Betty Hutton

Betty Hutton (February 26, 1921 – March 12, 2007)[1] was an American stage, film, and television actress and singer. Hutton was born as Elizabeth June Thornburg, a daughter of railroad foreman Percy E. Thornburg (1896-1939) and his wife, the former Mabel Lum (1901-1967). Her father abandoned the family for another woman and they did not hear from or see him again until they received a telegram, in 1939, informing them of his death from suicide. Along with her older sister Marion, Betty was raised by her mother, who took the surname Hutton and was later billed as the actress Sissy Jones.

The three started singing in the family’s speakeasy when Betty was 3 years old. Related troubles with the police kept the family on the move, and eventually they moved to Detroit. When interviewed as an established star appearing at the premiere of Let’s Dance (1950), her mother — arriving with her, and following a police escort — quipped, “At least this time the police are in front of us!” Hutton sang in several local bands as a teenager, and at one point visited New York City hoping to perform on Broadway, where she was rejected.

A few years later, she was scouted by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez, who gave Hutton her entry into entertainment. In 1939, she appeared in several musical shorts for Warner Bros., and appeared in a supporting role on Broadway in Panama Hattie[2] (starring Ethel Merman) and Two for the Show,[3] both produced by Buddy DeSylva.

When DeSylva became a producer at Paramount Pictures, Hutton was signed to a featured role in The Fleet’s In (1942) which starred Paramount’s number one female star Dorothy Lamour. Hutton made an instant impact with the moviegoing public, but Paramount did not immediately promote her to major stardom. It gave her second leads in a Mary Martin film musical, Star Spangled Rhythm (1943), and another Lamour film before casting Hutton as the co-star of Bob Hope in Let’s Face It (1943). Following the release of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), Hutton was indisputably a major star, and with the release of Incendiary Blonde (1945), she had supplanted Lamour as Paramount’s number one female box office attraction.

Hutton made 19 films from 1942 to 1952 including a hugely popular The Perils of Pauline in 1947. She was billed over Fred Astaire in the 1950 musical Let’s Dance. Hutton’s greatest screen triumph came in Annie Get Your Gun (1950) for MGM, which hired her to replace an exhausted Judy Garland in the role of Annie Oakley. The film and the leading role, retooled for Hutton, was a smash hit, with the biggest critical praise going to Hutton. (Her obituary in The New York Times described her as “a brassy, energetic performer with a voice that could sound like a fire alarm.”)[4] Hutton, however, like Garland, was earning a reputation for being extremely difficult.

In 1944, she signed with Capitol Records, one of the earliest artists to do so, but became unhappy with its management and later signed with RCA Victor. Among her many films was an unbilled cameo in Sailor Beware (1952) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, in which she portrayed Dean’s girlfriend, Hetty Button.

Her time as a Hollywood star came to an end due to contract disagreements with Paramount following the Oscar-winning The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and Somebody Loves Me (1952), a biopic of singer Blossom Seeley. The New York Times indicated that her film career ended because of her insistence that her husband at the time, Charles O’Curran, direct her next film; when the studio declined, Hutton broke her contract. Hutton’s last completed film was a small one, 1957’s Spring Reunion. She gave an understated, sensitive performance in the drama, but box office receipts seemed to show that the public didn’t accept a subdued Hutton.

Hutton worked in radio, appeared in Las Vegas and in nightclubs, then tried her luck on the new medium of television. An original musical TV spectacular written especially for Hutton, Satin and Spurs (1954),[5] was an enormous flop with the public and critics, despite being one of the first television programs televised nationally by NBC in compatible color. Desilu Productions took a chance on Hutton and in 1959 gave her a sitcom The Betty Hutton Show, which quickly faded.

Hutton began headlining in Las Vegas and touring across the country. Hutton returned to Broadway briefly when she temporarily replaced a hospitalized Carol Burnett in the show Fade Out – Fade In[6] in 1964. She was signed to star in two low-budget 1967 westerns for Paramount, but was fired shortly after the projects began.

Hutton’s first marriage was to camera manufacturer Ted Briskin on September 3, 1945; they divorced in 1950. Two daughters were born to the couple, Lindsay Diane Briskin (born 1946) and Candice Elizabeth Briskin (born 1948).

Hutton’s second marriage was in 1952 to choreographer Charles O’Curran, and they divorced in 1955; he died in 1984.

Her third marriage was in 1955 to Alan W. Livingston, an executive with Capitol Records, who had created Bozo the Clown; they divorced five years later, although some accounts refer to this as a nine-month marriage.

Her fourth and final marriage was in 1960 to jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli, a brother of Conte Candoli. Hutton and Candoli had one child, Carolyn Candoli (born 1962) and then divorced in 1967 (although some accounts place the year as 1964).

Here’s Betty in 1943 for the Armed Forces Radio Service Show, Command Performance -Episode 92. “He Says Murder He Says.”

After the 1967 death of her mother in a house fire and the collapse of her last marriage, Hutton’s depression and pill addictions escalated. She divorced her fourth husband, jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli, and declared bankruptcy. Hutton had a nervous breakdown and later attempted suicide after losing her singing voice in 1970. After regaining control of her life through rehab, and the mentorship of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Maguire, Hutton converted to Roman Catholicism and took a job as a cook at a rectory in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She made national headlines when it was revealed she was working in a rectory.

In 1974, a well-publicized “Love-In for Betty Hutton” was held at New York City’s Riverboat Restaurant, emceed by comedian Joey Adams, with several old Hollywood pals on hand. The event raised $10,000 (USD) for Hutton and gave her spirits a big boost. Steady work, unfortunately, still eluded her.

Hutton appeared in an interview with Mike Douglas and a brief guest appearance in 1975 on Baretta. In 1977, Hutton was featured on The Phil Donahue Show. Hutton was then happily employed as hostess at a Newport Rhode Island jai alai arena.

She also appeared on Good Morning America which led to a 1978 televised reunion with her two daughters. Hutton began living in shared home with her divorced daughter and grandchildren in California, but returned to the East Coast for a 3 week return to the stage where she followed Dorothy Loudon as the evil Miss Hannigan in Annie on Broadway [7] in 1980. Hutton’s rehearsal of the song “Little Girls” was featured on Good Morning America.

A ninth grade drop-out, Hutton went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in psychology from Salve Regina University. During her time at college, Hutton became friends with Kristin Hersh and attended several early Throwing Muses concerts. Hersh would later write Elizabeth June as a tribute to her friend.

Her last known performance in any medium was on Jukebox Saturday Night, which aired on PBS in 1983.[8] Hutton stayed in New England and began teaching comedic acting at Boston’s Emerson College. She became estranged again from her daughters.

I was performing at the Grand Hyatt, where the PBS Special was filmed. I got to see Betty perform some of her best known tunes. In her Sixties, she was so beautiful, so charming and gracious. She received several standing ovations and you could tell that the audience genuinely loved her. She had touched audiences in so many ways for so many years. There’s a line in one of the songs she performed that night that goes, “I remember her when, I was going on ten, now my grandson’s just out of Yale.” The audience laughed as did she. Later I thought, in some ways, Betty had been present in film, on radio, records and TV during these people’s entire lifetimes.

Here’s a clip of Betty the night of the PBS special singing that song, “As Long As You Can Pronounce My Name”

After the death of her ally Father Maguire, Hutton returned to California, moving to Palm Springs in 1999 after decades in New England. Hutton hoped to grow closer with her daughters and grandchildren, as she told Robert Osborne on TCM‘s Private Screenings in April 2000, though her children remained distant. She told Osborne that she understood their hesitancy to accept a now elderly mother. The TCM interview first aired on July 18, 2000. The program was rerun as a memorial on the evening of her death in 2007, and again on July 11, 2008, April 14, 2009 and as recently as January 26, 2010.[9]

Hutton lived in Palm Springs, California until her death caused by complications from colon cancer at 86 years of age.[4] Hutton is buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Betty Hutton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6253 Hollywood Boulevard.

Alternate Bio:

Elizabeth June Thornburg (better known as Betty Hutton) is an American actor, musician and comedienne. She was born on February 26, 1921 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Raised by a single mother, Hutton started singing in the family’s speakeasy at the age of three. Related troubles with the police kept the family on the move; eventually they moved to Detroit. As a teenager, she sang in several local bands, and at one point visited New York hoping to perform in Broadway, where she was rejected.

A few years later, she was scouted by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez, who signed her immedately, giving Hutton her doorway into the entertainment world. In 1939 she appeared in several mucial shorts, and first appeared on Broadway in the musicals Panama Hattie and Two for the Show, which was produced by B.G. DeSylva in 1940.

When DeSylva became a producer at Paramount Studios, Hutton acquired a starring role in Let’s Face It in 1943. She made 14 films in 11 years during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1942, one of the first artists to sign with Capitol Records, Hutton was unhappy with their management, and signed with RCA. Her status as a Hollywood star ended during contract disagreements with Paramount.

Hutton continued working in radio and toured in nightclubs, and then entered popular entertainment on television through the 1960s. In 1967, she was signed for starring roles in Paramount westerns, but was fired shortly after the projects began. Afterwards, Hutton had trouble with alcohol abuse and eventually attempted suicide, and had a nervous breakdown. Upon taking control of her life, she went on to teach acting.

Betty Hutton married four times, and had three children,

Sources: Wikipedia  YouTube,

Hit Recordings

Year Title Chart peak Catalog number Notes
1939 “Old Man Mose” with Vincent Lopez Orchestra
“Igloo” 15 Bluebird 10300 with Vincent Lopez Orchestra
The Jitterbug Bluebird 10367 with Vincent Lopez Orchestra
1942 “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry”
“I’m Doin’ It For Defense”
1943 “Murder, He Says”
“The Fuddy Duddy Watchmaker”
1944 “Bluebirds In My Belfry”
“His Rocking Horse Ran Away” 7 Capitol 155 with Paul Weston Orchestra
It Had To Be You 5 Capitol 155 with Paul Weston Orchestra
1945 “Stuff Like That There” 4 Capitol 188 with Paul Weston Orchestra
“What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?” 15 Capitol 211 with Paul Weston Orchestra
“(Doin’ It) The Hard Way” Capitol 211 with Paul Weston Orchestra
Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief 1 Capitol 220 with Paul Weston Orchestra
“A Square In The Social Circle” Capitol 220 with Paul Weston Orchestra
1946 “My Fickle Eye” 21 RCA Victor 20-1915 with Joe Lilley Orchestra
1947 “Poppa, Don’t Preach To Me” Capitol 380 with Joe Lilley Orchestra
“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” Capitol 409 with Joe Lilley Orchestra
1949 “(Where Are You?) Now That I Need You” Capitol 620 with Joe Lilley Orchestra
1950 Orange Colored Sky 24 RCA Victor 20-3908 with Pete Rugolo Orchestra
“Can’t Stop Talking” RCA Victor 20-3908 with Pete Rugolo Orchestra
A Bushel and a Peck” (duet with Perry Como) 3 RCA Victor 20-3930 with Mitchell Ayres Orchestra
1951 Blow a Fuse RCA Victor 20-4179 with Pete Rugolo Orchestra
“The Musicians” (with Dinah Shore, Tony Martin and Phil Harris) 24 RCA Victor 20-4225 with Henri René Orchestra
1953 “Goin’ Steady” 21 Capitol 2522 with Nelson Riddle Orchestra
1954 “The Honeymoon’s Over” (duet with Tennessee Ernie Ford) 16 Capitol 2809 with Billy May Orchestra
1956 Hit the Road to Dreamland Capitol 3383 with Vic Schoen Orchestra

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