Yet another actor from “The Golden Age of
gone to that great studio in the sky.
I’m talking about Van Johnson. I had heard that he had passed
away at the grand old age of 92, so I decided to add yet another
tribute to my blog. One of the first films I saw Van in was
“Till The Clouds Roll By”. The film is a fictionalized biography of
composer Jerome Kern, and is best remembered for its large
cast of well-known musical stars of the day who appear in cameo
roles performing Kern's songs. Van Johnson played a bandleader
in the Elite Club, and I saw this when it was show on TV many
years after its 1946 release.
If you’ve never seen “The Caine Mutiny” I recommend you go
and rent this film as besides starring Humphrey Bogart, Jose
Ferrer and Fred MacMurray, Van almost “steals” the acting honors
from these three stars.
Another great movie is “A Guy Named Joe” and also not to be
missed is “Thirty Seconds Over
Some of my favourite movies was when Van co-starred with
June Allyson. They always appeared to be the perfect couple.
Charles Van Dell Johnson was born in
stock. He endured a lonely and unhappy childhood as the sole
offspring of an extremely aloof father (who was both a plumber
and real estate agent by trade) and an absentee mother (who
abandoned the family when he was three, the victim of alcoholism).
He was the embodiment of the "boy next door," playing "the
red-haired, freckle-faced soldier, sailor or B-25 bomber pilot who
used to live down the street" in MGM movies during the war years.
At the time of his death in, he was one of the last surviving
matinee idols of
bobbysoxers — he was called "the non-singing Sinatra"
In 1939, director and playwright George Abbott cast Van in
Rodgers and Hart's “Too Many Girls” in the role of a college boy,
and as understudy for all three male leads. After an uncredited
role in the film adaptation of “Too Many Girls”, Abbott hired him
as a chorus boy and Gene Kelly's understudy in Pal Joey, the last
Rodgers and Hart collaboration. That led to screen tests by
but Warner Brothers put him on contract at $300 a week.
His all-American good looks and easy demeanor were ill-suited to
the gritty movies Warner made at the time, and the studio
dropped him at the expiration of his six-month contract.
Van with Lucille Ball (on Van's left hand side)
His big break was in “A Guy Named Joe”, with Spencer Tracy
and Irene Dunne, in which he played a young pilot who acquires
a deceased pilot as his guardian angel. Midway through the
movie's production in 1943, he was involved in a car crash that
left him with a metal plate in his forehead. Dunne and Tracy
insisted that Johnson not be removed from the cast despite his
With many actors now serving in the military, the accident
proved to be a major career break for Johnson. MGM built up
his image as the all-American boy in war dramas and musicals,
with his most notable starring role as Ted Lawson in “Thirty Seconds
in April 1942.
Eve Abbott. One year later in 1948, they had a daughter,
Schuyler. The Johnsons separated in 1961 and their bitter
divorce was finalized until 1968 due to wrangling over the
financial settlement."She wiped me out in the ugliest divorce
.........................Van with his wife, Eve at happier times.
As a musical comedy performer, Johnson appeared in five films
each with June Allyson and Esther Williams. His films with Allyson
included the musical “Two Girls and a Sailor”, and the mystery
farce “Remains to Be Seen”. June Allyson summed up the actor's
screen appeal this way: "He was very, very down-to-earth," she
told The Times in 2003. "I think he was the man every girl would
like to marry. I just loved working with him. He was delightful,
he was funny, and he was always prepared."
...................The beautiful June Allyson.
With Williams he made the comedy “Easy to Wed” and “Easy to
Love”. He also starred with Judy Garland in “In the Good Old
Summertime”, and teamed with Gene Kelly as the sardonic
second lead of “Brigadoon” (one of my all time favourite musicals).
Gene Kelly and Van Johnson from "Brigadoon"
Brigadoon was directed by Vincente Minelli (one of Judy
Garland’s husband and father of Liza).
Brigadoon is a appealing musical fantasy with that
special Kelly touch. Kelly plays a New Yorker named
Tommy Albright, on a hunting vacation in
his hard-drinking pal Jeff (Van Johnson). When the
pair gets lost, they stumble into a village called Brigadoon
that seems to have been trapped in time. And in fact, it has
an enchantment causes the town to appear on the face of
the earth only once every century for a single day.
This presents a problem when Tommy falls for a local girl
named Fiona (Cyd Charisse), raising the prospect of the
ultimate long-distance romance.
Van also appeared with Audie Murphy (WWII Medal of Honor
winner, and the most decorated soldier in
"To Hell and Back." He played a soldier who's tag line, for
just about everything, was: "It's the dying truth."
Johnson was dropped by MGM in 1954, after appearing in
“The Last Time I Saw
critical acclaim for his performance as Lt. Steve Maryk in
“The Caine Mutiny”.
During the 1950s, Johnson continued to appear in films,
and he also appeared frequently in television guest
appearances. He also guest-starred on Batman as
"The Minstrel" in two episodes in 1966, Here's Lucy,
Quincy M.E., McMillan & Wife and The Love Boat and in
the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man for which he was
nominated for an Emmy Award for that role. He turned
down an opportunity to star as Eliot
“The Untouchables”, which went on to become a successful
TV series with Robert Stack as Elliot Ness.
In the late 50s and early 1960s Van again capitalized on
his musical talents by reinventing himself as a nightclub
performer and musical stage star. He made a wonderful
Harold Hill in several productions of "The Music Man" and
graced a number of musical and light comedy vehicles on
the regional and dinner theater circuits, including "Damn
Yankees," "Guys and Dolls," "Bells Are Ringing,"
"On a Clear Day...," "Forty Carats," "Bye Bye Birdie,"
"There's a Girl in My Soup" and "I Do! I Do!"
............A scene from "The Last Time I Saw Paris".
In the 1970s, after twice fighting bouts of skin cancer, he
began a second career in summer stock and dinner theater.
In 1985 he returned to Broadway for the first time since
Pal Joey, was cast in the starring role of the musical “La Cage
aux Folles”. In that same year he appeared in a supporting
role in Woody Allen's “The Purple Rose of
.......................Two photos taken of Van in the late 1980's.
Van Johnson lived in an apartment on
until 2001, when he moved to
assisted living facility in
natural causes on December 12th, 2008.
I don’t think that there are too many “old timers” both male
and female who are still with us from “The Golden Years”.
Van Johnson appeared in over 100 movie and TV shows and
fortunately like the other movie stars I have posted about,
his legacy will live on for future generations to watch and
appreciate his many talents, be it in dramas, musicals, war movies.
He was a versatile actor who can sing, dance and act with
the best of them.
Below is a film clip in which Van appeared with Lucille Ball from
the“I Love Lucy” TV show, where you will be able to see his
dancing and singing skills…….enjoy.