Friday, October 7, 2011

June Allyson, Diana Lynn and Andy Devine

Who was born on this date:

Actress June Allyson was born 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.  

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.

Actress Diana Lynn was born on October 7, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. She was considered a child prodigy because of her exceptional abilities as a pianist at an early age, and by the age of 12 was playing with the Los Angeles Junior Symphony Orchestra. She made here Hollywood film debut playing piano in They Shall Have Music (1939) and was once again back at the keyboard in There's Magic in Music (1941), when it was decided that she had more potential than she had been allowed to show. Paramount Pictures cast her in films that allowed her personality and skills as an actress to shine. Her comedic scenes with Ginger Rogers in The Major and Minor (1942) were well received, and in 1944 she scored an outstanding success in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). She also appeared in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946), My Friend Irma (1949), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). She acted frequently in television guest roles throughout the 1960s. By 1970, she had virtually retired from acting and had relocated to New York. Paramount offered her a part in a new film, and after some consideration she accepted the offer and moved back to Los Angeles. Before filming started, she suffered a stroke and died nine days later on December 18, 1971. Lynn was buried at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City.

Actor Andy Devine was born on October 7, 1905 in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was a character actor and comic cowboy sidekick known for his distinctive raspy voice. He appeared in more than 400 films and his notable roles included ten films as sidekick "Cookie" to Roy Rogers, a role in Romeo and Juliet (1936), A Star is Born (1937), Stage coach (1939), Island in the Sky (1953), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). He also worked in radio and television. Devine died from leukemia on February 18, 1977 in Orange, California. His ashes were given to family and final disposition is unknown.

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