Born Dawn Bethel, North began dancing professionally at age 10 and, during her teens, modeled and danced in clubs and for film loops; meanwhile, she got married at 15 and soon had a child. She got bit roles in a couple of films, and in 1953 gained Hollywood's attention with a wild dance performance in the Broadway musical Hazel Flagg. North reprised her role in the play's screen version, Living It Up (1954), with Martin and Lewis. Soon thereafter she was signed to a film contract by Fox, which tried to make her into a '50s-style platinum blond "sexpot" and potential replacement for Marilyn Monroe; the studio mounted a big publicity campaign and starred her in several light productions. She proved herself to be a skilled comedian and dancer and a reasonably good actress. However, within a few years other actresses usurped her "dumb blond" roles, and after 1958 she disappeared from the screen for almost a decade. She went on to perform in stock, on the road, and on TV. Gradually, she developed a reputation as a serious actress, an unprecedented transformation of performing personas for an actress of her generation. In the late '60s she began appearing regularly in films in character roles, and she sustained a busy screen and TV career through the '90s.