June Allyson, the husky voiced princesss of MGM

June Allyson

Perky in her Peter Pan collars, with her bouncy blonde pageboy hairdo, the petite, husky-voiced star June Allyson smiled sunnily through glycerine tears in many World War II movies and made a lot of people happy, including MGM accountants and stockholders; studio publicists may be consigned to a collective hell for lies they peddled to fans back then; in ’44, when she was wildly popular, they claimed she was 20; they said her real name was “Jan Allyson” and she was the daughter of “comfortable but far from wealthy” parents—”Arthur and Clare Allyson” the truth: she was born in near-poverty in the Bronx and her parents were Robert (janitor of the building in which she was born) and Clara Geisman; June was six months old when her father deserted the family; her mother then slaved in a print shop for $20 a week.

June Allyson

Of the “cold, dreary railroad flat” in which she grew up, the star later recalled that it had no bath and “we heated water on a coal stove and bathed in a washtub. We never had enough coal, so in the winter I used to go along Third Avenue collecting wood boxes and crates from grocery and delicatessen stores”; determined to have a better life, she seized upon dancing as her escape route; memorized Ginger Roger’s dance steps from movies, entered amateur nights, graduated to dancing in the chorus at the Copacabana and on Broadway (Sing Out the News), made her movie debut at 20 in a two-reel musical short (Swing for Sale), understudied star Betty Hutton on stage in Panama Hattie.

A lead in 1941’s Best Foot Forward took her to Hollywood, where she repeated the starmaking role in the movie; was wed to Dick Powell for almost 18 years, until his death in ’63; they adopted a daughter, Pam, and had a son, Richard Keith (made her a grandmother when his son was born in ’84).

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