Betty Hutton: Ball of Energy

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The late lamented Ms. Hutton (born in 1921) is doubly relevant to this site.: 1) As even many of her fans may not realize, she got her early start in vaudeville; and 2) so many of her classic movies are self-reflexively about show business.

Raised by her mother in an illegal (Prohibition-era) saloon in Battle Creek, Michigan, she made her show business debut singing for the customers. By the time she was a teenager she was performing in small time vaudeville in the Detroit area. By this time, the Big Time circuits were already dead, but there were other avenues of success and Hutton stumbled onto them very rapidly. By 1937, she was singing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. By the 1940s she was already starring in Hollywood movies. Of particular note here are Incendiary Blond (1945, about Texas Guinan), The Perils of Pauline (1947, about silent film star Pearl White), Annie Get Your Gun (1950, about Annie Oakley, with songs by Irving Berlin — see today’s other post for a relevant article), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, set in Ringling Bros. circus), and Somebody Loves Me (1952, about Blossom Seeley).

She played several dates at the Palace Theatre during its famous vaudeville revival in 1952. There followed a period of steep decline. After she broke her contract with Paramount Pictures over a dispute (she wanted her choreographer husband to get opportunities to direct), the movie roles vanished overnight. There were failed tv shows, some night club engagements…followed by alcoholism, drugs, a nervous breakdown, bankruptcy and suicide attempts.

She turned up in the 1970s washing dishes in a Catholic rectory in Rhode Island (through the agency of a clergyman who’d helped get her off booze). She later got a masters degree from a local college, and enjoyed some sporadic revival of attention in her final years. She passed away in 2007.

Check out this cool artifact, a 1977 interview with her on The Mike Douglas Show:

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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