The beautiful Francis Langford became known as The Bamboo Blond after appearing in the 1946 film of the same name in which she plays a nightclub singer who meets a B-29 pilot played by Russell Wade. In this patriotic war movie Wades crew go on to paint an image of Langfords character reclining with little clothing on to the nose of their aircraft and name the aircraft “The Bamboo Blond”. It was based on the original story “Chicago Lulu” by Wayne Whittaker and directed by Anthony Mann.
The striking miss Langford was born Julia Frances Langford on April 4th 1913 in Lankland Florida to Vasco Cleveland Langford and his wife Anna Rhea Newbern. Growing up in the small community of Mulberry Florida she trained as an Opera singer in her youth though unfortunately a bout of childhood tonsilitis changed her singing range from Soprano to Contralto. Although this must have felt like a disaster at the time, having lost her dream of being an opera singer, it did in fact ensure a varied and high impact career and she changed her music style to a more modern and up beat ‘big band’ style. She went on to sing at local dances and at the age of 17 was spotted by cigar manufacturer Eli Witt who asked her to sing for his radio show. This was followed by a short stint in musical theater, starring in ‘Here goes the bride’ before moving to Hollywood in 1931 to appear on ‘Hollywood Hotel’, which was Louella Parsons‘ radio show. Around this time she also began appearing in movies. She became a regular on Rudy Vallee‘s radio show in the early 1930’s and was a regular on Dick Powels show between 1935 and 1938.
During the war she was one of the main pin ups for the boys over seas after she joined up with Bob Hope and became a regular on his ‘Pepsodent show’, replacing Judy Garland. His first military entertainment programme in 1941 at Riverside California went down so well he continued to produce these shows at military bases all over the world throughout the war bringing laughter and music to the boys in the thick of it. These U.S.O tours featured Bob Hope, Francis Langford, Jerry Colonna and guitarist Tony Romano along with a plethora of recording and movie stars and entertainers. The preformed throughout the war in such far-flung locations as Europe, North Africa and the south pacific. Thousands of G.I’s would have been entertained and seen miss Langford in person.
(Jerry Colonna, Frances Langford, Bob Hope and Patty Thomas return from entertaining the troops.)
Bob Hope recalled in his memoirs ‘Dont shoot! Its only me!’ that during a U.S.O show in the South Pacific Langford was on stage in front of a huge group of G.I’s and launched into her signature song ‘I’m in the mood for love’, a song written especially for her to perform. After singing the first line a soldier stood up and shouted “You’ve come to the right place, honey”. On the many tours Hope made to entertain the troops he was always accompanied by a good-looking girl who was a ‘good sport’, to the boys abroad these were the girls from back home, they represented what they were missing and what they were fighting for. She would have no doubt been the inspiration for many an example of nose art.
(Lieutenant Colonel R.L Baseler with Bob Hope and Frances Langford in front of Baseler’s P40 ‘Stud’)
Through out the war she also wrote a weekly column called the ‘Purple Heart Diary’ for Hearst newspapers in which she described her visits to entertain the wounded at military hospitals. Langford used her column to give these wounded G.I’s a voice, ensuring their complaints were published and ensuring they received the supplies and comforts they required. The columns were turned in to a movie starring Langford in 1951 about a trio of entertainers performing to the troops.
Her support of the military and her association with Bob Hope continued and in the 80’s she supported him in U.S.O tours to entertain the troops in the Persian Gulf. She was one of the poster girls of the war and her picture would have graced many a barracks wall.
Langford passed away at the grand old age of 92 in July 2005 in Florida, she leaves behind her a legacy of beautiful pictures and amazing songs.