June Haver: The Pocket Grable

Just a few jottings about minor movie musical star June Haver (1926-2005), whom we’ve had occasion to mention here a few times.

Haver’s mother was an actress, her father a musician. When June was seven she won a piano contest and got to play with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. When she was 10, her family moved back to her birthplace, Rock Island Illinois, where she began performing on radio as a singer. She moved to Hollywood when she was still in high school. As a teenager she acted in plays and sang with Rudy Vallee and in the big bands of Ted Fio Rito and Freddy Martin.

She was only 15 when she appeared in her first film, as the singer in Ted Fio Rito’s band, in the musical short Skyline Serenade (1941). This led to some walk-on roles, and then rapidly, starring parts. She was only 18 when she replaced Alice Faye in Irish Eyes are Smiling (1944). The following year she was paired with Betty Grable in The Dolly Sisters (1945). Such musical bio-pics were her stock in trade. Others one she appeared in were I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947, the Joseph E. Howard story) and Look for the Silver Lining (1949), in which she portrayed Marilyn Miller. Similar pictures included Oh You Beautiful Doll (1949) and The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950). She was billed as “the Pocket Grable”, and considered sort of a smaller, second-string version of the better known star.

In 1947, Haver married trumpet player Jimmy Zito, with whom she had performed in big bands. The liaison lasted only a few months. She was then engaged to marry Hollywood studio dentist John Duzik in 1949, but he died following complications from a surgery. This seems to have marked a turning point in her life. Her last film was The Girl Next Door (1953). Haver retired at this stage. Always a devout Catholic, she actually entered a convent to become a nun, but this lasted only a few months as well. In 1954 she married equally conservative actor Fred MacMurray and settled down to raise the two twin daughters they adopted. All told, she was in 16 feature films, two shorts, and scattered TV appearances.

To learn more about old school show biz, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.