Allyson, March 1945
October 7, 1917
The Bronx, New York City
|Died||July 8, 2006 (aged 88)|
Ojai, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.|
|Other names||June Allison|
|Alma mater||St Catharine Academy|
|Occupation||Actress, dancer, singer|
|Height||5 ft 1 in (155 cm)|
(m. 1945; died 1963)
Alfred Glenn Maxwell
(m. 1963; div. 1970)
|Awards||Golden Globe - Best Actress (1951)|
Allyson began her career in 1937 as a dancer in short subject films and on Broadway in 1938. She signed with MGM in 1943, and rose to fame the following year in Two Girls and a Sailor. Allyson's "girl next door" image was solidified during the mid-1940s when she was paired with actor Van Johnson in six films. In 1951, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance in Too Young to Kiss. From 1959 to 1961, she hosted and occasionally starred in her own anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, which aired on CBS.
In the 1970s, she returned to the stage starring in Forty Carats and No, No, Nanette. In 1982, Allyson released her autobiography June Allyson by June Allyson, and continued her career with guest starring roles on television and occasional film appearances. She later established the June Allyson Foundation for Public Awareness and Medical Research and worked to raise money for research for urological and gynecological diseases affecting senior citizens. During the 1980s, Allyson also became a spokesperson for Depend undergarments, in a successful marketing campaign that has been credited in reducing the social stigma of incontinence. She made her final onscreen appearance in 2001.
Allyson later said of her appeal, "I have big teeth. I lisp. My eyes disappear when I smile. My voice is funny. I don't sing like Judy Garland. I don't dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they'd take me home to meet Mom."
Allyson was born Eleanor Geisman, nicknamed Ella, in the Bronx, New York City. She was the daughter of Clara (née Provost) and Robert Geisman. She had a brother, Henry, who was two years older. She said she had been raised as a Catholic, but a discrepancy exists relating to her early life, and her studio biography was often the source of the confusion. Her paternal grandparents, Harry Geisman and Anna Hafner, were immigrants from Germany although Allyson claimed her last name was originally "Van Geisman", and was of Dutch origin. Studio biographies listed her as Jan Allyson born to French-English parents. Upon her death, her daughter said Allyson was born "Eleanor Geisman to a French mother and Dutch father."[N 1]
In April 1918 (when Allyson was six months old), her alcoholic father, who had worked as a janitor, abandoned the family. Allyson was brought up in near poverty, living with her maternal grandparents. To make ends meet, her mother worked as a telephone operator and restaurant cashier. When she had enough funds, she occasionally reunited with her daughter, but more often Allyson was "farmed" to her grandparents or other relatives.
In 1925 (when Allyson was eight), a tree branch fell on her while she was riding her tricycle with her pet terrier in tow. Allyson sustained a fractured skull and broken back, and her dog was killed. Her doctors said she never would walk again and confined her to a heavy steel brace from neck to hips for four years, and she ultimately regained her health, but when Allyson had become famous, she was terrified that people would discover her background from the "tenement side of New York City", and she readily agreed to studio tales of a "rosy life", including a concocted story that she underwent months of swimming exercises in rehabilitation to emerge as a star swimmer. In her later memoirs, Allyson describes a summer program of swimming that did help her recovery.
After gradually progressing from a wheelchair to crutches to braces, Allyson's true escape from her impoverished life was to go to the cinema, where she was enraptured by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies. As a teen, Allyson memorized the trademark dance routines of Ginger Rogers; she claimed later to have watched The Gay Divorcee 17 times. She also tried to emulate the singing styles of movie stars, but she never mastered reading music.
When her mother remarried and the family was reunited with a more stable financial standing, Allyson was enrolled in the Ned Wayburn Dancing Academy and began to enter dance competitions with the stage name of Elaine Peters.
With the death of her stepfather and a bleak future ahead, she left high school after completing two and half years, to seek jobs as a dancer. Her first $60-a-week job was as a tap dancer at the Lido Club in Montreal. Returning to New York, she found work as an actress in movie short subjects filmed by Educational Pictures at its Astoria, Queens NY, studio.
Fiercely ambitious, Allyson tried her hand at modeling, but to her consternation became the "sad-looking before part" in a before-and-after bathing suit magazine ad.
Her first career break came when Educational cast her as an ingenue opposite singer Lee Sullivan, comic dancers Herman Timberg, Jr., and Pat Rooney, Jr., and future comedy star Danny Kaye in a series of shorts. These included Swing for Sale (1937), Pixilated (1937), Ups and Downs (1937), Dime a Dance (1938), Dates and Nuts (1938) and Sing for Sweetie (1938).
When Educational ceased operations, Allyson moved to Vitaphone in Brooklyn and starred or co-starred (with dancer Hal Le Roy) in musical shorts. These included The Prisoner of Swing (1938), The Knight Is Young (1938), Rollin' in Rhythm (1939) and All Girl Revue (1940).
Interspersing jobs in the chorus line at the Copacabana Club with acting roles at Vitaphone, the diminutive 5'1" (1.55 m), weighing less than 100 pounds, red-headed Allyson landed a chorus job in the Broadway show Sing out the News in 1938.
The legend is that the choreographer gave her a job and a new name: Allyson, a family name, and June, for the month, although like many aspects of her career resume, the story is highly unlikely as she was already dubbing herself "June Allyson" prior to her Broadway engagement and has even attributed the name to a later director.[N 2]
When Vitaphone discontinued New York production in 1940, Allyson returned to the New York stage to take on more chorus roles in Rodgers and Hart's Higher and Higher (1940) and Cole Porter's Panama Hattie (1940).
Her dancing and musical talent led to a stint as an understudy for the lead, Betty Hutton, and when Hutton contracted measles, Allyson appeared in five performances of Panama Hattie. Broadway director George Abbott caught one of the nights, and offered Allyson one of the lead roles in his production of Best Foot Forward (1941).
When she arrived in Hollywood, the production had not started, so MGM "placed her on the payroll" of Girl Crazy (1943).
MGM's musical supervisor, Arthur Freed, saw her test sent up by an agent and insisted that Allyson be put on contract immediately.
Another musical, Thousands Cheer (1943), was again a showcase for her singing, albeit still in a minor role. As a new starlet, although Allyson had already been a performer on stage and screen for more than five years, she was presented as an "overnight sensation," with Hollywood press agents attempting to portray her as an ingenue, selectively slicing years off her true age. Studio bios listed her variously as being born in 1922 and 1923.
Allyson's breakthrough was in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) where the studio image of the "girl next door" was fostered by her being cast alongside long-time acting chum Van Johnson, the quintessential "boy next door." As the "sweetheart team," Johnson and Allyson were to appear together in four later films.
Allyson was top billed along with Walker in The Sailor Takes a Wife (1945). She did Two Sisters from Boston (1946) with Kathryn Grayson and Peter Lawford, and was one of several MGM stars in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946).
She did a comedy with Johnson, The Bride Goes Wild (1948) then played Constance in the hugely popular The Three Musketeers (1948). Her "Thou Swell" was a high point of the Rodgers and Hart biopic Words and Music (1948), as performed in the "A Connecticut Yankee" segment with the Blackburn Twins.
Allyson played the tomboy Jo March in Little Women (1949), a huge hit. She was adept at crying on cue, and many of her films incorporated a crying scene. Fellow MGM player Margaret O'Brien recalled that she and Allyson were known as "the town criers". "I cried once in a picture and they said 'let's do it again' and I cried for the rest of my career," she later said.
In 1950 Allyson had been signed to appear opposite her childhood idol Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding, but had to leave the production because of pregnancy. (She was replaced initially by Judy Garland, who in turn was replaced by Jane Powell.)
Allyson played a doctor in The Girl in White (1952), which lost money, and a nurse in Battle Circus (1953), a hit. She did Remains to Be Seen (1953) with Johnson, which was a flop. In May 1953 she and MGM agreed to part ways by mutual consent.
She signed with Universal and did two more remakes: Interlude (1957), a drama for Douglas Sirk, and My Man Godfrey (1957) a comedy with David Niven. She then made A Stranger in My Arms (1958) with Jeff Chandler. The box office failure of these films effectively ended her reign as a movie star.
The DuPont Show with June Allyson (1959-60) ran for two seasons on CBS and was an attempt to use a "high budget" formula. She later called it "the hardest thing I ever did." Her efforts were dismissed by the entertainment reviewer in the LA Examiner as "reaching down to the level of mag fiction." However, TV Guide and other fan magazines such as TV considered Allyson's foray into television as revitalizing her fame and career for a younger audience, and remarked that her stereotyping by the movie industry as the "girl next door" was the "waste and neglect of talent on its own doorstep."
Throughout the 1970s, she appeared regularly on television on shows such as See the Man Run (1971), The Sixth Sense (1972), and Letters from Three Lovers (1973), as well as in the film They Only Kill Their Masters (1972).
Later appearances include Curse of the Black Widow (1977), Three on a Date (1978), Vega$ (1978), Blackout (1978), House Calls, The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) Simon & Simon, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Murder, She Wrote, Misfits of Science, Crazy Like a Fox, and Airwolf.
Her last appearance was in These Old Broads (2001).
On her arrival in Hollywood, studio heads attempted to enhance the pairing of Van Johnson and Allyson by sending out the two contracted players on a series of "official dates", which were highly publicized and led to a public perception that a romance had been kindled. Although dating David Rose, Peter Lawford, and John Kennedy, Allyson was actually being courted by Dick Powell, who was 13 years her senior and had been previously married to Mildred Maund and Joan Blondell.
On August 19, 1945, Allyson caused MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer some consternation by marrying Dick Powell. After defying him twice by refusing to stop seeing Powell, in a "tactical master stroke", she asked Mayer to give her away at the wedding. He was so disarmed that he agreed but put Allyson on suspension anyway. The Powells had two children, Pamela Allyson Powell (adopted in 1948 through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in an adoption arranged by Georgia Tann) and Richard Powell, Jr., born December 24, 1950.
In 1961, Allyson underwent a kidney operation and later, throat surgery, temporarily affecting her trademark raspy voice.
The couple divorced in 1961, the reason being Powell's devotion to work. In February 1961 she was awarded $2.5 million in settlement,[clarification needed] along with custody of their children. They reconciled and remained married until his death on January 2, 1963. Later, Allyson reflected on how the loss of Powell affected her:
I felt I had no props. I'm not really that wise to be able to live life alone and know where I'm going. I felt fear. I felt loneliness. I felt guilt and anger. I was afraid that I would not be able to stand on my own two feet. The loneliness made me feel empty. Then I had an awful guilt. I had always complained that Richard worked too hard, that he had no time for me. I gave him a bad time about this. When he left, I realized that he was working for our future and he wasn't there for me to say, "I'm sorry." I was angry because God had taken Richard away. God should have taken me. He should have left Richard, who had so much more to give.
This prompted Allyson to start drinking heavily. In 1963 she was going to elope with Powell's barber, Glenn Maxwell, but decided against it. She and Maxwell would get married and divorced, then married and divorced again.
She also went through a bitter court battle with her mother over custody of the children she had with Powell.
Reports at the time revealed that writer/director Dirk Summers, with whom Allyson was romantically involved from 1963 to 1975, was named legal guardian for Ricky and Pamela as a result of a court petition. Members of the nascent jet-set, Allyson and Summers were frequently seen in Cap d'Antibes, Madrid, Rome, and London. However, Summers refused to marry her and the relationship did not last.
During this time, Allyson struggled with alcoholism, which she overcame in the mid-1970s.
In 1976, Allyson married David Ashrow, a dentist turned actor. The couple occasionally performed together in regional theater, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, toured the United States with the stage play My Daughter, Your Son. They also appeared on celebrity cruise ship tours on the Royal Viking Sky, in a program that highlighted Allyson's movie career.
After Dick Powell's death, Allyson committed herself to charitable work on his behalf, championing the importance of research in urological and gynecological diseases in seniors, and represented the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in commercials for adult incontinence products. Following a lifelong interest in health and medical research (Allyson had initially wanted to use her acting career to fund her own training as a doctor), she was instrumental in establishing the June Allyson Foundation for Public Awareness and Medical Research. Allyson also financially supported her brother, Dr. Arthur Peters, through his medical training, and he went on to specialize in otolaryngology.
Powell's wealth made it possible for Allyson effectively to retire from show business after his death, making only occasional appearances on talk and variety shows. Allyson returned to the Broadway stage in 1970 in the play Forty Carats and later toured in a production of No, No, Nanette.
Her autobiography, June Allyson by June Allyson (1982), received generally complimentary reviews due to its insider look at Hollywood in one of its golden ages. A more critical appraisal came from Janet Maslin at the New York Times in her review, "Hollywood Leaves Its Imprint on Its Chroniclers", who noted: "Miss Allyson presents herself as the same sunny, tomboyish figure she played on screen in Hollywood... like someone who has come to inhabit the very myths she helped to create on the screen." Privately, Allyson admitted that her earlier screen portrayals had left her uneasy about the typecast "good wife" roles she had played.
As a personal friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, she was invited to many White House dinners, and in 1988, Reagan appointed her to the Federal Council on Aging. Allyson and her later husband, David Ashrow, actively supported fund-raising efforts for both the James Stewart and Judy Garland museums; both Stewart and Garland had been close friends.
In 1993, actor-turned-agent Marty Ingels publicly charged Allyson with not paying his large commission on the earlier deal on incontinence product advertising. Allyson denied owing any money, and Ashrow and she filed a lawsuit for slander and emotional distress, charging that Ingels was harassing and threatening them, stating Ingels made 138 phone calls during a single eight-hour period. Earlier that year, Ingels had pleaded no contest to making annoying phone calls.
In December 1993, Allyson christened the Holland America Maasdam, one of the flagships of the Holland America line. Although her heritage, like much of her personal story, was subject to different interpretations, Allyson always claimed to be proud of a Dutch ancestry.
Allyson made a special appearance in 1994 in That's Entertainment III, as one of the film's narrators. She spoke about MGM's golden era and introduced vintage film clips.
In 1996, Allyson became the first recipient of the Harvey Award, presented by the James M. Stewart Museum Foundation, in recognition of her positive contributions to the world of entertainment.
Until 2003, Allyson remained busy touring the country making personal appearances, headlining celebrity cruises, and speaking on behalf of Kimberly-Clark, a long-time commercial interest.
The American Urogynecologic Society established the June Allyson Foundation in 1998 made possible by a grant from Kimberly-Clark. As the first celebrity to undertake the role of public spokesperson for promoting the use of the Depend undergarment, Allyson did "more than any other public figure to encourage and persuade people with incontinence to lead fuller and more active lives".
Following hip-replacement surgery in 2003, Allyson's health began to deteriorate. With her husband at her side, she died July 8, 2006, aged 88 at her home in Ojai, California. Her death was a result of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis. On her death, Kimberly-Clark Corporation contributed $25,000 to the June Allyson Foundation to support research advances in the care and treatment of women with urinary incontinence.
|September 24, 1938 - January 7, 1939||Sing Out the News||Performer|
|November 17, 1939 - January 6, 1940||Very Warm for May||June|
|April 4 - June 15, 1940||Higher and Higher||Higher and Higher Specialty Girl|
|October 30, 1940 - January 3, 1942||Panama Hattie||Dancing Girl|
|October 1, 1941 - July 4, 1942||Best Foot Forward||Minerva|
|January 5, 1970||Forty Carats||Ann Stanley|
|1937||Swing for Sale||Short subject|
|1937||Ups and Downs||June Daily||Short subject|
|1937||Dime a Dance||Harriet||Short subject|
|1937||Dates and Nuts||Wilma Brown, Herman's girl||Short subject|
|1938||Sing for Sweetie||Sally Newton||Short subject|
|1938||The Prisoner of Swing||Princess||Short subject|
|1938||The Knight Is Young||June||Short subject|
|1939||Rollin' in Rhythm||Short subject|
|1940||All Girl Revue||Mayor||Short subject|
|1943||Best Foot Forward||Ethel|
|1943||Girl Crazy||Specialty Singer|
|1944||Two Girls and a Sailor||Patsy Deyo|
|1944||Meet the People||Annie|
|1944||Music for Millions||Barbara Ainsworth|
|1945||Her Highness and the Bellboy||Leslie Odell|
|1945||The Sailor Takes a Wife||Mary Hill|
|1946||Two Sisters from Boston||Martha Canford Chandler|
|1946||Till the Clouds Roll By||Jane Witherspoon/Lou Ellen Carter||Segments: Leave It to Jane and Oh, Boy!|
|1946||The Secret Heart||Penny Addams|
|1947||High Barbaree||Nancy Frazer|
|1947||Good News||Connie Lane|
|1948||The Bride Goes Wild||Martha Terryton|
|1948||The Three Musketeers||Constance Bonacieux|
|1948||Words and Music||Alisande La Carteloise|
|1949||Little Women||Josephine "Jo" March|
|1949||The Stratton Story||Ethel|
|1950||The Reformer and the Redhead||Kathleen Maguire|
|1950||Right Cross||Pat O'Malley|
|1951||Too Young to Kiss||Cynthia Potter|
|1952||The Girl in White||Dr. Emily Barringer|
|1953||Battle Circus||Lt. Ruth McCara|
|1953||Remains to Be Seen||Jody Revere|
|1954||The Glenn Miller Story||Helen Burger Miller|
|1954||Executive Suite||Mary Blemond Walling|
|1954||Woman's World||Katie Baxter||Alternative title: A Woman's World|
|1955||Strategic Air Command||Sally Holland|
|1955||The Shrike||Ann Downs|
|1955||The McConnell Story||Pearl "Butch" Brown|
|1956||The Opposite Sex||Kay Hilliard|
|1956||You Can't Run Away from It||Ellen "Ellie" Andrews|
|1957||Interlude||Helen Banning||Alternative title: Forbidden Interlude|
|1957||My Man Godfrey||Irene Bullock|
|1959||A Stranger in My Arms||Christina Beasley||Alternative title: And Ride a Tiger|
|1972||They Only Kill Their Masters||Mrs. Watkins|
|2001||A Girl, Three Guys, and a Gun||Joey's Grandma|
|1959-1961||The DuPont Show with June Allyson||Hostess||59 episodes|
|1960||Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre||Stella||Episode: "Cry Hope! Cry Hate!"|
|1962-1963||The Dick Powell Theatre||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1963||Burke's Law||Jean Samson||Episode: "Who Killed Beau Sparrow?"|
|1968||The Name of the Game||Joanne Robins||Segment: "High on a Rainbow"|
|1971||See the Man Run||Helene Spencer||Television film|
|1972||The ABC Comedy Hour||Episode: "The Twentieth Century Folies"|
|1972||The Sixth Sense||Mrs. Ruth Desmond||Episode: "Witness Within"|
|1973||Letters from Three Lovers||Monica||Television film|
|1977||Switch||Dr. Trampler||Episode: "Eden's Gate"|
|1977||Curse of the Black Widow||Olga||Television film|
|1978||Three on a Date||Marge Emery||Television film|
|1978||Vega$||Loretta Ochs||Episode: "High Roller"|
|1978||The Love Boat||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1979||The Incredible Hulk||Dr. Kate Lowell||Episode: "Brain Child"|
|1980||House Calls||Florence Alexander||Episode: "I'll Be Suing You"|
|1982||The Kid with the Broken Halo||Dorothea Powell||Television film|
|1982||Simon & Simon||Margaret Wells||Episode: "The Last Time I Saw Michael"|
|1984||Hart to Hart||Elizabeth Tisdale||Episode: "Always, Elizabeth"|
|1984||Murder, She Wrote||Katie Simmons||Episode: "Hit, Run and Homicide"|
|1985||Misfits of Science||Bessie||Episode: "Steer Crazy"|
|1986||Crazy Like a Fox||Neva||Episode: "Hearing Is Believing"|
|1986||Airwolf||Martha Stewart||Episode: "Little Wolf"|
|1989||Wilfrid's Special Christmas||Miss Nancy||Television special|
|1991||Pros and Cons||Episode: "It's the Pictures That Got Small"|
|1995||Burke's Law||Shelly Knox||Episode: "Who Killed the Toy Maker?"|
|2001||These Old Broads||Lady in Hotel||Television film|
For a number of years exhibitors voted Allyson among the most popular stars in the country:
|1950||Richard Diamond, Private Detective||Mrs. X Can't Find Mr. X|
|1952||Stars in the Air||The Bride Goes Wild|
|1953||Lux Radio Theatre||The Girl in White|