In Memoriam: Van Johnson

December 13, 2008

Known for his good looking, boy next door wholesomeness of Hollywood’s entertainment business during the 1940s and ‘50s, Van Johnson passed away of natural causes at the age of 92 on Friday, December 12, 2008.

He starred in such films as 30 Seconds over Tokyo, A Guy Named Joe, and The Caine Mutiny, and worked along side such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, and June Allyson during his two decade contract with MGM.

During his career he proved to be a multitalented actor, having the ability to star in comedies such as The Bride Goes Wild and Too Young to Kiss as well as war movies such as Go for Broke and Command Decision. He was no stranger to musicals, performing in Thrill of a Romance, and Brigadoon and also excelled in dramas with such films as State of the Union and Madame Curie. Most recently he had a small role in 1985 as a movie actor in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.

He was born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25, 1916, in Newport, Rhode Island, where his father was a real estate salesman. From his earliest years he was awestruck by the touring companies that played in Newport theaters, and after high school he announced his intention to try his luck in New York. He arrived in 1934 with $5 and his belongings packed in a straw suitcase.

Through small jobs he got to know Lucille Ball who invited him to dinner. Discouraged by his lack of job proposals, Johnson said this of the evening in a 1963 interview, "Lucille tried to cheer me up, but I just couldn't seem to laugh. Suddenly she said to me, 'There's Billy Grady over there; he's MGM's casting director. I'm going to introduce you, and you're at least going to act like you're the star I think you will be.'"

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