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Show biz songwriter returns to her Florida roots

In the spring of 1991, a car pulled up to the front gate at the California home of Elizabeth Hampton Lawrence. Out stepped Vanna White, cohost of the popular Wheel of Fortune TV show.

"I had heard Vanna White say on TV she was going to Florida so I sent her copies of my Florida songs," Mrs. Lawrence said. "Vanna wanted to tell me she was especially fond of the one titled, When It's 'Zalea Time in Florida."

Mrs. Lawrence recently talked about her many years in show business as she sat at her old Schoninger piano and played and sang some of the songs she has written and had published in her 80-plus years.

"I've had that old piano for 45 years and it has a special sound, which I love," she said. "I dragged it all the way across the country and just can't seem to part with it. After all, I've written close to 100 songs on that piano."

She returned to Florida in November and settled in a home in Chassahowitzka to be close to her nephews and near her birthplace of Homosassa. But it is California that holds many of her memories, from show biz recollections such as working with Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe.

Fans of the TV series Dallas might recall the music they heard playing as Bobby Ewing was leaving the show and J.R. begged him not to go. That tune was called The Ballad of Bobby Ewing, penned by Elizabeth Lawrence.

She said the music caused great emotion for some of the show's staff and recalled one producer who came to hear the music at her home one evening.

"He was drinking and kept asking me to play it again," she said. "Finally at around midnight he was sitting on the carpet in the middle of my living room and I told him I was tired. He offered me $500 to play the song and I ended up making $1,000 that night."

She worked with Groucho when she and her daughter, Betty Lawrence, with whom she had a singing act, auditioned for his TV show.

"NBC called and said they wanted me and Betty to make a pilot and Groucho would select from four which group he wanted on the show," she said. "We sang a song I wrote titled Kitty Went A-Courtin' and Groucho began singing and dancing along with us. He told us he didn't even want to see the others and gave us the job."

The mother and daughter team appeared on four shows, and Mrs. Lawrence said the song was a hit.

Mrs. Lawrence, whose daughter died of cancer last year, has written a song in her honor that she hopes will be a hit and put her hometown on the map. Titled Hello To Homosassa Springs, the tune recalls her days as a child growing up in the area.

"I'd run through the woods with the wind blowing and I'd be singing songs at the top of my lungs, making them up as I went," she said. "Mother could never understand where I got my music talent from because nobody else had any in the family."

Mrs. Lawrence said she was born at Homosassa Springs around 1911 and grew up as a tomboy.

When she was 13, her mother sent her to live in Atlanta with an aunt, Julia Hampton, a society matron of her time.

"She decided to take me under her wing and see what she could do with me," Mrs. Lawrence said.

Her aunt's efforts were mostly successful, Mrs. Lawrence said, but her independent ways kept showing up.

She recalled the time in 1936 when she met William Lawrence, her future husband. At the time, he was an infantryman at Fort Benning, Ga.

"I could outshoot him, and the soldiers were amazed," she said. "My brother and daddy taught me when I was 6 or 7."

Soon after her marriage, Mrs. Lawrence moved to Hollywood, Calif., where she got her first job as a model for an auto company. She also began writing music and breeding champion show cats at her Hadji High Ho Cattery.

She said that many stars shared her love for cats and that she made many friends at shows. She recalled visits from actress Ann-Margaret and her husband, Roger Smith. "They bought two cats and became friends," she said.

Her favorite fellow cat lover was Marilyn Monroe, who she said came over to roll around with the kittens and eventually bought a blue-eyed white Persian.

"The newspapers of the day had quite a time with a quote she made concerning the fact that if there was such a thing as reincarnation, she would like to come back as one of the blue-eyed white Persians," she said. "After Marilyn died, we named one after her and it was never adopted or sold."

Although she no longer breeds cats, she enjoys the company of her two pals, Prince and Buddy.

She keeps herself busy writing songs and hoping that a star _ such as Glenn Campbell, who has several of her songs including Choc'late Chattahoochee and the latest about Homosassa _ will make a recording that will be a big hit for her hometown.