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June Allyson

in The Secret Heart (1946)
Born Eleanor Geisman
October 7, 1917(1917-10-07)
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Died July 8, 2006 (aged 88)
Ojai, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1937–2001
Spouse(s) Dick Powell (m. 1945–1963) «start: (1945)–end+1: (1964)»"Marriage: Dick Powell to June Allyson" Location: (linkback:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Allyson) (his death) 2 children
Alfred Glenn Maxwell (m. 1963–1965, m. 1966–1970) (divorced)
David Ashrow (m. 1976–2006) «start: (1976)–end+1: (2007)»"Marriage: David Ashrow to June Allyson" Location: (linkback:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Allyson) her death
Official website

June Allyson (October 7, 1917 – July 8, 2006) was an American film and television actress, popular in the 1940s and 1950s. She was a major MGM contract star. Allyson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance in Too Young to Kiss (1951). From 1959-1961, she hosted and occasionally starred in her own CBS anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson. A later generation knew her as a spokesperson for Depend undergarments.

Contents

Early life

Allyson was born Eleanor Geisman,[1] nicknamed "Ella", in The Bronx, New York City, to Clara (née Provost) and Robert Geisman. Her paternal grandparents, Harry Geisman and Anna Hafner, were immigrants from Germany,[1] although Allyson has claimed that her last name was originally "Van Geisman", and was of Dutch origin.[2]Studio biographies listed her as "Jan Allyson" born to French-English parents. On her death, her daughter said Allyson was born "Eleanor Geisman to a French mother and Dutch father."[3]

In April 1918, when Allyson was only six months old, her alcoholic father, who had worked as a janitor, abandoned the family. Allyson was brought up in near poverty, living with her maternal grandparents.[4]To make ends meet, her mother worked as a telephone operator and restaurant cashier, and when she had enough funds, she would occasionally reunite with her daughter, but more often Allyson was "farmed" out to her grandparents or other relatives. [4]

In 1925, when Allyson was eight, a dead tree branch fell on her while she was riding on her tricycle with her pet terrier in tow. [5]The heavy branch killed her dog outright while Allyson had a fractured skull and broken back. Her doctors said she would never walk again and confined her to a heavy steel brace from neck to hips for four years. She ultimately regained her health but when Allyson had become famous, she was terrified that people would discover her background from the "tenement side of New York City" and readily agreed to studio tales of a "rosy life" including a concocted story that she underwent months of swimming exercises in rehabilitation to emerge as a star swimmer. [4]In her later memoirs, Allyson does describe a summer program of swimming that did help her recovery.[6]

After gradually progressing from a wheelchair to crutches to braces, her true "escape" from her impoverished life was to go to the movies where she was enraptured by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies.[4] As a teen, Allyson memorized the trademark Ginger Rogers dance routines; she claimed later to have watched The Gay Divorcee 17 times.[7] She also tried to emulate the singing styles of movie stars, although she never mastered reading music. [8] When her mother remarried and the family was reunited with a more stable financial standing, Allyson was enrolled in the Ned Wayburn Dancing Academy and began to enter dance competitions with the stage name of "Elaine Peters."[9]With the death of her stepfather and a bleak future ahead, she left high school after only completing two and half years, to seek jobs as a dancer. Her first $60-a-week job was as a tap dancer at the Lido Club in Montreal. Returning to New York, she subsequently found work as an actress in movie short subjects filmed by Educational Pictures at its Astoria, Long Island studio. [10] Fiercely ambitious, Allyson tried her hand at modeling, but, to her consternation being the "sad-looking before part" in a before-and-after bathing suit magazine ad.[11] Her first career "break" came when Educational cast her as an ingenue opposite singer Lee Sullivan, comic dancers Herman Timberg, Jr. and Pat Rooney, Jr. and future comedy star Danny Kaye. When Educational ceased operations, Allyson moved over to Vitaphone in Brooklyn, and starred or co-starred (with dancer Hal LeRoy) in musical shorts.

Career

Interspersing jobs in the chorus line at the Copacabana Club with acting roles at Vitaphone, the diminutive 5'1" (1.55 m), weighing less than 100 pounds, red-headed Allyson landed a chorus job in the Broadway show Sing out the News in 1938.[12] The legend is that the choreographer gave her a job and a new name: Allyson, a family name, and June, for the month [5], although like many aspects of her career resume, the derivation was highly unlikely as she was already dubbing herself as "June Allyson" prior to her Broadway engagement and has even attributed the name to a later director. Allyson subsequently appeared in the chorus in Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II's Very Warm for May (1939). [10]

The handprints of June Allyson in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

When Vitaphone discontinued New York production in 1940, Allyson returned to the New York stage to take on more chorus roles in Rogers and Hart's Higher and Higher (1940) and Cole Porter's Panama Hattie (1940). Her dancing and musical talent led to a stint as an understudy for the lead, Betty Hutton, and when Hutton contracted measles, Allyson appeared in five performances of Panama Hattie. [10] Broadway director George Abbott caught one of the nights, and offered Allyson one of the lead roles in his production of Best Foot Forward (1941).[13]

During World War II, after her appearance in the Broadway musical, Allyson was selected for the 1943 film version of Best Foot Forward[12]When she arrived in Hollywood, the production had not started so MGM "placed her on the payroll" of Girl Crazy (1943). Despite playing a "bit part", Allyson received good reviews as a sidekick to Best Foot Forward's star, Lucille Ball, but was still relegated to the "drop list".[14]. MGM's musical supervisor, Arthur Freed saw her test sent up by an agent and insisted that Allyson be put on contract immediately. [15]Another musical, Thousands Cheer (1943) was again a showcase for her singing and dancing, albeit still in a minor role.[16]As a new starlet, although Allyson had already been a performer on stage and screen, she was presented as an "overnight sensation", with Hollywood press agents attempting to portray her as an ingenue, selectively slicing almost a decade off her true age. Studio bios listed her variously as being born in 1922 and 1923.[4]

Allyson's breakthrough was in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) where the studio image of the "girl next door" [17]was fostered by her being cast alongside long-time acting chum, Van Johnson, the quintessential "boy next door." [18]As the "sweetheart team," Johnson and Allyson were to appear together in four more films.[19]

Allyson's early success as a musical star led to several other postwar musicals, including Two Sisters from Boston (1946) and Good News (1947). [13] Allyson also played straight roles such as Constance in The Three Musketeers (1948), the tomboy Jo March in Little Women (1949), and a nurse in Battle Circus (1953).[19] She was very adept at opening the waterworks on cue, and many of her films incorporated a crying scene. Fellow MGM player Margaret O'Brien recalled that she and Allyson were known as "the town criers".[20]

June Allyson in The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)

An extremely active star in the 1940s and 1950s, in 1950, Allyson had been signed to appear opposite her childhood idol Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding, but had to leave the production due to pregnancy. (She was replaced initially by Judy Garland, and later Jane Powell.) She starred in 1956 with a young rising star named Jack Lemmon in a musical comedy, You Can't Run Away From It. Besides Van Johnson, James Stewart was a frequent costar, teaming up with Allyson in films such as The Glenn Miller Story, The Stratton Story and Strategic Air Command.

A versatile performer, Allyson appeared on radio and after her film career ended, Allyson made a handful of nightclub singing engagements. In later years, Allyson appeared on television, not only in her own series, but in such popular programs as The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote. The The DuPont Show with June Allyson on CBS ran for two seasons and was an attempt to use a "high budget" formula but her efforts were dismissed by critics such as the entertainment reviewer in the LA Examiner as "reaching down to the level of mag fiction."[21] TV Guide and other fan magazines such as TV, however, considered Allyson's foray into television as revitalizing her fame and career for a younger audience, further characterizing that her stereotyping by the movie industry as the "girl next door" was the "waste and neglect of talent on its own doorstep."[22]

Personal life

On her arrival in Hollywood, studio heads attempted to enhance the pairing of Van Johnson and Allyson by sending out the two contracted players on a series of "official dates" which were highly publicized and led to a public perception that a romance had been kindled. [23]Although dating David Rose, Peter Lawford and John F. Kennedy, Allyson was actually being courted by movie heartthrob and powerful Hollywood "player" Dick Powell, who was 13 years her senior and had been previously married to Mildred Maund and Joan Blondell.[24]

On August 19, 1945, Allyson caused MGM studio chief, Louis B. Meyer some consternation by marrying Dick Powell. [25]After defying him twice by refusing to stop seeing Powell, in a "tactical master stroke", she asked Meyer to give her away at the wedding. [26]He was so disarmed that he agreed but put Allyson on suspension anyway. [27]The Powells had two children, Pamela Allyson Powell (adopted in 1948 through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in an adoption arranged by Georgia Tann) and Richard Powell, Jr. (born December 24, 1950). [28]In 1961, Allyson underwent a kidney operation and later, throat surgery, temporarily affecting her trademark raspy-voice.[29] The couple briefly separated in 1961, but reconciled and remained married until his death on January 2, 1963.

Powell's wealth made it possible for Allyson to effectively retire from show business after his death, making only occasional appearances on talk and variety shows. Allyson returned to the Broadway stage in 1970 in the play Forty Carats[12] and later toured in a production of No, No Nanette.

After Powell's death, Allyson committed herself to charitable work on his behalf, championing the importance of research in urological and gynecological diseases in seniors, and represented the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in commercials for Depend adult incontinence products. Following a life-long interest in health and medical research (Allyson had initially wanted to use her acting career to fund her own training as a doctor.[30]), she was instrumental in establishing the June Allyson Foundation for Public Awareness and Medical Research. Allyson also financed her brother, Dr. Arthur Peters through his medical training, and he went on to specialize in otolaryngology.[2] She also went though a bitter court battle with her mother over custody of the children she had with Powell. Reports at the time revealed that writer/director Dirk Summers, with whom Allyson was romantically involved from 1963 to 1975, was named legal guardian for Ricky and Pamela as a result of a court petition. Members of the nascent jet-set, Allyson and Summers were frequently seen in Cap d'Antibes, Madrid, Rome, and London. However, Summers refused to marry her and the relationship did not last.

Following her separation from Summers, Allyson was twice married and divorced to businessman Alfred Glenn Maxwell, who owned a number of barbershops and had been Powell's barber,[29] who she claimed physically abused her. During this time, Allyson struggled with alcoholism, which she overcame in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Allyson married David Ashrow, a dentist turned actor. The couple occasionally performed together in regional theater, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, toured the United States with the stage play My Daughter, Your Son. They also appeared on celebrity cruise ship tours on the Royal Viking Sky, in a program that highlighted Allyson's movie career.

Her autobiography, June Allyson by June Allyson (1982) received generally complimentary reviews due to its insider look at Hollywood in one of its golden ages. A more critical appraisal came from Janet Maslin at the New York Times in her review, "Hollywood Leaves Its Imprint on Its Chroniclers", who noted: “Miss Allyson presents herself as the same sunny, tomboyish figure she played on screen Hollywood... ...like someone who has come to inhabit the very myths she helped to create on the screen."[5]Privately, Allyson admitted that her earlier screen portrayals had left her uneasy about the typecast "good wife" roles she had played. [31]

As a personal friend of President and Mrs. Reagan she was invited to many White House Dinners, and in 1988, President Reagan appointed her to “The Federal Council of Aging”. Allyson and her later husband, Dr. Ashrow, actively supported fund-raising efforts for both the James Stewart and Judy Garland museums; both Stewart and Garland had been close friends. [5]

In 1993, her name also made headlines when actor-turned-agent Marty Ingels publicly charged Allyson with not paying his large commission on the earlier Depends deal. Allyson denied owing any money, and she and Ashrow filed a lawsuit for slander and emotional distress, charging that Ingels was harassing and threatening them, stating Ingels made 138 phone calls during a single eight-hour period. Earlier that year, Ingels had pleaded no contest to making annoying phone calls.[32] In December 1993, Allyson christened the Holland America Maasdam, one of the flagships of the Holland America line. Although her heritage, like much of her personal story, was subject to different interpretations, Allyson always claimed to be proud of a Dutch ancestry.[2]

Allyson made a special appearance in 1994 in That's Entertainment III, as one of the film's narrators. She spoke about MGM's golden era, and introduced vintage film clips. In 1996, Alyson became the first recipient of the Harvey Award, presented by the James M. Stewart Museum Foundation, in recognition of her positive contributions to the world of entertainment.[33] Until 2003, Allyson remained as busy as ever touring the country making personal appearances, headlining celebrity cruises and speaking on behalf of Kimberly-Clark, a long-time commercial interest.

Following hip-replacement surgery in 2003, Allyson's health began to deteriorate. With her husband at her side, she died July 8, 2006, at the age of 88 at her home in Ojai, California. Her death was a result of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis. [34]

Awards

In 1952, Allyson won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress—Musical/Comedy, for Too Young To Kiss. In 1954, she was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at the Venice Festival, for Executive Suite, in the same year that she was voted Most Popular Female Star by Photoplay magazine. In 1955, Allyson was named the ninth most popular movie star in the annual Quigley Exhibitors Poll and the second most popular female star (behind Grace Kelly). In 1985, she received the Cannes Festival Distinguished Service Award.

At the 79th Annual Academy Awards (2007), Allyson received a special tribute as part of the Annual Memorial tribute. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1537 Vine Street. [35]

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.
 
— June Allyson, 1951, Interview. [5]

Filmography

Features

Short subjects

  • Ups and Downs (1937)
  • Pixilated (1937)
  • Swing for Sale (1937)
  • Dime a Dance (1937)
  • Dates and Nuts (1937)
  • Not Now (1938)
  • Sing for Sweetie (1938)
  • The Prisoner of Swing (1938)
  • The Knight Is Young (1938)
  • All Girl Revue (1940)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood, City of Stars (1956)

References

Notes
  1. ^ a b Ancestry.com according to the 1920 U.S. census
  2. ^ a b c "June Allyson Discusses Her Career." CNN Larry King Live. Retrieved: September 10, 2009.
  3. ^ Luther, Claudia. "Obituaries: Film Sweetheart June Allyson Dies at 88." zap2it.com, Special to The Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2006. Retrieved: March 14, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Parish and Pitts 2003, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b c d e Harmetz, Aljean. "June Allyson, Adoring Wife in MGM Films, Is Dead at 88." nytimes.com, July 11, 2006. Retrieved: March 14, 2010.
  6. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 8.
  7. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 7.
  8. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, pp. 10, 36.
  9. ^ Parish and Pitts 2003, pp. 1, 3.
  10. ^ a b c Parish and Pitts 2003, p. 3.
  11. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 11.
  12. ^ a b c "June Allyson." Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved: September 10, 2009.
  13. ^ a b Basinger 2007, p. 482.
  14. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, pp. 22–23.
  15. ^ Fordin 1996, p. 67.
  16. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 22.
  17. ^ Milner 1998, p. 155.
  18. ^ Davis 2001, p. 34.
  19. ^ a b Parish and Pitts 2003, p. 4.
  20. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 37.
  21. ^ Becker 2009, pp. 116–117.
  22. ^ Becker 2009, p. 33.
  23. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, pp. 51–53.
  24. ^ Kennedy 2007, p. 130.
  25. ^ Wayne 2002, p. 392.
  26. ^ Eyman 2005, p. 290.
  27. ^ Wayne 2006, p. 46.
  28. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, pp. 30–31.
  29. ^ a b Parish and Pitts 2003, p. 5.
  30. ^ Allyson and Leighton 1982, p. 22.
  31. ^ Weil, Martin. "Perky Actress June Allyson, 88." Washington Post, p. B06, July 11, 2006. Retrieved: March 14, 2010.
  32. ^ "Allyson Lawsuit Accuses Marty Ingels of Slander." archive.deseretnews.com. Retrieved: September 10, 2009.
  33. ^ "The Jimmy Stewart Museum." jimmy.org.
  34. ^ Mormon 2007, p. 65.
  35. ^ "June Allyson awards." IMDB. Retrieved: September 10, 2009.
Bibliography
  • Allyson, June and Frances Spatz Leighton. June Allyson by June Allyson. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1982. ISBN 0-39912-726-7.
  • Basinger, Jeanine. The Star Machine. New York: Knopf, 2007. ISBN 978-1400041305.
  • Becker, Christine. It's the Pictures That Got Small: Hollywood Film Stars on 1950s Television (Wesleyan Film). Indianapolis, Indiana: Wesleyan, 2009. ISBN 978-0819568946.
  • Davis, Ronald L. Van Johnson: MGM’s Golden Boy (Hollywood Legends Series). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. ISBN 978-1578063772.
  • Eyman, Scott. Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Meyer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 978-0743204811.
  • Fordin, Hugh. M-G-M's Greatest Musicals. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0306807305.
  • Kennedy, Matthew. Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes (Hollywood Legends Series). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. ISBN 978-1578069613.
  • Milner, Jay Dunston. Confessions of a Maddog: A Romp through the High-flying Texas Music and Literary Era of the Fifties to the Seventies. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 1998. ISBN 978-1574410501.
  • Mormon, Robert. Demises of the Distinguished. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007. ISBN 978-1434315465.
  • Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters: Singers Who Act and Actors who can Sing. London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 978-0415943321.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Girls of MGM: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Others. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002. ISBN 978-0786711178.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM. New York: Da Capo Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0786717682.

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