bill Carter, Dusty Dale.
Perhaps a shift in sponsorship or producers, the Hoffman Hayride was replaced by the California Hayride that originated out of Richmond, California. A newspaper article promoting the show seemed to indicate the show went on the air around October 1955. Hosted by Cottonseed Clark and Eddie Kirk, acts included Cal Smith (Country Bumpkin), Lyle Keeney, Little Mike Calkins, Jerri JOnes, Red Murrell, Pete Harrison, The Cochran Brothers and Jess Willard.
The show was getting decent press during its tour of Bay Area communities in 1956 and we start to see mention of Marilyn as one of the featured acts on the show. Venues mentioned were Santa Rosa Veteran Memorial Auditorium, the Lodi Grape and Wine Pavilion in Lodi, CA and San Mateo.
Television was still a very new medium in many places in the 1950s. The Cottonseed Clark, Eddie Kirk and California Hayride did the very first 'live' broadcast that originated from Santa Rosa, California on February 11, 1956. It was a two hour show from 8:00pm to 10:00pm. And afterwards, the audience could enjoy music and dancing until 1:00am. Marilyn was part of the Hayride cast to appear there. Others such as Wild Bill Hendrix, Dusty Dale, Bill Ring, and Little Mike Calkins. Later articles in June 1956 indicate that one of the singers on the show was Cal Smith, who would go on to carve out his own country music career with such hits as "Country Bumpkin."
That show was very popular and many were turned away according to Cottonseed Clark. The show returned to Santa Rosa in April. That April article reveals the setup used to make the 'live' broadcast possible. It was described as one of the 'trickiest' micro-wave circuits to do a broadcast and was going to be repeated for the April broadcast. The signal was relayed from the auditorium for a very short distance to a relay point setup in the yard of a Santa Rosa resident. The signal was then beamed to Mount Diablo to enable the signal to broadcast the show over the air.
In 1957, the 90-minute show was aired over KOVR-TV in the Central Valley of California on Wednesday nights. The team of Cottonseed Clark and Bill Kirk proved adept at creating these shows and had sort of a spin off show called Country Western Time - another 90 minute show on Monday nights that had three different 30 minute segments.
Marilyn was also part of a piece of local television history. The Alameda County Fair that was being held in Pleasanton during June 21 through July 4, 1957 was to feature a live television broadcast for the first time. The show was "California Hayride" over KOVR-TV on Wednesday, June 26. Cottonseed Clark would be doing the emcee chores and introducing folks such as Bill Ring, Little Mike Calkins, Billy Jack Wills and Marilyn Orlando. The group would return on July 4, but that appearance would not be televised. But as you will shortly see, Marilyn was probably not on that July 4 show.
The Hoffman Hayride went south one night on Friday night September 17, 1954 to do a remote, live broadcast from the Santa Clara County Fair. Bob Foster reported that over 6,000 fans packed the grandstand to see the half-hour show that was to be aired over KOVR-TV. It was a special night for Marilyn in some ways. She was appearing in the venue where she made her first appearance before an audience - when she performed on the stage in front of the grandstand and won the annual talent contest at the fair. Mr. Foster noted that one of the show's employees, Russ Pettit, made sure Marilyn received a bouquet of flowers to celebrate her return to the fair as a featured star of the Hayride.
A common thread seen in what the newspaper television critics wrote in their columns was their impression of Marilyn.
Not just as a singer but as a performer and personality at her early age. Her appearances on the Hayride seemed to have generated a buzz and attention.
One example would be her appearance at the grand opening of Cotton's Club (owned by Cottonseed Clark) in Belmont, CA in December 1953. Marilyn had already become somewhat a favorite on the Hayride show, but the large crowd at Cotton's Club that one night, the audience took her into their collective hearts according to TV Critic Bob Foster. In fact, he said she nearly stopped the show. He wrote:
"This little lady is not only as cute as they come but she is just filled with showmanship. She knows her way around a television studio, can sing just about anything and not only sings but does a terrific job of acting along with her singing. ... Few who attended the opening night at Cotton's Club will ever forget young Miss Orlando, hers is a great talent."
In April 1955, when the show had a new host and was hosted by Bob Kennedy, the Hayride show was being revived over KOVR, her presence was still singled out. Ernie Newton was not too effusive about the new iteration, but noted that the "Brightest sparkle in the premiere came with the guesting of Marilyn Orlando, a little trouper deserving the best that comes her way." Bob Foster echoed Dwight's compliments and further stated, "Given a few more years Marilyn will be one of the big names in the Country and Western music field."
Bob Foster of The Times in San Mateo, California wrote upon the return of Cottonseed Clark to the Hoffman Hayride on KOVR-TV in July 1955. He wrote that he "...still has a knack for bringing top entertainment to the viewing public." But Mr. Foster went on:
"Actually, it was a teen-age girl from San Jose who stole the show. Marilyn Orlando, one of Cotton's many discoveries, proved that she can handle the voice with which she was born. ... Now past the critical years when her voice might have suffered by strain, Marilyn returned to the show with a socko rendition of "Banjo's Back In Town" and did a job that would have won the admiration of Teresa Brewer, who recorded it on Coral."
Her appearance at the Napa County Fair, which ran June 29 through July 1, 1956 gave her rave reviews promoting her appearance. The article said the Chinese had an old expression, "One picture is worth a thousand words," which the uncredited author said described the "sweet and unaffected" Marilyn aptly. The article also provides a tidbit of her early life and her budding talent. It was said she was "completely uninhibited from the first" and "barely able to talk" but her talent was already being displayed. While in first grade, she sang in her school's Annual Christmas program. The article mentions she was just 12 at the time, but even then seemed to know what lay ahead in her future - a fine student and was majoring in teaching and music.
But TV Critics always seemed to find a way to twist things and try to interject some humor while praising someone. Dwight Newton wrote after seeing the "California Hayride" show that aired from Concord and thought it better, but said he was worried about Marilyn. "Such talent! If only she didn't have to sing through her nose." But in looking to what 1954 might hold, he spoke glowlingly of Marilyn, "Diminutive 10 year old "Hayride" singer. Fine, natural showmanship. Most promising future. Makes one think of Judy Garland when Judy was a wee one."
Marilyn recalled the time when shortly after her birthday in 1957, she became part of the Ina Ray Hutton show in Las Vegas the Royal Nevada hotel on The Strip. Ms. Hutton had an all-girl band in her show that began on Wednesday, July 3, 1957. Vegas Vagaries columnist, Les Devor, told readers that also in the show were Rose Marie (remember her? Dick Van Dyke show?), the famous DeMarco Sisters, Ruth Costello who Mr. Devor described as an "...acro-terpsichore danseuse'. Marilyn was described as the twelve year old protege of producer Maurice Duke, who had seen her on a television show in San Jose, California. Mr. Devor described Ina Ray, "...she has burst through tank towns and big cities as the canary bomb shell." She was the first to conduct both all-male and all-female bands.
A couple of days later, Mr. Devor told readers of his impressions of the show put on by Ina Ray Hutton. After some words about the opening and the performance by the 'acro-terp dancer' Ruth Costello, he tells readers about Marilyn's part of the show.
"A truism in show business came to life when Marilyn Orlando made her initial bow. She's a thirteen-year-old singer who gained shouts of "more," and scored heavily for the show, pointing up the axiom that children and pets will "steal" every scene.
That show at the Royal Nevada went on for the month of July. But we learn from Mr. Devor that Russ Morgan had caught one of Marilyn's performances with the Ina Ray show and once that show ended, he hired her on the spot and per Mr. Devor, she was a bright spot hold-over.
He told readers it was priceless "bit of side play" to watch Marilyn try to "pick up the tempo" of Morgan's band while Morgan smiled and approved her spirited stage presence. He wrote:
" Miss Orlando is all of 14 years old, but what she lacks in years she more than makes up for in personality. You'll like the way she sings, "All Shook Up" even if you don't particularly like the idea of being all shook up."
We have seen some of the older publications refer to her as "Mary" and "Margaret" as well as "Marilyn".
During a phone conversation, Marilyn told of being recruited for a part on the television show, "77 Sunset Strip." But her mother told her that if she took the part, they would have to get an apartment in the Hollywood area and they would have to commute from San Jose. Marilyn indicated that she did want to do that; she decided home was where her heart was.
As we traversed the internet, we learn that she had married Frank Dorsa around 1963 and had gotten some honors and recognition.
In subsequent years, she was sought after by producers in Nashville to do some recording. Bob Saporitti was living in the Bay Area at the time and recruited her. She indicated she met Chet Atkins during that visit. She said she was told that she would have to move to Nashville if she signed up. But Marilyn talked it over with her mom and said, no, that is not for me. She was married and was raising a young son; she stayed in California.
When her mother passed away in 1999, Marilyn shared some of the impact her mom had on her. Marily said her mom did not surrender to a male-dominated society. Marilyn said, "She did not obey. ... She taught me to think on my own." Marilyn further reflected that she felt her mom started to feel her own power when her daughter started singing at the age of 8; she began to feel she could handle herself in a crowd. Marilyn stated, "Everything that I am, I am because of my mother. ... She taught me to believe in myself because she believed in me."
Further research into the later life of Marilyn shows the remained in the San Jose area and became involved in the community. In 2015, she was honored at Notre Dame High School in San Jose as part of the "Women's Place Project" - an activity that was described as an activity for all freshmen who are assigned a "woman of impact" from a list of alive and deceased women who had made some kind of impact in the world. The honors luncheon is usually held in October of each year.
The Board of Supervisors recognized her for her valuable service to the County of Santa Clara/Province of Florence, Italy, Sister-County Commission on August 26, 2008. Se had served on that commission from April 1995 to August 2008. She also co-chaired the highly successful 2007 Medici Masked Ball.
That 2008 declaration reveals some of her other talents such as being an award-winning artist - she taught painting, life drawing and jewelry design. She also developed the concept of specialty retail boutiques that became integrated with her husband's full-service car wash business - and even in our local central valley location today we see such a car wash with that kind of setup. The Robertsville Corners Classic Car Wash at the Almaden Expressway in San Jose included a contribution from her father. He planted an old-fashioned farmers garden on the property. The theme at that location was based on the ranch her parents had run and raised their family.
She has her own web site for her design efforts at: Designs by Marilyn Dorsa
Talent runs in her family. She married Frank Dorsa. Frank's father and brothers founded Eggo food products. Frank's dad invented the Eggo frozen waffle. Another member of the family, Frank's uncle was Edward Mirrasou. Ed and his brother owned Mirassou Winery. Marilyn notes that the Pellier / Mirassou family were pioneers in the wine industry. When Ed passed away, the Gallos, Ernest and Julio, as well as Robert Mondavi eulogized him.
Credits & Sources
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