Grayson, Kathryn (1922—)

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Grayson, Kathryn (1922—)

American actress, singer, and star of many MGM musicals. Born Zelma Kathryn Hedrick on February 9, 1922, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; attended Manual Arts High School, Hollywood, California; married John Shelton (an actor), in 1940 (divorced 1946); married Johnny Johnston (singer-actor), in 1947 (divorced 1951); children: (second marriage) one daughter, Patricia.


Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941); The Vanishing Virginian (1942); Rio Rita (1942); Seven Sweethearts (1942); Thousands Cheer (1943); Anchors Aweigh (1945); Ziegfeld Follies (1946); Two Sisters from Boston (1946); Till the Clouds Roll By (1946); It Happened in Brooklyn (1947); The Kissing Bandit (1948); That Midnight Kiss (1949); The Toast of New Orleans (1950); Grounds for Marriage (1951); Show Boat (1951) Lovely to Look At (1952); The Desert Song (1953); So This Is Love (1953); Kiss Me Kate (1953); The Vagabond King (1956).

A petite brunette, with a heart-shaped face and a coloratura voice, Kathryn Grayson was headed for an operatic career when she was

lured into the movies. After studying voice as a child, Grayson was a teenager when she came to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who heard her sing at a city festival and offered her a contract (with thoughts, perhaps, of grooming her to compete with songbird Deanna Durbin , then under contract to Universal). Much to the surprise of her vocal coach Minna Letha White , Grayson accepted the lucrative offer. To supplement her performance experience, MGM negotiated a regular spot for her on "The Eddie Cantor Show" and encouraged her to take some acting lessons.

Grayson made an auspicious film debut in Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941), one of a series that starred Mickey Rooney, in which she sang an aria from an opera. In her second movie, The Vanishing Virginians (1942), she captured attention with a lilting rendition of "The World Was Made for You." In the middle of launching her film career, Grayson married John Shelton, another MGM player. The marriage was troubled from the beginning and ended in divorce in 1946. In 1947, Grayson would marry actor Johnny Johnston and a year later give birth to her only child, Patricia. After she and Johnston divorced in 1951, the actress never remarried.

During World War II, Grayson left the screen for two years, during which time she entertained for the war effort and made radio appearances. She wanted to pursue an operatic career, but Mayer held her to her contract, and she returned to movie making. Her career continued to founder until 1949, when the studio teamed her in two films with Mario Lanza: That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950). The two had screen chemistry and formed an off-screen friendship that would endure until Lanza's untimely death in 1959.

The lavish movie operettas of the 1950s added to Grayson's lustre, though by that time the genre was on its way out. In a remake of Show Boat (1951), she was cast opposite Howard Keel, with whom she sang the duets "Make Believe," "You Are Love," and "Why Do I Love You?" The movie was such a box-office hit that she was reteamed with Keel in a re-make of Roberta, titled Lovely to Look At (1952). Grayson was then loaned to Warner Bros. for what was to be a quartet of musicals, but only two materialized: The Desert Song (1953) and So This is Love (1953). Neither had much success. Back at MGM, she was again partnered with Keel in Kiss Me Kate (1953), perhaps the best of her brief career. Grayson's final movie was The Vagabond King (1956), which had been developed for Grayson and Lanza, but because of his health problems, Lanza was replaced by Oreste, a little-known opera singer.

Unfortunately, Grayson's voice was captured on few recordings, since Mayer refused to allow his stars to make outside recording deals. She did, however, record some of her movie songs for MGM Records, as well as an album, Kathryn Grayson Sings.

In the fall of 1955, Grayson had made her dramatic television debut in "Shadows of the Heart" on the "General Electric Theater" series, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. When her movie career ended, she returned to television for roles in "Playhouse 90" and "Lux Playhouse." She also went back to the concert stage and in 1960 appeared in productions of the operas Madame Butterfly, La Bohème, and La Traviata. As well, she starred in the operettas The Merry Widow, Rosalinda, and Naughty Marietta and toured in a production of Camelot. (A bid to replace Julie Andrews in the Broadway production fell through.)

In 1969, Grayson reteamed with Howard Keel for a night-club act that played in Las Vegas to fairly good reviews. She and Keel continued to make club appearances throughout the 1970s and co-starred in a well-received production of The Man of La Mancha. During the 1980s, Grayson occasionally appeared on television, notably in an episode of "Murder She Wrote," with Gloria DeHaven.


Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. NY: Garland, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts