Van Johnson

Performer

Male

Born: August 25, 1916
Newport, Rhode Island, USA

Died: December 12, 2008
Nyack, New York

Van Johnson, the handsome and affable screen star who reached such heights of popularity during the 1940s that he was called "The Voiceless Sinatra," died at an assisted living center in Nyack, AP reported. He was 92. Red-haired, blue-eyed, tall and preternaturally wholesome, the former Broadway chorus boy skyrocketed to fame during the years of World War II, when Hollywood was casting around for replacements for missing stars. (A 1943 car crash that almost decapitated him, and left him with a metal plate in his forehead, exempted him from service.) On the strength of his innocent, all-American charm, and roles in a string of light comedies and dramas, he was mobbed by bobby-soxers wherever he went. In 1945, he was the second biggest box office draw in the nation, behind Bing Crosby.

Obituary: His big break was in a 1943 war movie called "A Guy Named Joe"—a film that was almost derailed by his auto accident. He is best-remembered today for a series of movie musicals, in which he played opposite some equally all-American female stars, such as June Allyson and Esther Williams. He acted with Judy Garland in "In the Good Old Summertime" (1949) and alongside Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in "Brigadoon" (1954).

Mr. Johnson and Kelly knew each other from their Broadway days, when the younger man was the understudy to Kelly's Joey in the 1940 production of Pal Joey. Prior to that, Mr. Johnson, a Rhode Island plumber's son, had taken roles in New Faces of 1936 and Too Many Girls. He would return to the stage in the mid-60s, acting in Come On Strong, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Mating Dance. In the 1980s, he played George for a term in the Broadway premiere of La Cage aux Folles.

Vintage Van Johnson
While never known as an actor of particular depth, he nonetheless ventured into more serious films as he grew older. He played a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald opposite Elizabeth Taylor in "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954), had a significant role in "The Caine Mutiny" the same year, and starred in "The End of the Affair" with Sarah Miles. In the 1960s and '70s, when the film roles dried up, he did a lot of television and became one of the most familiar faces on the summer-stock theatre circuit, touring for three decades. He also accepted a two-year contract to star in The Music Man in London.

"The white-haired ladies who come to matinees are the people who put me on top," he said in a 1992 interview, where he was appearing at a suburban Detroit theatre. "I'm still grateful to them."

In 1985 he was well used by Woody Allen as one of the old-time Hollywood stars trapped in a frozen black-and-white film in "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

He was born Charles Van Johnson on Aug. 25, 1916, in Newport, RI, and was named for his father, a chilly Swedish-American laborer who raised his son alone after the young boy's alcoholic mother deserted the family.

His marriage to Eve Lynn Abbott (1947-1968) produced a daughter, Schuyler. The two met in an unusual way. Abbott's first husband, Keenan Wynn, was also Mr. Johnson's best friend. After his early car accident, the actor recuperated in the Wynn household. He and Eve fell in love while he was there. Van and Eve married the day after the Wynn's divorce was decreed. The marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce.

 

Roles

Playbill Cover - The 39th Annual Tony Awards - 1985 The 39th Annual Tony Awards - 1985
Jun. 2, 1985 - Jun. 2, 1985
Participating Artist Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - La Cage aux Folles La Cage aux Folles
Aug. 21, 1983 - Nov. 15, 1987
Georges Performer
(Replacement)
 
Playbill Cover - Mating Dance Mating Dance
Nov. 3, 1965 - Nov. 3, 1965
Bruce Barrett Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Come on Strong Come on Strong
Oct. 4, 1962 - Nov. 3, 1962
Herbert H. Lundquist Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Pal Joey Pal Joey
Dec. 25, 1940 - Nov. 29, 1941
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
    Victor Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Too Many Girls Too Many Girls
Oct. 18, 1939 - May 18, 1940
Student Performer
(Original)
 
New Faces of 1936
May 19, 1936 - Nov. 7, 1936
Performer
(Original)
 
 
 
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