Lamour's birth name was Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton; Lamour came from the name of her step-father. After winning the title of Miss New Orleans in a beauty pageant she moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1931, hoping to become a professional singer. She got a job singing with the band of Herbie Kay, who became her first husband. She also sang on the popular Rudy Vallee radio show.
In 1936 she moved to Hollywood and began appearing regularly in films for Paramount Pictures, first in bit parts. The role that made her a star was Ulah (a sort of female Tarzan) in The Jungle Princess (1936). She wore a sarong, which would become associeated with her, and captivated many viewers with her sensuous exotic attractive appearance. While she first achieved stardom as a sex symbol, Lamour also showed talent as both a comic and dramatic actress.
Dororthy Lamour died at her home in North Hollywood, California at the age of 81.