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June Allyson - Star of the Month
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June Allyson Profile

In the 1940s she was Everybody's Sweetheart; in the 1950s, Everybody's Wife. Despite her lack of glamour, June Allyson emerged as one of MGM's most popular stars with her trademark husky voice, crinkly smile and a seemingly endless supply of energy and charm. By the 1960s her connection with conventional domesticity had made her a symbol of what the counterculture of the day wanted to push aside; but Allyson, who died in 2006, is fondly remembered today as a reminder of a gentler, more idealistic time.

Born Ella Geisman in The Bronx on October 7, 1917, she was raised in semi-poverty by her divorced mother. Injured in an accident on her bike at age eight, Ella turned to dance as therapy and learned steps from watching Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. Allyson made her movie debut at age 20 in Warner Bros.' Swing for Sale (1937), one of a number of musical shorts in which she performed.

But her big break came on Broadway, where she understudied Betty Hutton in Panama Hattie after several stints in the chorus. Director George Abbott caught a performance when Hutton was ill and hired Allyson for his new musical Best Foot Forward. She was such a success that MGM hired her for the film version and put her under contract. She would remain at the studio for 12 years.

After attracting further attention singing Gershwin's "Treat Me Rough" with Mickey Rooney in Girl Crazy (1943), Allyson emerged as a star in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), in which she first shared sweet screen chemistry with soon-to-be-frequent costar Van Johnson. She continued to build on her popularity in such other lightweight musicals as Two Sisters from Boston (1946), costarring Kathryn Grayson, and Meet the People (1944), costarring future husband Dick Powell. She hit her musical high points singing "Cleopatterer" in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) and was sparkling as the lead in the varsity musical Good News (1947).

Allyson began to vary her image, switching from films that tapped her comic skills, such as The Bride Goes Wild (1948, again co-starring Johnson), to dramas requiring a pathos that she projected equally well. In The Three Musketeers (1948) she plays the doomed Constance. In The Stratton Story (1949), co-starring with James Stewart for the first time, she is the understanding wife of Monty Stratton, the pitcher who lost a leg in a hunting accident. And she found her favorite role as Jo in Little Women (1949), delivering a touching performance that some compared favorably to Katharine Hepburn's interpretation in the 1934 version of the story. By this time Allyson and costar Margaret O'Brien were considered MGM's "best criers."

Allyson played Stewart's wife in two more films, Universal's The Glenn Miller Story (1953) and Paramount's Strategic Air Command (1955). The former was a particular success, with a powerful scene at the end that required a full flood of Allyson tears and prompted talk of an Oscar® nomination. It did not materialize; she was never nominated. She did win a Golden Globe as Best Motion Picture Actress -- Musical/Comedy for one of her films with Johnson -- Too Young to Kiss (1951), in which her character poses as a 12-year-old.

She also played the supportive wife of William Holden (Executive Suite, 1954), Cornel Wilde (A Woman's World, 1954) and Alan Ladd (The McConnell Story, 1955).

Allyson's most severe change of pace came in The Shrike (1955), Jose Ferrer's film version of the Joseph A. Kramm drama in which he had starred on-stage. She played the title character, a domineering wife who honestly believes her smothering ways are best for her husband. In a brave bit of acting, she made her "perfect wife" persona work to her advantage in playing this steel-willed control freak.

In quick succession, Allyson did three remakes of hit comedies from the 1930s: You Can't Run Away from It (1956), a remake of It Happened One Night (1934), with Allyson in the Claudette Colbert part; The Opposite Sex (1956), a refashioning of The Women (1939), in which she takes on Norma Shearer's role; and My Man Godfrey (1957), as the Carole Lombard character. The first two included some singing and dancing, but none of these films were successful.

Allyson essentially ended her movie career with a romantic drama at Universal, A Stranger in My Arms (1959). She turned to television, where she appeared in The DuPont Show with June Allyson for two seasons on CBS. Later she made guest appearances on many shows including The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote. She returned to the Broadway stage in 1970 in Forty Carats and later toured in a production of No, No Nanette. There was an occasional theatrical feature in the mix; in 1972 she played a murder suspect in They Only Kill Their Masters and as late as 2001 she acted in a small independent film called A Girl, Three Guys and a Gun.

Allyson was married four times (twice to the same man, Glenn Maxwell). She had two children from her first marriage, to Dick Powell.

by Roger Fristoe

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