Movie Stars: Allyson, June–Hollywood’s Girl Next Door

The Power Elite: America’s Movie Stars is the title of my new book, centering on Hollywood’s most potent and popular actors from the early sound era to the present.  In the next several weeks, we will run articles about individual stars, male and especially female.

June Allyson

June Allyson was one of MGM’s most popular musical-comedy stars of the 1940s and 1950s.

Allyson, known for her husky voice, pageboy haircut and girl-next-door image, had a limited range, but she also ventured into serious dramas, such as the 1948 remake of Little Women.

According to polls and our empirical study, Allyson was voted as one of America’s Top Ten Box-Office Star once, in 1955.

With her fresh-faced optimism, Allyson seemed the ideal sweetheart and wife, supporting and nonthreatening, as she proved in several films co-starring the all-American boy, Jimmy Stewart.

Aware of her limitations, Allyson expressed surprise in a 1986 interview that she had ever become a movie star: “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.”

Born Ella Geisman in the Bronx, she was seriously injured in a bicycle accident when she was 8 and underwent four years of intensive therapy.

After she recovered, she studied dance and entered amateur contests, making her professional debut in the two-reeler “Swing for Sale” in 1937, followed by work in a number of other shorts. The following year she made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Harold Rome’s musical “Sing out the News,” followed by a stint in the chorus at New York’s Copacabana nightclub.

As June Allyson, she danced on stage in “Very Warm for May” and “Higher and Higher.”

For “Panama Hattie,” she understudied Betty Hutton and subbed when Hutton got the measles. Her performance led to a role in “Best Foot Forward” in 1941. She made her feature film debut repeating her role in the MGM musical, which starred Lucille Ball.

MGM signed her to a contract, and she appeared in small roles in “Thousands Cheer” and “Girl Crazy.” In “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), her winsome beauty and bright personality connected with U.S. servicemen. She starred in “Music for Millions,” “The Sailor Takes a Wife,” “Two Girls From Boston” and “Good News.”

Frequent Co-Star

Allyson appeared opposite Van Johnson in several films.

However, much more significant were her three roles as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in “The Stratton Story,” “The Glenn Miller Story” and “Strategic Air Command.”

Though Allyson was never nominated for an Oscar, she won a Golden Globe for Comedy-Musical in 1951 for Too Young to Kiss.

The Shrike

She played an unsympathetic role only once, as a wife who torments husband Jose Ferrer in “The Shrike.” Needless to say, the film was a failure, because the public will not accept her in such a part; it did not help that it was a poor film on many levels.

In 1945, she married Powell, the crooner who turned serious actor and then producer-director. The marriage seemed one of Hollywood’s happiest, but the couple separated in 1961; they later reconciled and remained together until Powell’s death in 1963. They had two children, Pamela and Dick Powell Jr.

When her film career ended in the late 1950s, Allyson starred on TV as the host and occasional star of “The Dupont Show With June Allyson.” The series lasted two seasons. In later years, she appeared on TV in “Love Boat,” “Hart to Hart” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

Allyson’s real life belied the sunshiny image she presented in her films. As she revealed in her 1982 autobiography, she had  alcoholic father and was raised by a single mother in the Bronx. Her “ideal marriage” to actor-director Dick Powell was beset with frustrations.

After Powell’s cancer death in 1963, she battled breakdowns, alcoholism, and a disastrous second marriage. She credited her recovery to Dr. David Ashrow, her third husband, a children’s dentist who became a nutrition expert, whom she married in 1976.

For the last 20 years of her life, Allyson represented the Kimberly-Clark Corp. in commercials for Depends and championed the importance of research in urological and gynecological diseases in seniors.

Allyson died in 2006.