June Allyson, Wholesome Star of Movie Musicals, Dies at 88 | Playbill

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Obituaries June Allyson, Wholesome Star of Movie Musicals, Dies at 88 June Allyson, the wholesome, sweet and utterly apple pie star of a series of popular MGM movie musicals in 1940s, died July 8 at her home in Ojai, California. She was 88.
June Allyson in a 1998 photo.

Blonde, petite, sweet-tempered, and attractive in an unthreatening way, June Allyson was perhaps the most anodyne star in the MGM musical camp. (Her most provocative feature may have been her throaty voice.) She had none of vivaciousness of Ann Miller, or the commanding singing voice of Judy Garland (who was a friend). But she appealed to audiences, who flocked to the many films that paired her with the equally homespun Van Johnson. These included "High Barbaree," "Two Girls and a Sailor," "Too Young to Kiss" and "Remains to Be Seen."

She never thought much of her musical talents. According to the New York Times, she told an interviewer 1951, "I couldn't dance, and, Lord knows, I couldn't sing, but I got by somehow. Richard Rodgers was always keeping them from firing me."

Nonetheless, it was in musicals where she got her start. She landed a chorus job in Broadway's Sing Out the News in 1938. That job led to the musicals Very Warm for May (1939) and Higher and Higher (1940). She understudied Betty Hutton in 1940's Panama Hattie, a job which led to her big break. When Hutton contracted the measles, Ms. Allyson went on. Producer-director George Abbott caught one of her performances and cast her in his next project, Best Foot Forward. When that musical was bought by MGM, Ms. Allyson went with it to Hollywood.

Prior to Mr. Abbott's arrival, however, the young actress already knew how to get attention. Actress Betsy Blair, who was also in the Panama Hattie chorus, wrote in her biography that Ms. Allyson would sometimes contrive to trip and fall while dancing on stage. "She'd leap up in charming confusion and get a hand," Blair wrote. June Allyson returned to Broadway on only one occasion, for the 1968 comedy Forty Carats.

Once she outgrew her musical roles, Ms. Allyson was most frequently cast as an ideal wife, very often co-starring with James Stewart. Their films together include "The Stratton Story," "The Glenn Miller Story," and "Strategic Air Command." Other significant roles include a 1949 film version of "Little Women," in which she played Jo, and "The Shrike," where she was cast against type as Jose Ferrer's shrewish wife. Her sunny screen persona notwithstanding, June Allyson was raised in near tragic circumstances. Born Ella Geisman on Oct. 7, 1917, in the Bronx, her father, a drunk, left before she turned one. At the age of eight, an accident left her in a back brace for four years. Treatments designed to bring her back to health plunged the family into further poverty, forcing them to move several times.

Ms. Allyson would later refer to MGM as her first real home. "MGM was my mother and father, mentor and guide, my all-powerful and benevolent crutch. When I left them, it was like walking into space."

She was married four times: to actor Dick Powell (1945 to 1963, his death); twice to Glen Maxwell, who was Powell's hairdresser (1963-65, 1966-70); and lastly to David Ashrow, who survived her, as does her daughter, Pamela Allyson Powell.

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