Betty Hutton


Actor
Betty Hutton

About

Also Known As
Betty Darling, Betty June Thornburg, Betty Jane Boyar
Birth Place
Battle Creek, Michigan
Born
February 26, 1921
Died
March 12, 2007

Biography

One of the most popular screen performers of the 1940s and early 1950s, Betty Hutton gave unfettered, go-for-broke performances in musicals like "Annie Get Your Gun" and comedies like "The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek" (1942) before enduring one of the grimmest declines in Hollywood history. She battled her way out of a troubled childhood to become a star on Broadway before making her featu...

Family & Companions

Edward Norris
Companion
Actor. Dated briefly.
Ted Briskin
Husband
Camera manufacturer. Married on September 2, 1945; divorced in April 1950.
Robert Sterling
Companion
Actor. Dated after her divorce from Ted Briskin c. 1951.
Charles O'Curran
Husband
Choreographer. Married on March 18, 1952 in Las Vegas; divorced in February 1955; second husband; had been her dance director on "Somebody Loves Me" (1952).

Notes

Besides film title "Incendiary Blonde" which clung to Hutton as a nickname, she was also called "The Blonde Blitzkrieg" and "The Huttontot" all monikers that capitalized on her outward personality, ignoring the depressed and restless creature who lived within them.

"Exuberant, a firecracker, a live wire: all of these describe the dynamo that was Betty Hutton, and yet none of them fully does her justice. For in addition to her mile-a-minute screen persona (which also exemplified her to some degree in real life), Hutton was a seasoned performer who could act and sing and put over a vehicle by the sheer force of her vibrant personality....At one point in the late 1940s, she was ranked second only to Judy Garland in her enormous audience appeal."--James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts ("Hollywood Songsters", Garland Publishing Company, 1991)

Biography

One of the most popular screen performers of the 1940s and early 1950s, Betty Hutton gave unfettered, go-for-broke performances in musicals like "Annie Get Your Gun" and comedies like "The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek" (1942) before enduring one of the grimmest declines in Hollywood history. She battled her way out of a troubled childhood to become a star on Broadway before making her feature debut in 1942’s "The Fleet’s In." Audiences were charmed by her limitless energy and charm, and she soon became a top box office draw. The emotional problems of her early years took their toll on her personal life, and by the early 1950s, her career was in decline, jeopardized by mounting addictions and depression. She vanished from sight until the early 1970s, when she was found recuperating at a rectory in Rhode Island; Hutton mounted a modest comeback, marked by exceptional frankness about her struggles, until her death in 2007. Her unsinkable screen persona retained its popularity thanks to home video, which preserved her unique style for decades to come.

Born Elizabeth June Thornburg on Jan. 26, 1921 in Battle Creek, MI, her early years bordered on the Dickensian. Her father, railroad foreman Percy Thornburg, deserted Hutton when she was two, leaving Hutton, her sister Marion, and mother Mabel to fend for themselves. The family would not learn of his whereabouts until 1939, when a telegram informed them that he had taken his own life. To support her children, Mabel Thornburg ran illegal taverns, or "speakeasies" throughout Michigan, from which they were frequently rousted by police. Matters were complicated by Mabel’s alcoholism, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression. To help with the family finances, Hutton began singing and dancing on tabletops in her mother’s saloons. Her talent was evident even in her early years; by 13, she was singing with groups around Detroit while her mother worked dayshifts at an automotive plant. When she turned 15, Hutton headed for New York, determined to break onto the Broadway scene. She was roundly rejected, and headed back to Detroit. In 1937, bandleader Vincent Lopez discovered her at a club and hired her as the vocalist for his band; initially billed as Betty Jane Boyar, she changed her name to the more Hollywood-esque Betty Darling and hit the road with Lopez. The following year, she finally settled on the stage name "Betty Hutton," which came from Lopez’s consultation with a numerologist.

In 1939, she made her screen debut with his orchestra in a Vitaphone short, simply titled "Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra." Two more shorts for the company followed, most notably "Public Jitterbug No. 1" (1939), an entertaining bit of nonsense that gave the earliest glimpse of Hutton’s screen persona – vivacious to a fault, exceptionally talented and effortlessly charming. The following year, Hutton left Lopez’s employ to make one of her long-standing dreams come true: she made her Broadway debut in the revue "Two For the Show." The show’s producer and future Capitol Records co-founder, B.G. "Buddy" DeSylva took a liking to Hutton and cast her in his next Broadway production, "Panama Hattie" (1940) opposite reigning musical queen Ethel Merman. According to show business legend, Merman demanded that Hutton’s big number be cut prior to opening night; in an attempt to save face, DeSylva promised Hutton that he would make her a star in motion pictures. Whatever the case, Hutton was signed to a $1,000 a week deal at Paramount after DeSylva became Executive Producer there in 1941. Her film debut came the following year in "The Fleet’s In" (1942), a frothy musical with Dorothy Lamour and a young comic actor named Eddie Bracken, with whom Hutton would appear in several subsequent films. Critics and audiences took to the brassy blonde almost immediately, and she was promoted to second lead in her next film, the all-star wartime musical "Star Spangled Rhythm" (1943). By the time theMotion Picture Herald labeled her the "Star of Tomorrow" in a 1942 exhibitors’ poll, most of the country had already assumed that about Hutton.

From 1943 to 1950, Hutton was among the biggest stars in Hollywood. Paramount was paying her $5,000 a week to appear in its musical comedies, and in 1944, she demonstrated that her talents lay far beyond the genre’s limits with an expert turn in Preston Sturges’ delirious and scandalous comedy, "The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek." As a hapless small-town girl who finds herself pregnant but unaware of the father’s identity, Hutton proved that she could handle the best comedy writer in Hollywood. More substantive roles soon followed: she played Jazz Era showgirl Texas Guinan in "Incendiary Blonde" (1945) and silent film star Pearl White in "The Perils of Pauline" (1947). Her greatest screen triumph came with 1950’s "Annie Get Your Gun," a big screen adaptation of the popular stage musical. Hutton replaced an ailing Judy Garland in the role of Annie Oakley and won a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts, though in subsequent interviews she stated that the experience was a difficult one due to the cast’s reluctance to accept her in the role. However, interviews with her co-stars seemed to indicate that any conflict was due to Hutton’s single-minded focus on her career.

Unfortunately, conflict came to be the norm in Hutton’s life in the years that followed her success with "Annie." She had already experienced some degree of cooling in regard to her box office status with "Dream Lady" (1948), and clashed with DeSylva over her contract with Capitol, which led to her jumping ship in 1950 to RCA Victor. She enjoyed one more hit movie – Cecil B. DeMille’s sudsy circus spectacle, "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), which she landed by sending the producer a massive floral bouquet – before her standing at Paramount collapsed. Hutton demanded that the studio hire her second husband, Charles O’Connor, to direct her next film, but the company balked. Furious, she broke her contract a year before its expiration, which had a disastrous effect on her career. No feature films came her way for five years, and her final project for decades, "Spring Reunion" (1957), made few waves among moviegoers.

Determined to wrest control of her own destiny, Hutton plunged headlong into live performances in Las Vegas and nightclubs across the country. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so Hutton decided to try her hand at the then-new medium of television. In 1954, she was front-and-center for "Satins and Spurs" (NBC, 1954), a small-screen musical comedy – one of the first to be broadcast in color – with Hutton essentially reprising her "Annie" role as a rodeo queen who falls for a handsome photographer (Kevin McCarthy). The project was roundly panned by critics, spurring Hutton to announce her retirement from show business. Hutton was absent from the screen for a few years before returning to acting in 1957 for "Spring Reunion." Its failure, along with the short network run of her sitcom, "The Betty Hutton Show" (CBS, 1959-1960), did little to revitalize her flagging career. Her personal life was a shambles as well; her marriage to O’Curran ended in 1955, and her third union to Capitol Records exec Alan Livingston (creator of Bozo the Clown and the man who signed the Beatles to Capitol) was reportedly over in less than a year. A fourth marriage to jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli in 1960 also ended in a tumultuous divorce sometime between 1964 and 1967. The constant turmoil made it difficult for her to commit to projects, many of which might have signaled a revival of her career, including "Jumbo" (1962).

The bottom truly dropped out for Hutton in 1962 when her mother died in a fire caused by her falling asleep while smoking; Hutton’s depression, which had plagued her for most of her life, took hold, as did a growing dependency on sleeping pills. She declared bankruptcy in 1967, and made no public appearances until 1971, when she was a guest in the Hollywood Christmas parade. Offers of work followed, but Hutton was unable to commit to any of them. Desperately broke and alienated from her children – she had two from her first marriage to photographer Ted Briskind, and lost custody of her daughter Carolyn with Candoli – she suffered a nervous breakdown while on tour in New England in 1973. The Reverend Peter Maguire Roman Catholic priest in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, became her greatest ally during this period. He convinced her to recuperate at his rectory, where she worked as a cook and housekeeper.

The news of her whereabouts made national headlines. In 1974, New York Times columnist Earl Wilson sponsored a benefit for Hutton, which raised $10,000. She began making the rounds on television talk shows, and gave her final acting performance in a 1977 episode of "Baretta" (ABC, 1975-78). In 1980, she returned briefly to Broadway as Miss Hannigan in "Annie," which generated effusive reviews. A PBS special, "Jukebox Saturday Night" (1983) devoted a half-hour of its time to Hutton, who performed many of her best-loved songs for an adoring crowd and spoke about mounting a comeback. However, she focused most of her attention on earning a master’s degree in psychology from Rhode Island’s Salve Regina College in 1986. She stayed on as a faculty member, teaching motion picture and TV classes before heading to Boston to teach theater at Emerson College. In 1996, Hutton relocated to Palm Springs; her mentor, Father Maguire, had passed away, and she longed to make a connection with her daughter Carolyn, who had children of her own. A 1994 release of her Capitol singles had sparked a revival of interest in her music, which began popping up on soundtracks for films like "L.A. Confidential" (1997). A 1996 cover of "It’s Oh So Quiet" by singer Bjork sent record collectors in search for Hutton’s own explosive version.

In 2000, a long-standing feud between the Irving Berlin estate and MGM came to a conclusion, which allowed "Annie Get Your Gun" to be released on DVD. To celebrate the occasion, Hutton appeared on the TCM talk show "Private Screenings" (TCM, 1996- ). She was remarkably candid about the ups and downs of her career, including her struggles with addiction and marital strife. More of Hutton’s film soon made their way to DVD, as did "The Betty Hutton Show." On March 12, 2007, Hutton passed away as a result of complications from colon cancer. The executor of her estate did not inform the press of her death until after the funeral, which took place at Desert Memorial Park in Palm Springs. At the time, Hutton was working on her memoirs, which were completed by her estate several years later.

Life Events

1923

Mother moved with daughters to Detroit where she worked in an automobile factory and operated a speakeasy after husband's desertion (date approximate)

1937

Discovered by bandleader Vincent Lopez, singing at a Detroit nightclub; hired as vocalist with Lopez's band at $65 at week; used name of Betty Darling on tour (had previously been billed as Betty Jane Boyar)

1938

Sister became a vocalist with the Glenn Miller band; both sisters changed their last name to Hutton

1938

Professional singing debut with the Lopez band at Billy Rose's Casa Manana Club in Manhattan

1939

Recording debut on Bluebird Records doing vocals with Vincent Lopez's band on "Igloo" and "The Jitterbug" and a duet with Sonny Shuyler on "Concert in the Park"

1939

Screen debut in Vitaphone short, "Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra"; also appeared with Hal Sherman in Vitaphone short, "One For the Book" (1939) and with Hal LeRoy in "Public Jitterbug No. 1" (1939)

1939

Made first short for Paramount, "Three Kings and a Queen"

1939

Performed on Vincent Lopez's NBC radio program; toured vaudeville circuit with bandleader

1940

Left Lopez's band; Broadway stage debut in revue, "Two For the Show"

1940

Featured in the Cole Porter Broadway musical "Panama Hattie", starring Ethel Merman

1942

Hired at $1,000 a week by "Panama Hattie" producer B G 'Buddy' DeSylva to make feature debut in Paramount musical, "The Fleet's In"

1942

Named Star of Tomorrow by the MOTION PICTURE HERALD exhibitors' poll

1942

Landed a comedy and singing job on radio's "The Bob Hope Show" (date approximate)

1943

Became one of the first performers to be signed by songwriter Johnny Mercer for the newly formed Capitol Records

1944

Appeared in first non-singing role, "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek", directed by Preston Sturges

1944

Renegotiated new contract with Paramount at $5,000 a week

1944

Toured vaudeville circuit

1944

Embarked on a two-month USO tour of the South Pacific

1945

Starred in first dramatic role as Texas Guinan in "Incendiary Blonde"

1950

Signed with RCA Victor records

1950

Replaced an ailing Judy Garland as Annie Oakley in the film version of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun"

1952

Played the trapeze artist in Cecil B DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth"

1952

After successful vaudeville engagement at the Palace Theatre in New York, underwent throat surgery and had to retrain her voice

1952

Walked out of her Paramount contract (a year before it expired) when the studio refused to allow her husband Charles O'Curran to direct her vehicle "Topsy and Eva"; film was never made

1952

Turned to successful vaudeville career

1953

Returned to Capitol Records

1954

TV debut as the star of the musical special, "Satins and Spurs" (NBC)

1954

Announced retirement as a result of failure of TV special

1957

Returned to film with "Spring Reunion" (her last film to date)

1959

Starred as a manicurist on short-lived CBS sitcom, "Goldie" (retitled "The Betty Hutton Show")

1962

Toured in a summer production of "Gypsy"

1964

Returned to Broadway as Carol Burnett's replacement for one week in the musical, "Fade Out, Fade In"

1967

Filed for bankruptcy

1975

Briefly resumed nightclub career

1976

Made guest appearance on the ABC detective series "Baretta"

1978

Hired to greet people at the door of a jai-alai playing field and establishment in Connecticut

1981

Returned to Broadway for two weeks playing Miss Hannigan in the hit musical "Annie"

1986

Named a member of the faculty of Salve Regina College in Newport, Rhode Island, teaching motion picture and TV classes

1988

Collapsed while teaching; diagnosed with Epstein-Barr syndrome

2000

Gave first major TV interview in nearly 20 years to Robert Osborne for the American Movie Classics series "Private Screenings"

Photo Collections

Annie Get Your Gun - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Annie Get Your Gun (1950), starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Annie Get Your Gun - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Annie Get Your Gun (1950). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Miracle Of Morgan's Creek, The (1944) - The Bell In The Bay Writer-director Preston Sturges introduces both his leads, Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker in a famous bit, with a song composed by Sturges, entertaining soldiers about to deploy, and Eddie Bracken as dejected, service-ineligible Norval, in the landmark home-front comedy, The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek, 1944.
Miracle Of Morgan's Creek, The (1944) - Swaffled Or Something! The morning after the soldier’s sendoff party, where Trudy (Betty Hutton) drank spiked lemonade and got bonked on the head, she picks up Norval (Eddie Bracken) who provided her alibi and loaned her his car, way later than they should be, concocting a story for her father, in writer-director Preston Sturges’ The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek, 1944.
Miracle Of Morgan's Creek, The (1944) - Let's All Get Married! Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker is let loose in an action sequence by writer-director Preston Sturges, in the car borrowed from her 4-F boyfriend, all-in for the sendoff for the soldiers shipping out, to the church basement, the country club, then the juke joint, Len Hendry the soldier with the big idea, in The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek, 1944.
Annie Get Your Gun - Anything You Can Do... Re-united and immediately arguing, Wild-West show colleagues and lovers Frank (Howard Keel) and Annie (Betty Hutton) duel with Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," in Annie Get Your Gun, 1950.
Fleet's In, The (1942) -- Arthur Murray Gil Lamb and band leader Johnny Dorsey introduce the fictional "Bessie Dale" who is really Betty Hutton in her feature debut performing "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry" for the sailors in The Fleet's In, 1942.
Fleet's In, The (1942) -- Open, Title Song Rousing opening, with Eddie Bracken and William Holden in the ranks, as Barbara Britton performs the title song by Johnny Mercer and director Victor Schertzinger, in Paramount's The Fleet's In, 1942.
Fleet's In, The (1942) - Build A Better Mouse Trap Betty Hutton (as "Bessie") assaults Eddie Bracken (as sailor "Barney"), in their first-ever scene together, before she performs "If You Build A Better Mouse Trap," in Paramount's The Fleet's In, 1942.
Annie Get Your Gun - I'm An Indian Too! Hefty production number loaded with mid-century attitudes, Betty Hutton (as "Annie") leads the chorus in Irving Berlin's "I'm An Indian Too," staged by Nick Castle, in Annie Get Your Gun, 1950.
Annie Get Your Gun - There's No Business Like Show Business Three veteran Wild West troubadours (Howard Keel, Louis Calhern, Keenan Wynn) regale shooting contest winner Annie (Betty Hutton) with Irving Berlin's famous song, in Annie Get Your Gun, 1950.
Red, Hot and Blue - Open, Lipstick Credits and unusual opening scene with star Betty Hutton a hostage of gangsters (led by composer Frank Loesser as "HairDo Lempke"), from John Farrow's Red, Hot and Blue, 1949, co-starring Victor Mature.
Stork Club, The - Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief "Canteen Night" for the soldiers and hat-check girl Judy (Betty Hutton) hopes club-boss Billingsley (Bill Goodwin) will catch her doing Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster's Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, in The Stork Club, 1945.
Perils Of Pauline, The (1947) - The Sewing Machine Following a prologue, we meet Peal White (Betty Hutton), working for Joe Gurt (Frank Faylen) in a New York sweatshop, improvising Frank Loesser's The Sewing Machine, in the fanciful bio-pic, The Perils Of Pauline, 1947.

Trailer

Family

Percy Thornburg
Father
Railroad brakeman. Deserted family in 1923 when Hutton was two; committed suicide in 1937.
Mabel Thornburg
Mother
Auto factory worker, speakeasy operator. Died on January 1, 1962; fell asleep while smoking and died in the fire.
Marion Hutton
Sister
Actor, singer. Born on March 10, 1920; died in 1987; female lead vocalist with the Glenn Miller Band; appeared in the films "Orchestra Wives" (1942), "Crazy House", "In Society" (both 1944) and "Love Happy" (1950).
Candy Briskin
Daughter
Born on November 23, 1946.
Lindsay Briskin
Daughter
Born on April 14, 1948.
Carolyn Candoli
Daughter
Born in 1962.

Companions

Edward Norris
Companion
Actor. Dated briefly.
Ted Briskin
Husband
Camera manufacturer. Married on September 2, 1945; divorced in April 1950.
Robert Sterling
Companion
Actor. Dated after her divorce from Ted Briskin c. 1951.
Charles O'Curran
Husband
Choreographer. Married on March 18, 1952 in Las Vegas; divorced in February 1955; second husband; had been her dance director on "Somebody Loves Me" (1952).
Norman Krasna
Companion
Screenwriter. Briefly engaged in 1955.
Alan W Livingston
Husband
Recording executive. Married on March 8, 1955; divorced on October 21, 1960; executive with Capitol Records.
Peter Candoli
Husband
Trumpeter. Born c. 1927; married on December 24, 1960; obtained Mexican divorce in 1966; reconciled; divorced in November 1971.

Bibliography

Notes

Besides film title "Incendiary Blonde" which clung to Hutton as a nickname, she was also called "The Blonde Blitzkrieg" and "The Huttontot" all monikers that capitalized on her outward personality, ignoring the depressed and restless creature who lived within them.

"Exuberant, a firecracker, a live wire: all of these describe the dynamo that was Betty Hutton, and yet none of them fully does her justice. For in addition to her mile-a-minute screen persona (which also exemplified her to some degree in real life), Hutton was a seasoned performer who could act and sing and put over a vehicle by the sheer force of her vibrant personality....At one point in the late 1940s, she was ranked second only to Judy Garland in her enormous audience appeal."--James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts ("Hollywood Songsters", Garland Publishing Company, 1991)

Hutton's contract with bandleader Vincent Lopez called for him to get 20 percent of income in current and all future ventures. ("Hollywood Songsters", Garland Publishing Company, 1991)

Hutton taught theatre arts at Emerson College in Boston, MA