1940’s Hollywood movie star Van Johnson has died

December 12, 2008

(ChattahBox) — 1940s hearthrob Van Johnson has passed on at 92. Johnson was a disarming and popular Hollywood star of 1940s musicals and comedies who later proved his chops in meatier dramas. He died Dec. 12 at Tappan Zee Manor, a senior citizens home in Nyack, N.Y. No cause of death was immediately reported.

Injures from a car crash prevented Mr. Johnson from being drafted during the war. In the absence of many male rivals, he was heavily promoted and became extremely popular. Tall and freckled, with strawberry-blond hair, he starrd in many musicals with Judy Garland (“In the Good Old Summertime”), Esther Williams (“Easy to Wed,” “Thrill of a Romance,” “Duchess of Idaho”) and June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven (“Two Girls and a Sailor”), in which they were the girls and he the sailor.

He also played romantically inclined wartime pilots in “A Guy Named Joe” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” both dramas in which he showed he could hold his own against co-star Spencer Tracy.

Starting in the late 1940s, Mr. Johnson took many viewers and reviewers by surprise for his dramatic performances.  He was especially good as a presidential candidate’s wily campaign manager in Frank Capra’s “State of the Union” (1948) with Spencer Tracy as his client. Mr. Johnson also portrayed a sneaky aide to a general in “Command Decision” (1948); and a cynical rifleman in William Wellman’s “Battleground” (1949), a film praised for its harrowing depiction of combat during the Battle of the Bulge.

Mr. Johnson was singled out by critics as the executive officer who sells out the paranoid Capt. Queeg (played by Humphrey Bogart) in “The Caine Mutiny” (1954), based on a best-selling novel by Herman Wouk. New York Times movie reviewer Bosley Crowther praised Mr. Johnson for conveying the “distress and resolution” required of the part.

All of those films almost totally reversed the screen persona Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio chief Louis B. Mayer first established for Mr. Johnson, a onetime Broadway chorus boy elevated to immediate stardom during World War II.

For the rest of his heyday, Mr. Johnson alternated between lighter pictures (“Brigadoon” with Gene Kelly, “The Bride Goes Wild” with Allyson) and efforts to expand his repertoire.

On the gossip side though a teen idol, Johnson at 30 wasn’t romantically linked, and MGM decided to head off speculation about its leading man’s sexual orientation. With a studio publicist in attendance, Johnson married Eve Wynn on Jan. 25, 1947, in a ceremony four hours after her Mexican divorce from Wynn, father of her two sons.

Years later, Evie Wynn Johnson said that MGM boss Louis B. Mayer had threatened not to renew Keenan Wynn’s contract unless she married Johnson.  They did though later have a daughter together before separated in 1961, though their divorce didn’t become final until 1968 due to wrangling over the financial settlement.

In the 1960s, Johnson made occasional Hollywood movies, including “Wives and Lovers” and “Divorce American Style” and performed in regional theaters and cruise ships and made TV guest appearances on “Love Boat” and “Murder She Wrote,” among others.

Johnson returned to Broadway At the age of 68,in the hit musical “La Cage aux Folles,” performing the lead role of Georges for most of 1985.

Johnson was fond of painting and exhibited his work in one- man shows.

Photo: Gracie Allen, right, is embraced by actor Van Johnson, as he appears as a guest on the ‘Burns and Allen show’

Reported by: Hot Momma Celebrity Gossip


One Response to “1940’s Hollywood movie star Van Johnson has died”

  1. 1940’s Hollywood movie star Van Johnson has died - Chattahbox.com | DVD Buy to Home on December 12th, 2008 8:51 pm

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