On the Creation of June Allyson

Born this day, June Allyson (Eleanor Geisman, 1917-2006). Allyson came along too late for vaudeville but there is little doubt she would have gone that route had it been available to her. I find myself most interested in the early phase of her career, which sort of happens at a time when the last echoes of vaudeville are still being heard.

Raised in near poverty by a single mother in the Bronx, badly injured by a fallen tree when she was eight years old (several broken bones, including her skull and back), the odds were against this girl living, let alone walking, dancing, or becoming a star. But the plucky quality of determination one perceives in Allyson onscreen radiated from an interior place. She learned to dance at Ned Wayburn’s school and got jobs dancing at the Lido Club in Montreal and the Copacabana. She broke into films and Broadway almost simultaneously. In 1937 Educational Pictures cast her in musical shorts opposite the likes of Herman Timberg, Pat Rooney Jr. and  a very young Danny Kaye. She also co-starred with Hal Le Roy in Vitaphone shorts. In 1938, she was hired for the chorus of the Broadway revue Sing Out the News. This led to chorus jobs in the shows Very Warm for May (1939), Higher and Higher (1940), and Panama Hattie (1940), where she (very appropriately) understudied for Betty Hutton, and was able to go on in the star’s place for 5 performances. She would then proceed very shortly to become a highly Huttonesque movie star.

She was next in both the Broadway (1941-42) and Hollywood (1943) versions of Best Foot Forward, enabling her transition to movie stardom, and the long succession of musicals and other roles over the next half century. In 1945, she married Dick Powell, which lasted until his death in 1963. Two other marriages followed. Her last film was the low budget rom-com A Girl, Three Guys, and a Gun (2000).

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