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Allyson, June

ALLYSON, June



Nationality: American. Born: Born Ella Geisman, New York City, 7 October 1917. Education: Public Schools in New York City and Pelham, New York, including Theodore Roosevelt High School. Family: Married 1) actor/director Dick Powell, 1945 (died 1963); children: Pamela (adopted) and Richard Keith; 2) Glenn Maxwell, 1963 (divorced 1963, remarried 1966, divorced again); 3) Dr. David Ashrow, 1976. Career: First film appearance in Vitaphone 2-reel Swing for Sale, 1937; role in Broadway's Best Foot Forward, 1940; signed movie contract with MGM, 1943–53; played Jo March in MGM remake of Little Women, 1949; starred in The Dupont Show with June Allyson (aka The June Allyson Show), 1959–61; hosted That's Entertainment III, a documentary on MGM musicals, 1994. Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress—Musical/Comedy, for Too Young To Kiss, 1952; awarded Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting, Venice Festival, for Executive Suite, 1954; voted Most Popular Female Star, Photoplay Magazine Awards, 1954. Agent: Shapiro-Lichtman-Stein, Inc., 8827 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90212, USA.


Films:

1938

The Knight Is Young (Mack) (as June); The Prisoner of Swing (Mack) (as Princess)

1939

All Girl Review (French) (as Mayor)

1943

Girl Crazy (Taurog) (specialty appearance); Best Foot Forward (Buzzell) (as Minerva); Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (as guest)

1944

Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe) (as Patsy Deyo); Music for Millions (Koster) (as Barbara Ainsworth); Meet the People (Reisner) (as Annie)

1945

The Sailor Takes a Wife (Whorf) (as Mary); Her Highness and the Bellboy (Thorpe) (as Leslie Odell)

1946

Two Sisters from Boston (Koster) (as Martha Canford Chandler); The Secret Heart (Leonard) (as Penny Addams)

1947

High Barbaree (Conway) (as Nancy Frazer); Good News (Walters) (as Connie Lane); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf) (specialty appearance)

1948

The Bride Goes Wild (Taurog) (as Martha Terryton); The Three Musketeers (Sidney) (as Constance Bonacieux); Words and Music (Taurog) (guest star)

1949

Little Women (Leroy) (as Jo March); The Stratton Story (Wood) (as Ethel Stratton)

1950

Right Cross (Sturges) (as Pat O'Malley); The Reformer and the Redhead (Frank/Panama) (as Kathleen Maquire)

1951

Too Young to Kiss (Leonard) (as Cynthia Potter)

1952

The Girl in White (So Bright the Flame) (Sturges) (as Dr. Emily Dunning)

1953

Remains To Be Seen (Weis) (as Jody Revere); Battle Circus (Brooks) (as Lieut. Ruth McGara)

1954

The Glenn Miller Story (Mann) (as Helen Berger Miller); Executive Suite (Wise) (as Mary Belmond Walling); Woman's World (Negulesco) (as Katie)

1955

The Shrike (Ferrer) (as Ann Downs); The McConnell Story (Tiger in the Sky) (Douglas) (as Pearl "Butch" Brown); Strategic Air Command (Mann) (as Sally Holland)

1956

The Opposite Sex (Miller) (as Kay Hilliard); You Can't Run Away From It (Powell) (as Ellen "Ellie" Andrews)

1957

My Man Godfrey (Koster) (as Irene Bullock); Interlude (Sirk) (as Helen Banning)

1959

Stranger In My Arms (And Ride a Tiger) (Kautner) (as Christina Beasley)

1963

The Thrill of It All (Jewison) (as Helen Banning)

1971

See the Man Run (The Second Face) (Allen—for TV) (as Helene Spencer)


1972

They Only Kill Their Masters (Goldstone) (as Mrs. Watkins)

1973

Letters From Three Lovers (Erman—for TV) (as Monica)

1974

That's Entertainment! (Haley Jr.) (archival footage)

1977

Curse of the Black Widow (Love Trap) (Curtis—for TV) (as Olga)

1978

Three on a Date (Bixby—for TV) (as Marge Emery); Vega$ (High Roller) (Lang—for TV) (as Marilyn's mother); Black-out (Black-Out in New Y ork) (Matalon) (as Mrs. Grant)

1982

The Kid with the Broken Halo (Martinson—for TV) (as Dorothea Powell)

1985

That's Dancing! (Haley Jr.) (archival footage)

1994

That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen/Sheridan) (as host)



Publications:


By ALLYSON: book—

Allyson, June, with Frances Spatz Leighton, June Allyson, New

York, 1982.

By ALLYSON: articles—

Interview with T. Vallance in Films and Filming (London), July 1982.

Interview in Photoplay (London), August, 1985


On ALLYSON: book—

Parish, James Robert, and Ronald L. Bowers, The Golden Era: The MGM Stock Company, Bonanza Books, 1972


On ALLYSON: articles—

Young, C., "June Allyson," in Films in Review (New York), November 1968.

Maslin, Janet, "Hollywood Leaves Its Imprint on Its Chroniclers," in the New York Times, 11 July 1982.

Bergan, Ronald, "June Allyson at the NFT," in Films and Filming (London), August 1985.


* * *

Before she became June Allyson, Ella Geisman endured a some-what deprived childhood in The Bronx, New York, before gradually breaking into Broadway musical theater in the late 1930s. Like many Hollywood personalities of the studio era, Allyson, one of Metro-Goldyn-Mayer's most popular stars and biggest box-office draws of the 1940s and early 1950s, received her initial show business experience on the New York stage. At the age of twenty Geisman was cast in the chorus line of a flop Broadway musical, but this lead to other parts in more successful productions, including a bit part in the George Abbott-directed collegiate musical, Best Foot Forward. When Best Foot Forward was filmed in 1943, Geisman went to Hollywood with the show, and, as June Allyson, soon found herself with a Hollywood contract, primarily due to the efforts of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Joe Pasternak.

A number of bits in various MGM pictures (including specialty spots in Girl Crazy and Thousands Cheer and the role of Minerva in Best Foot Forward) led to her first starring role in Two Girls and a Sailor, one of the last of the studio's big black-and-white wartime musical variety extravaganzas in 1944. Allyson was paired with Gloria De Haven as two sisters whose dream is to open up a USO canteen in New York City. Two Girls also featured MGM male juvenile Van Johnson, also from Broadway; for a time Johnson and Allyson enjoyed great popularity as America's post-war sweethearts. They later starred in 1947's High Barbaree, an odd and commercially unsuccessful fantasy drama with a World War II setting, and 1948's slapstick The Bride Goes Wild. Allyson was reunited with Johnson in one of her last MGM films, and one of the few in which she got a change-of-pace role as the sexy female lead, the 1953 film version of the sophisticated Broadway comedy, Remains to Be Seen. Like all of MGM's contract musical performers the petite charmer with the distinctively husky voice was also groomed for dramatic roles. As early as 1946 she was cast against type as Claudette Colbert's neurotic daughter in The Secret Heart, a somewhat Freudian melodrama. She was also featured as the treacly sweet Constance (and opposite another MGM musical performer, Gene Kelly) in MGM's swashbuckling version of The Three Musketeers in 1948, a role Allyson cites as one of her least rewarding.

Though her Little Women suffered in comparison to the classic 1939 George Cukor/Katherine Hepburn version, one of Allyson's choicest straight roles was in the 1949 MGM re-make. The actress turned in a strong and moving portrait of Louisa May Alcott's spunky pre-feminist heroine, Jo March, and the film remains a charming and opulent MGM Technicolor period piece. Allyson's scene opposite Margaret O'Brien in a rainy attic, as the two discuss Beth's premonition of an early death, is a peak dramatic moment for both young actresses.

But Allyson's best MGM picture is another classic college musical, Good News, a re-make released in 1947. Under Charles Walters' sparkling direction Allyson (as librarian Connie Lane) essays her best singing/dancing/acting role, wistfully doing a solo turn with the touching ballad "Just Imagine," and providing the film's exuberant dance finale with co-star Peter Lawford in the rousingly staged "Varsity Drag" number. She also appeared as one of the many guests stars in one of MGM's musically vivacious but otherwise turgid musical biography films, 1948's Words and Music. Allegedly based on the lives of songwriters Rodgers and Hart, the film features Allyson performing a charming on-stage version of the team's "Thou Swell" (from A Connecticut Yankee) with the identical Blackburn twins. She also appeared on the guest star roster of another MGM musical bio clinker, Til the Clouds Roll By, a misfired fantasia on the life of Jerome Kern.

MGM occasionally loaned out its popular star to other studios and Allyson found herself graduating from ingenue roles to a series of doting wife parts, among these a role in The Stratton Story in 1949, and in Universal-International's extremely popular The Glenn Miller Story in which she played opposite James Stewart in the title role in 1954. Her by now predictable wifely duties continued in MGM's 1954 Executive Suite in which she was William Holden's supportive spouse, and in The McConnell Story and Strategic Air Command, both in 1955. June's self-effacing helpmate period peaked in 1956 with one of her intermittent returns to MGM for an ill-advised musical up-date of another celebrated Cukor film, The Women, retitled The Opposite Sex, in which Allyson took on the original Norma Shearer role of the betrayed wife. In revolt to all these good wife roles Allyson went radically against type in Universal's The Shrike, a rather murky melodrama (directed by and co-starring Jose Ferrer) about a castrating female. She also starred as a straying wife who becomes involved with a symphonic conductor in Douglas Sirk's Interlude in 1957. Allyson's last major studio film of the 1950s was another Universal marital melodrama, the Ross Hunter soaper Stranger In My Arms (1959). Allyson once commented: "I never did feel quite right about the roles I was called upon to portray—the gentle, kind, loving, perfect wife who will stand by her man through 'anything.' In real life I'm a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook; in fact, anything but the perfect wife."

The 1960s found Allyson moving into a series of intermittent stage performances, but finding greater success with her TV films and guest spots. Her television work included a brief stint with a show of her own, and spots on Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote. She made her last theatrical feature appearance in They Only Kill Their Masters in 1972, but was also seen on the big screen as recently as 1994 as the host of That's Entertainment! III and in outtakes and archival footage in 1985's That's Dancing and of course in the original 1974 edition of the MGM musical anthology series. She is also remembered by contemporary audiences for her appearances in a series of 1980s television commercials. Allyson retired to Ojai, California, though in January 2000 she came out of retirement to briefly appear with a group of other MGM stars in a musical touring stage production.

—Ross Care

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Allyson, June 1917–2006

Allyson, June 1917–2006

(June Allison)

PERSONAL

Original name, Ella Geisman; born October 7, 1917, in the Bronx, New York, NY; died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis, July 10, 2006, in Ojai, CA. Actress, singer, and dancer. As a child Allyson overcame an accident that nearly left her unable to walk. She began her career as a dancer and actress in musicals on Broadway in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Among the musicals in which Allyson performed were Sing Out the News, Very Warm for May, Panama Hattie, and Best Foot Forward. Allyson transitioned to film roles and was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the early 1940s. She appeared in such films as Girl Crazy, Two Girls and a Sailor, and Little Women, as well as the film version of Best Foot Forward. In 1952 Allyson won a Golden Globe Award for her role in Too Young to Kiss. Through the 1950s Allyson starred in dozens of films, including The Glenn Miller Story, Strategic Air Command, and My Man Godfrey. Also in the 1950s Allyson began appearing in television. In the late 1950s she hosted The DuPont Show Starring June Allyson. Allyson guest starred on numerous television series, including game shows such as What's My Line?, The Hollywood Squares, and I've Got a Secret, as well as series such as The Dick Powell Show, The Love Boat, Burke's Law, and Murder, She Wrote. Allyson was married three times, the first to well-known director, producer, and actor Dick Powell. In her later years Allyson served as the spokesperson for Kimberly-Clark Corp. and appeared in television commercials for Depends adult diapers. In 1982 she published her autobiography, June Allyson by June Allyson.

PERIODICALS

New York Times, July 11, 2006.

People, July 11, 2006.

Time, July 11, 2006.

Washington Post, July 11, 2006.

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Allyson, June

June Allyson

Born Eleanor Geisman, October 7, 1917, in the Bronx, NY; died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis, July 8, 2006, in Ojai, CA. Actress. Screen actress June Allyson was best known for her roles in MGM films of the 1940s and 1950s. She played the ideal girlfriend in musicals in the 1940s, then progressed to playing the faultless wife in the 1950s. Allyson was a perky blonde whose husky voice belied her petite physique.

Born in the Bronx borough of New York in 1917 to a Dutch father and French mother, Allyson's young life was marred by poverty. Her father, a building supervisor, was an alcoholic who abandoned Allyson and her mother when she was only six months old. At the age of eight, Allyson was riding a bicycle and suffered severe injury when she was crushed by a tree limb. She spent the next four years in casts and a back brace. Allyson also required expensive medical treatments and medical therapies which made her family even more desperately poor.

When she recovered, Allyson decided to teach herself to dance. She used films starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire as models, and on a dare tried out for a Broadway chorus line in a musical comedy when she was only in the seventh grade. Allyson appeared in a number of chorus lines for Broadway productions, including the revue Sing Out the News, for which she changed her name to June Allyson. Though she later admitted she had little talent for the genre, she continued her career on stage through the early 1940s. In the New York Times Aljean Harmetz quoted Allyson as saying, "I couldn't dance, and, Lord knows, I couldn't sing, but I got by somehow."

Allyson's film career was launched after she acted in the stage comedy Panama Hattie. She was the understudy to lead actress Betty Hutton, and assumed her role as Florrie for five performances when Hutton became ill. A Broadway producer, George Abbott, attended one of the productions and cast Allyson in his musical Best Foot Forward. When MGM purchased the movie rights to Best Foot Forward, Allyson went to Hollywood to appear in her role in the film version, released in 1943.

Signing a deal with MGM to become a contract player, Allyson primarily appeared in their musicals in the girlfriend role in the 1940s. These films made her a popular star, especially with American soldiers serving in World War II. The young actress's breakout role came in 1944's Two Girls and a Sailor, in which she appeared opposite Van Johnson as his girlfriend. She would go on to appear in a number of films with Johnson including 1947's High Barbaree and 1948's The Bride Goes Wild. Other significant film roles for Allyson in the 1940s included two films with Robert Walker, 1945's Her Highness and the Bellboy and 1946's Till the Clouds Roll By. Allyson appeared as Jo March in the 1949 version of Little Women.

By the 1950s, Allyson left musicals and girlfriend roles behind and began to appear as the perfect wife in a number of films. One of her first wife roles came in 1949's The Stratton Story opposite James Stewart, who played an amputee baseball player; she played the wife of another baseball player depicted by Stewart in 1955's Strategic Air Command. Allyson also appeared in two more films with Johnson, 1951's Too Young to Kiss and 1953's Remains to Be Seen. In addition, she played a widow in 1953's The Glenn Miller Story, one of her best-known roles, and a pilot's wife in 1955's The McConnell Story.

While Allyson was a star, she grew weary of playing idealized women. However, her attempt to break out of the typecast resulted in box office failure. In 1955's The Strike, Allyson played a severe, cruel woman who drives her husband, played by José Ferrer, to a nervous breakdown. Allyson's acting chops in the role were highly regarded, but the ticket-buying public was not impressed.

Allyson's public image and, to a great degree, life were controlled by MGM until she left the studio in the 1950s. By this time, she had married and had two children with her first husband, actor Dick Powell. Though the marriage had difficult moments, the couple remained together until Powell's death in 1963. The year Powell died, Allyson married his barber, Glenn Maxwell, but it ended in divorce two years later. The couple later remarried but ended up divorcing again.

After leaving MGM, Allyson's film career struggled on through the late 1950s. In 1957, she appeared in the remake of My Man Godfrey. Two years later, Allyson had a role in the melodrama A Stranger in My Arms. The actress then worked in television with occasional appearances on her own anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, from 1959 to 1961, guest spots on The Judy Garland Show, and appearances on other television shows. Allyson also returned to the stage, appearing in Broadway in 40 Carats. She also toured in No, No Nanette.

Allyson's film career was briefly revived in the early 1970s with They Only Kill Their Masters. After marrying dentist David Ashrow in 1976, Allyson took on guest spots in television series like Murder, She Wrote and also appeared in television movies. She published her autobiography, written with Frances Spatz Leighton, in 1982. In the mid-1980s, Allyson also became the national spokesperson for Depend adult diapers and appeared in a series of commercials for the product for a number of years. Allyson continued to act on television into the 1990s.

After a long illness, Allyson died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis at her home in Ojai, California; she was 88. She is survived by her third husband, Dr. David Ashrow; her children from her first marriage, Pamela and Richard; and a grandson.

Sources:

Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2006, p. B10; New York Times, July 11, 2006, p. C14; Times (London), July 12, 2006, p. 58; Washington Post, July 11, 2006, p. B6.

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