Betty Hutton, star of stage and screen, died Sunday at age 86 of complications from colon cancer.
Hutton was born Elizabeth June Thornburg on February 26, 1921 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her father, a railroad foreman, left the family while Hutton was still young. She entered show business while still young, singing in a speakeasy run by her family at age 3. Hutton was discovered by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez and performed with his band for a few years. She made her film debut in several Warner Brothers shorts. By 1940 she was appearing on Broadway in Two For the Show. That same year she appeared on Broadway in Panama Hattie.
It was in 1942 that she made her feature film debut in The Fleet's In. For the next several years she appeared in such films as The Miracle of Morgan Creek, Incendiary Blonde, and The Stork Club. She played Pearl White in the bio flick The Perils of Pauline in 1947. Perhaps her biggest claim to fame came when she replaced Judy Garland as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. Hutton made the part all her own and it remains the role for which she is most famous. She appeared in the lead role in the big budget extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth. Unfortunately for Hutton, after appearing in the film Somebody Loves Me, she insisted that her husband at the time, Charles O'Curran and Paramount refused. As a result, Hutton broke her contract and effectively ended her film career.
Hutton would return to the stage, appearing on Broadway in Betty Hutton and Her All-Star International Show in the early Fifties. In the Sixties she would appear on Broadway in Fade In, Fade Out. She would also play Miss Hannigan in Annie in the Seventies, replacing Dorothy Loudon.
Hutton also made a career for herself in television. She starred in the NBC TV special Satins and Spurs in 1954 and had her own show during the 1959-1960 season. She made guest appearances on Burke's Law, Gunsmoke, and Baretta. Following her acting career, Hutton would get a master's degree from Salve Regina, a Catholic college. She would go on to teach acting and oral interpretation at Emerson College.
I must admit that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Betty Hutton. Beyond obviously being beautiful and blonde, she was also one of the most vivacious stars of the silver screen. Her voice was an incredible instrument, and I imagine she could be heard across a room even without a microphone. She also a natural gift for comedy, with perfect timing and a face that was very expressive. Although I've always been a fan of Judy Garland, I have to wonder if it wasn't serendipity for Paramount that she was unable to finish Annie Get Your Gun. I can certainly picture no one better in the role than Betty Hutton was. I must say that I am truly saddened by her passing.