Monday, August 25, 2008


Today is Van Johnson's 98th birthday. and today was the premiere on Broadway of "42nd Street"produced by David Merrick at the Winter Garden Theatre back in 1980. Speaking of the The old trooper first, however, Van was the star of such films as "Everybody Dance" "Till The Clouds Roll By" and of course "Brigadoon" lives now in quiet retirement in New York. His acting career began in earnest in 1936 in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1936. In 1939, he landed a part in Rodgers and Harts Too Many Girls in the role of a cute college boy (after being Gene Kelly's understudy in Pal Joey). RKO then signed him to a short-term contract to star in the film adaptation of the play which became Johnson's film debut. Good old MGM picked up his contract from RKO soon after and cast him in several bit parts. In 1942, while en route to a preview screening for Keeper of the Flame, he was involved in a car crash that left him with a metal plate in his forehead. Fate? Maybe! This little accident exempted him from service in World War II. After this incident, MGM built up his image as the "all-American boy" by co-starring him in films with June Allyson and Esther Williams, among others. He also had serious roles in films such as "A Guy Named Joe", "A Week-End at the Waldorf, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and that war classic "Battleground". In the 50's, Johnson even made a very memorable appearance on "I Love Lucy". Johnson left MGM for Columbia Pictures to co-star in The Caine Mutiny (1954) to much acclaim. (His scar from the car crash is very visible in this film.) He also enjoyed one of his most memorable leading roles in the 1954 musical Brigadoon, with Gene Kelly. In 1955, Johnson made a memorable appearance on I Love Lucy.Since 1960, his film career has been minimal. Johnson guest-starred on television shows such as Batman, Here's Lucy and The Love Boat and in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man. In 1985, he enjoyed something of a comeback. He toured with the hit Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles and appeared in a supporting role in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Van Johnson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6600 Hollywood Blvd. The story of the premiere was amazing. Here was this incredible musical that was opening to rave reviews and good old David Merrick steps up to the mike after all of the applause and announces .. "But this is tragic..." He went on to say that Gower Champion had died that very afternoon. Good old publicity hound Merrick had kept this quiet from everyone except book writer Michael Stewart-- even the young girl in the cast that Gower was having an affair with at that time! All for publicity! David Merrick was a creep-- a piece of work. Some day I should attempt a musical on this creep-- it might just sell.

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