Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 12:35 a.m.
As a talented young woman she danced in chorus lines on Broadway, and as a Santa Rosa mother and fundraiser she hosted numerous cocktail parties to support her favorite causes.
Lorraine E. Williams died in her sleep at the Golden Living Center on March 20. She was 92.
Williams was born in 1921 in Windham, Conn., and began her career as a ballet, tap and jazz dancer at age 16.
“She went to the New York City public schools, but immediately after school was over she would try out for parts,” said her son, Norm E. Williams of Morro Bay. “She'd try out for parts and immediately get them.”
As a young dancer, Williams was a chorus girl at Lou Walters' Latin Quarter and Virginia Hill's Hurricane Club. At Latin Quarter, news anchor Barbara Walters, who was just a young girl at the time, and Lou Walters' daughter often hung out in the dressing room, Norm Williams said.
“She would get into my mom's and everyone else's makeup,” Norm Williams said. “Barbara had braces back then, and she was kind of like a snotty kid.”
When the World's Fair came to town in 1939, Williams performed in the aquacade, swimming and dancing. She also appeared in Jackie Gleason's Broadway play “Follow the Girls.” Unlike other chorus girls, Williams lived with her parents when she performed on Broadway.
Williams often frequented Sardi's, a restaurant and popular post-theater lounge New York City. That's where she met her late husband, Norman J. Williams, who had been an actor since age 6. They were introduced by their friend, Norman Abbott, who directed “Leave it to Beaver” and other TV shows.
“My parents, it was love at first sight, and they got married pretty quick in 1941,” Norm Williams said.
Shortly after they married, Norman Williams served in World War II. When he returned, they both continued acting and she gave birth to their son, Norm.
Things changed in 1948, when Lorraine's father bought the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Santa Rosa.
“They had to make the momentous decision,” Norm Williams said. “Do we go to Hollywood and do this new thing that's come out called television, or do we follow Leo to this podunk town called Santa Rosa?”
They settled in Santa Rosa, and Williams served on the board of directors for the plant. She was an active fundraiser for many causes, including the creation of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. One of her biggest joys was hosting fundraisers for the Boys Club, her son said.
At her social events, Williams wore elaborate fashions, many of which she made herself, having learned to sew from her mother, a seamstress in New York City's garment district.
“Over the years, we'd have friends from Hollywood come and visit us, and they would raise hell and have parties, and people in Santa Rosa would say, 'Who are these Hollywood people?'” Norm Williams said.
After her husband's death, Williams was an adventurous traveler, sneaking a camera into Cuba during a visit in the '70s, and then visiting China shortly after President Richard Nixon's historic visit. In Beijing, she brought her Polaroid camera and shot photos of children and families, handing over the snapshots to mothers since few had cameras. She enjoyed throwing bon voyage parties before setting off on cruises with her friends.
Williams and her husband never regretted their decision to locate in Santa Rosa instead of Hollywood, her son said.
“It just goes to show you what's important in life ... to be where you're happy and where you can raise a family; that's success,” Norm Williams said.
In addition to her son Norm, Williams is survived by her daughter, Nancy Bice Williams of Santa Rosa; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. She also is survived by her sister Dolores Lamoreux of Decatur, Ga.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Calvary Cemetery Chapel in Santa Rosa. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to any Alzheimer's organization.