Friday, July 8, 2011

Eugene Pallette, June Allyson

Back from a weeks vacation in London...

Who was born on this date:

Actor Eugene Pallette was born on July 8, 1889 in Winfield, Kansas. He appeared in over 240 silent era and sound era motion pictures between 1913 and 1946. An overweight man with large stomach and deep, gravelly voice, Pallette is probably best-remembered for comic character roles such as Alexander Bullock, Carole Lombard's father, in My Man Godfrey (1936), his role as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn and his similar role as Fray Felipe in The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power. Pallette began his silent movie career as an extra in about 1911.

His first credited appearance was in the one-reel short western/drama, The Fugitive (1913). He worked with D.W. Griffith on such famous films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). At this time, he had a slim, athletic figure, a far cry from the portly build that would gain him fame later in his career. After gaining a substantial amount of weight, Pallette gained status as a recognizable character actor. In 1927, he signed as a regular for Hal Roach Studios and was a reliable comic foil in several early Laurel and Hardy movies. In later years, Pallette's weight may have topped out at 300 pounds.

Pallette with Errol Flynn in "The Advetures of Robinhood"

The advent of the talkies proved to be the second major career boost for Pallette. His inimitable rasping gravel voice made him one of Hollywood's most sought-after character actors in the 1930s and 1940s. In increasingly ill health by his late 1950s, Pallette made fewer and fewer movies, and for lesser studios. His final movie was Suspense, released in 1946. He died on September 3, 1954 from cancer at his apartment in Los Angeles. His cremated remains are interred in an unmarked grave at Green Lawn Cemetery in Grenola, Kansas.

Who died on this date:

On July 8, 2006, Actress June Allyson died. She was born Eleanor Geisman on October 7, 1917 in the Bronx, New York. Interspersing jobs in the chorus line at the Copacabana Club with acting roles at Vitaphone, red-headed Allyson landed a chorus job in the Broadway show Sing out the News in 1938. The legend is that the choreographer gave her a job and a new name: Allyson, a family name, and June, for the month, 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). When Vitaphone discontinued New York production in 1940, Allyson returned to the New York stage to take on more chorus roles in Rodgers 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. 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).

During World War II, after her appearance in the Broadway musical, Allyson was selected for the 1943 film version of Best Foot Forward. 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. Another musical, Thousands Cheer (1943) was again a showcase for her singing and dancing, albeit still in a minor role. 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 ingĂ©nue, selectively slicing almost a decade off her true age. Studio bios listed her variously as being born in 1922 and 1923.

Allyson's breakthrough was in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) where the studio image of the "girl next door" was fostered by her being cast alongside long-time acting chum, Van Johnson, the quintessential "boy next door." As the "sweetheart team," Johnson and Allyson were to appear together in four later films. Allyson's early success as a musical star led to several other postwar musicals, including Two Sisters from Boston (1946) and Good News (1947). 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). 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. 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.

Allyson with husband Dick Powell

On August 19, 1945, Allyson caused MGM studio chief, Louis B. Mayer some consternation by marrying Dick Powell. 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 and later toured in a production of No, No Nanette. Following hip-replacement surgery in 2003, Allyson's health began to deteriorate. She died on July 8, 2006 from pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis at her home in Ojai, California. Her cremated remains were given to family and eventual disposition is unknown., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywoo Greats, 1927-1950"

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