Robert Osborne on June Allyson
June (real name: Ella Geisman) was sugar, spice, everything nice and, remarkably, did it carrying a two-prong secret that many Hollywood people, journalists included, knew but never spoke about. (Such a different world it was in Hollywood of the '40s and '50s.)
From her start in films in 1943, June epitomized the kind of homespun girl that the boys in military uniforms were fighting for during World War II, but the truth is this undeniable cutie was more accurately quite a femme fatale--much more a siren in the Lana-Ava mode in real life than the image created for her by MGM publicists as someone more comfortable baking cookies or knitting socks for a boyfriend overseas. Many of her off-screen adventures kept the MGM studio publicists busy doing damage control: none of her escapades ever made it into print until the mid- 1950s when June left MGM to freelance and, without the protection of a studio publicity department guarding what was written about her, a romance with co-star Alan Ladd became tabloid news, as did a wild Vegas weekend, which included two famed comedians.
There was another secret about the seemingly uncomplicated June that MGM kept hushed up. When she was signed by the studio in 1943 she was 26, a show-wise Broadway veteran (which she happily acknowledged) as well as the leading lady in 10 movie shorts she'd made dating back to 1937 (something she didn't acknowledge for years until they were re-discovered in the vaults at Warner Bros.). Because she looked like a teenager, MGM lopped 10 years off her age in the first studio bio done on her, hoping it would allow her to play younger roles for many additional years.
But did any of this really matter? Not now, certainly, in today's world of "anything goes." But 50 years ago people did believe damage would be done if the public knew all there was to know about a celebrity like June Allyson. (That was an era, don't forget, when Robert Mitchum spent time in jail when he smoked pot at a private party.) What no one had faith in was the impact June Allyson made--no matter what age she was, no matter what her private pursuits--whenever she was on screen. It's called "star quality," and few have had more of it than she.
According to close friends of hers, by the end of her life in 2008, at age 88, the street-wise, once-complicated Ella Geisman, born in the Bronx, had vanished altogether and she had become, for real, the June Allyson audiences always envisioned and assumed she really was--certainly a sunny "June Allyson finish" to her story, if ever there was one.
Join us as often as you can on Wednesdays in prime time this month. Our gift to you: this appealing, captivating lady in 29 of her most likeable and watchable films.
by Robert Osborne