If you were a dedicated fan of The Waltons, the iconic 1970s TV show that was a huge hit for many years, you might remember that one of the teens – Jason – was musically inclined, and that he sometimes risked his mother’s wrath by entertaining in an area roadhouse, the venerable Dew Drop Inn. If you have a really good memory you might even recall that his boss was a lady named Thelma — but what you might not have known was that the role was filled by a gal with quite a musical background of her own.
Dorothy Shay was a veteran performer who’d had a long career as a band singer and comedienne, making appearances in movies and on radio and even early TV, billing herself as the Park Avenue Hillbilly. She also had a hit record along the way, one that showcased her good voice and played to her comedic persona.
The Florida native was born as Dorothy Sims, and began her career around the close of World War II as a bluesy band singer, but within a couple of years she’d adopted a lighter style. Even though she’d previously worked on losing her Southern accent, she now embraced it and became a comedic singer, working with guys like Spike Jones on his popular radio show. She also hit the recording studio regularly, and in 1947 nearly reached the top of the charts with “Feudin’ And Fightin’,” a song that fit perfectly into her style.
She was soon able to land a featured part in Comin’ ’Round The Mountain, a 1951 Abbot and Costello movie, and though she didn’t get other roles at that time it did lead to working on the comedy duo’s TV show and numerous others. It also gave her the acting bug, and after things slowed during the 1960s she reinvented herself as a character actress and found steady work. Unfortunately, her role on the Waltons would be her last. She died in 1978 at age 57. (In the show, writers portrayed her as having sold the roadhouse and moved to California.)
NOTE: You can learn more about Dorothy Shay at the website maintained by her great-niece. (later – website closed)