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  • LNM

    Dorothy Brown was the celebrated "Long Sam," an Iredell County beauty who appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956.

    FILE -
    Dorothy Brown with Ed Sullivan in 1957.
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    FILE -
    Dorothy Brown (top left) lived with nine siblings in a tiny shack along the Catawba River.
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    Mooresville native Dorothy Brown was a brief media sensation in the mid-1950s when she was discovered living in poverty in a backwoods shack in Iredell County. She now lives a quiet life in northwest Mecklenburg County with her dog "Suzy."

Lake Norman’s Original Reality Star

By Sam Boykin

Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013

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The first issue of Lake Norman Magazine featured a two-page spread about Mooresville resident Dorothy Brown. The 16-year-old high school dropout was propelled to instant fame in 1957 after the Mooresville Tribune ran a picture of her standing next to her family’s small shack along the Catawba River wearing a cotton shirt tied at the waist and a pair of black cutoff jeans.

The accompanying story described Brown, who was one of 10 kids, as “tall and lithe and willowy and very beautiful.” Shortly after the story appeared, Kays Gary, a columnist for The Charlotte Observer, wrote about Brown, comparing her to “Long Sam,” a comic strip character who, like Brown, was beautiful, raised in the country and wore black shorts.

The Associated Press picked up Gary’s column, and the national media was instantly smitten with the small-town “Backwoods Beauty.” She was inundated with offers from everyone from modeling agencies and clothing manufacturers to TV producers. A few weeks after the original Mooresville Tribune story, Brown traveled to New York and appeared on the “The Ed Sullivan Show.” National publications including Newsweek, Los Angeles Times and Life did stories about her.

But Brown, as the 1983 Lake Norman Magazine story recounts, didn’t care for the spotlight—she turned down requests to appear on the “Steve Allen Show” and to play a role in the Broadway musical “Li’l Abner”—and returned to Mooresville. She lived with Mooresville Tribune editor Tom McNight and his family until she completed high school. Charlotte businessman Ross Pruette paid for Brown to attend the Women’s College of Greensboro. After graduation she went on to teach at Idlewild Elementary in Charlotte and eventually married.

While Brown’s time in the spotlight was short-lived, both the local and national media occasionally did “Where are they now” stories about her, including The Charlotte Observer in 2003 and The Los Angeles Times in 2007. Today, Brown is 72, retired, and lives in a small house in northwest Mecklenburg County with her Chihuahua “Suzy.”

Brown says she rarely thinks about her brief flirtation with fame, but that it was a special time in her life that she will always remember. “I met some wonderful people and had some wonderful experiences,” she says. “But I like my life now. I still have some good friends left and there’s nothing more important than that.”

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