MEETING DODIE

Dodie Stevens and Craig Cronbaugh at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa – February 2024.

Craig Cronbaugh of Des Moines, now retired, was director of the Legislative Information Office at the Iowa State Capitol. He had begun playing drums professionally in 1975. Craig was inducted into the Midwest All-Music Association (MAMA) Hall of Fame in 2022. He is currently on the MAMA Board of Directors and serves as secretary for the organization. Craig and his wife, Marlene, live in Des Moines.

By Craig Cronbaugh

I originally began communicating with Dodie Stevens in 2015. I was a friend of the late famed singer Frankie Laine. I first met Frankie in 1985 in San Diego, spending the entire day with him. I had always admired Frankie’s emotional rendering of every song he sang, and I had begun collecting his records at age 14. My dream of meeting him in person became a reality when I finally got that chance in San Diego. At that time, I was a recent member of the Frankie Laine Society of America. I branched out and joined the fan club in England—the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society (FLIAS) shortly thereafter. Over the years, I have assembled a Frankie Laine Library of his career.

I had contacted Dodie through longtime friend Tony Cooper, secretary of FLIAS. Dodie, a child prodigy known by the stage name Geri Thorr, had sung at age eight with Frankie Laine in 1954 on his television show The Frankie Laine Show. Tony had located Dodie in 2015—asking her whether she and Miss Geri Thorr were one in the same. They were. Just by chance, Tony had seen an old clip on the internet of Dodie singing and noted a striking resemblance to Geri Thorr! As Frankie Laine collectors, we all had attempted to locate little Geri Thorr for years, wondering what became of her. It was not until we had discovered that Geri Thorr was, in fact, Dodie Stevens, that we were able to contact her.

When Tony gave me Dodie’s contact information, I sent an email to her. Dodie lives in California. Because of my friendship with Frankie Laine, she was receptive to this initial contact. Communications followed, and when Dodie learned of my video work as Director of the Legislative Information Office at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, she asked me whether I could help promote her new song When? in my area. She sent me this email:

Hello Craig, I am forwarding you a song I wrote the day after the Paris Terrorist Attacks (November 13, 2015), and unfortunately, there have been more since then . . . when will it end? I recorded it a couple of weeks ago, and I thought you would be interested in hearing it. Since you work for the legislature, maybe you can pass it on to other government officials. And who knows, maybe the right person will hear it, and it can reach the masses to, hopefully, stop all this madness! Writing is a way of expressing my feelings, and my heart was heavy when I wrote it. I hope you like the song. Dodie.

After researching institutions, I contacted the Des Moines Iowa Peace Network since Dodie had written and recorded this song as her desire for peace in the world.

The first music video I had created for Dodie was this promotion for a peaceful world, based upon When? I had also compiled text for the Iowa Peace Network site to accompany the video link. The project became part of an online magazine article (with the video) in 2016. A second video I had produced for Dodie, Respect Me, was subsequently added to this site.

Dodie loved my creation of the video for When?:

WOW! I can’t begin to tell you how magnificent this is! It gave me chills from the first frame to the last. There is nothing I would change. I will, however, say this . . . when thinking about a video for the song, I didn’t think I wanted to see the terrorists, like Isis, as part of it. But the way you interjected them works with the overall telling of the story. And when it goes to the bridge, and you have all those fast clips of past attacks . . . I repeat. . . WOW! . . . I will watch it again, and again, and again. You did an incredible, amazing job, my friend!

Soon after this, I sent Dodie an autographed copy of my book, Reaching for a Star, which details my friendship with Frankie Laine. She loved it, complimenting me on my writing skills.

Dodie holding Craig’s book, Reaching for a Star.

Dodie began working on a music project with her daughter, Stephanie. The project became known as Affirmasong, a unique, inspirational and motivational program. It is presented as a lecture and concert, combined. All the songs have positive, uplifting messages, written by Dodie, and mirror the lessons she learned on her journey from teen star to now, and the discovery that the power of the mind, using positive thoughts and words, can transform your life. To remember these lessons, Dodie converted each one into a song, because songs easily remain in one’s memory.

She began sending me each new song and asked that I create videos for them. Using my own judgment based upon what the lyrics meant to me, I assembled each video. Dodie allowed my creativity to flow and, although she did provide input from time-to-time, she confidently left me to my own devices. She absolutely loved my end results. I created five music videos for Dodie between 2016 and 2020.

Since Stephanie also sang on those songs, I became acquainted with her through long-distance conversations. As we continued our communication and my work creating videos to her songs, Dodie began referring to me as her “little brother.” So, she became my “big sister.” We always delighted in crediting Frankie Laine for indirectly bringing us together. Dodie, indeed, has become part of my Frankie Laine Library.

I brought Dodie and Stephanie (both born in the Midwest) to the attention of MAMA’s Board of Directors in 2023. The board subsequently voted both artists as inductees into the MAMA Hall of Fame.

Meeting at the Surf

In December 2023, Dodie informed me that she and Stephanie were going to be guest performers at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, during the Winter Dance Party on February 1, 2024.

She hoped that I would be able to attend, and we could finally meet.

My wife, Marlene, and I traveled to Clear Lake from Des Moines, the afternoon of February 1st. Dodie had called me at home that morning to give me an update on her schedule that day. She and Stephanie would be driven from their hotel in Clear Lake to the Surf to partake in a three-hour sound check that afternoon until 5 o’clock.

Marlene and I arrived at our hotel in Clear Lake just after 5 o’clock that afternoon. Shortly thereafter, Dodie phoned me. She had received complimentary tickets for Marlene and me. I was to pick them up at the door. We expressed how excited we both were to meet.

The show was to begin at 7 o’clock that evening. Dodie had informed me during her call that she and Stephanie would perform at 9:30. I thought that perhaps Marlene and I could meet Dodie and Stephanie before their show, so we wouldn’t have to stay too long at the venue that evening, but we were ready to share another adventure together.

Unlike the snowy Iowa blizzards of January, the day was chilly, but dry. I kept thinking that last month’s weather would have been more befitting for the Surf Ballroom’s Winter Dance Party theme of the evening.

Up until we left for the event, I’d been texting Stephanie. I wanted to stay connected with the ladies.

When Marlene and I arrived, the Surf was packed. It was loud and chaotic. The dance floor was jammed with people standing and chatting. The hallways between booths were crammed with the same. All the tables around the dance floor perimeter were also occupied. Our tickets had numbers corresponding with our booth. To our misfortune, Marlene and I were unable to locate our assigned seating, so we finally nestled in an unused booth that was located in an area by the side of the stage.

The entrance for performers, leading to a backstage area, was at the other side of the stage. I knew that Dodie and Stephanie were not going to venture through the crowd to come to us. I couldn’t reach Stephanie by text. No doubt, she and her mom were preparing for their performance.

Just before Dodie and Stephanie took to the stage, I saw Stephanie standing next to the side of the stage close to our booth. I got up and called her name. She saw me and trotted over to us. We hugged briefly, and I introduced her to Marlene, who also received a big hug from Stephanie.

It was then showtime for the ladies. They performed wonderful songs while Marlene took photos, and I recorded video from the front of the stage. I was delighted to capture Dodie singing “Pink Shoe Laces.”

Due to the crowd that night, Marlene and I stayed in our booth until the end of the show. At around 10:30, all performers gathered on the stage as a finale.

When the lights came on and people started to drift out of the audience area, I noticed across the dance floor from where we were seated that Dodie was settled at a table next to the entrance backstage signing autographs.

Marlene and I waited for several minutes and then started walking across the dance floor to the area where Dodie had been signing autographs. A young man, seemingly from out of nowhere, suddenly sprinted toward me. “Dodie Stevens wants to meet you!” he exclaimed. “She said you and she have worked together but have never met. She wants you to come over to see her.” He may have been a young stagehand, employee of the Surf Ballroom or part of the road crew. I never did find out who this young man was. I thought it was quite amusing.

When we reached the other side of the dance floor, Marlene and I strode over to the curtained area next to the entrance for performers. Dodie saw me, waved and ushered us to a room behind the curtain.

Marlene was grabbed for a hug and kiss from Dodie first. Stephanie gave me a hug and kiss. Then Dodie, my big sister, came over to me, and we embraced with a kiss. We had finally met after all these years!

Both of these ladies were loving and joyful to be able to meet us. Marlene and I received lots of love from them both. It was still quite noisy and hectic, but we all made it special. We engaged in idle chat, but I was in awe of meeting that little girl singer who had performed with Frankie Laine on TV. I treasure these video-converted filmed shows from so many years ago. Of course, they are included in my Frankie Laine Library.

Since Marlene and I had watched Dodie’s 1959 movie Hound-Dog Man a couple of nights before, I wanted to ask my big sister a related question since that was the first time I had watched the movie in its entirety. In addition to Fabian and Carol Lynley, the movie also surprisingly boasted a number of big stars. One of my favorite character actors has always been the late Royal Dano, who played a role in the film. I apprised Dodie of this and asked her what Mr. Dano was like as a person. I was rather dismayed when she said, “Sweetheart, I really don’t know. That was such a long time ago.”

As I had my hands upon Dodie’s shoulders, I tried to think of something endearing to say, so I informed Marlene that this special lady had known Annette Funicello, to which Dodie responded, “Oh, yes, I had toured with Annette.” I also mentioned that she had also been friends with Tony Dow (“Wally” on the TV show Leave It to Beaver). Dodie nodded and smiled.

Marlene and I had a wonderful time with these talented and lovely ladies. Too soon, Dodie’s driver informed her that they needed to leave. Before Marlene and I left them, we all vowed to meet again soon in California.

The next day I received a text from Stephanie:

Meeting you was the highlight of our trip. Looking forward to spending more time together in the future. Mom and I treasure you. You are so precious to us both. We love you and Marlene. Much love and hugs to you both!

Dodie Stevens and Stephanie Stevens

Dodie Stevens is best remembered for her 1959 million-seller “Pink Shoe Laces.” She was only 13 years old when that record became gold.

Raised primarily in California’s San Gabriel Valley, “Geri” took singing and dancing lessons and at age eight in 1954, issued her debut single “Merry-Go-Merry-Go-Round,” released on the Gold Star label and credited to Geri Pace. That same year, as Geri Thorr, she appeared four times on The Frankie Laine Show—also starring singer Connie Haines.

In the years to follow, she appeared regularly on local television programs, and while performing on the show Strictly Informal was spotted by Crystalette Records president Carl Burns, who rechristened the 12-year-old “Dodie Stevens.” Her first single for the label, “Pink Shoe Laces,” reached number three on the Billboard charts in March of 1959; the record made Stevens a star, garnering her a gold record. That same year, she issued her self-titled debut LP on Dot Records and co-starred in the Don Siegel film Hound-Dog Man with Fabian. Two more LPs—Over the Rainbow in 1960 and Pink Shoe Laces in 1961—followed, as did an appearance in the 1961 film feature Convicts IV, also starring Ben Gazzara. Dodie has had five hits on the Billboard charts.

Dodie returned to music in 1966, later singing with Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘77 and touring as a backing vocalist with such artists as Loretta Lynn, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Avalon, Boz Scaggs and for 12 years with Mac Davis.

In the 1990s, Dodie co-produced and starred in her own ‘50s and ‘60s revue, “Bop,” and toured for several years with that show.

Currently, Dodie performs with her daughter, Stephanie, and appears in oldies concerts across the country. She also teaches singing and stage performance out of her studio in San Diego County. 

Stephanie Stevens was 18 when she ventured out on her own and pursued a career in music. She began doing session work as a backup and lead singer for television commercials, including 7-Up and Allstate Savings and Loan. That led to a variety of theme songs for television and films as well. She also worked as a demo vocalist for A & M Records and aspiring songwriters. In the late 1980s, Stephanie sang on two HBO Specials for Andre Crouch and Howie Mandel.

Links:

Pink Shoe Laces – Pat Boone—Chevy Showroom – TV Show – 1959

https://youtu.be/WGgaZZl_GVg

Hound-Dog Man20th Century Fox – Movie Clip – 1959

https://youtu.be/hNPVOxAJ7SQ

Iowa Peace Network – Article

Iowa Peace Network: “When?”- A Song of Peace by Dodie Stevens

Craig Cronbaugh Video Productions – Dodie Stevens Music Videos:

When? – 2016

 https://youtu.be/UCi6hx-zL8k

Dancing Rainbows – 2018

https://youtu.be/ez4x5L6Ca6E?si=9TzHY2Eb4omeREWC

21 Days – 2019

https://youtu.be/7PYs8nxhVPo?si=SDewOTdUydujAYMf

Respect Me – 2020

https://youtu.be/MQSzKmprv6c?si=pkzLDOYDbE-Iyed4

It Is What It Is – 2020

https://youtu.be/BkzNxcKB90o?si=5UlRHTD9c0UsReRY