Chapter Three. “I Can’t Get Started”: Struggling for Singing Stardom
The late 1936 move to Texas, where Frances’s parents lived in Ellis County, near the town of Italy, proved the right thing for nine-year-old Tommy Fox.
(A more recent image of a street in Italy named for Dale Evans.)
At the end of 1936, Frances Fox/Dale Evans was still chasing stardom, was still determined to have it all: a fabulous career and a happy home life. But every time she thought she found true love, something went wrong and the relationship failed. Dale’s decision to move from Memphis back to her home state of Texas reflected her sense of responsibility to her son. She believed Tommy would thrive on her parents’ farm, and she was right.
Career-wise, Ellis County offered nothing for Dale Evans. Her parents agreed to take care of their grandson while she moved forty miles north to Dallas, where radio station WFAA hired her as a singer. It was a good job in a sizeable market. Dale also regularly appeared as a featured vocalist with two local orchestras.
Sometime in 1939, Dale Evans probably made her first recording, the Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin tune “I Can’t Get Started.” Her career had picked up, she was well-known locally, but there was no sign yet of the stardom she longed for.
The song has been recorded by numerous artists over the decades, though it’s most closely connected to Bunny Berigan and his orchestra (it was their theme song in the 1930s) and jazz singers Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
It’s Fitzgerald’s recording that is heard in the season two finale of the television show Gilmore Girls, which aired in May 2002. The episode is also called “I Can’t Get Started.” Sookie St. James, the fabulous chef and best friend of Lorelai Gilmore, is planning her wedding and contemplating playing the song at the beginning of the ceremony.
Lorelai tries to convince Sookie that it might not be the best choice, that the lyrics are depressing and morbid. It’s “about a woman who can’t make her relationship work, whose life is filled with emptiness, regret, and pain.” Sookie’s response? “Who listens to the lyrics?” And “I Can’t Get Started” plays at her wedding.
Sookie cared for the music more than the lyrics, and she also may have picked up on the underlying message of the song. (Luckily she also understood that Lorelai almost always gives bad advice.) After getting stuck, no matter for how long, you get unstuck and start to move again. Dale Evans knew that. Even when she became impatient, when she thought it was taking too long to achieve her goal, she moved forward. Closer to stardom.
(Dale Evans, before she was Queen of the West.)