Celebrities: STARRLIGHT

Van Johnson- heartthrob of the 1940's dies at 92

Editors Note: Van Johnson, the popular Hollywood star in the '40s and '50s with films such as "30 Seconds over Tokyo," "A Guy Named Joe" and "The Caine Mutiny," died on Friday, December 12, 2008. Van Johnson's death was of natural causes. He was 92 years old.

Watch and download free movies starring Van Johnson:

Van Johnson Elizabeth Taylor Last Time I Saw Paris movieThe Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson star in this heartwrenching tale of a love gone sour.

Van Johnson from Pied Piper of Hamelin"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (1957)

From the pages of the immortal classics comes this famous story. The singing, rhyming citizens of Hamelin hope to win a competition with rival towns for royal recognition.

Below, is an article about the life of Van Johnson by EMOL.org's Illinois Entertainment Reporter, Steve Starr, part of his STARRLIGHT Series.

Van JohnsonThe wonderful life of Van Johnson

By Steve Starr
Entertainment Magazine

The handsome red-headed star ran off with his best friend's wife and married her on the very day of her divorce. He eventually left her for a chorus boy.      

Charles Van Johnson was born August 25, 1916, in Newport Rhode Island, a town known for its gorgeous mansions, tennis tournaments, and yachts. His parents divorced when he was three and his father was given custody of their only child.

Charles grew to be a six-foot-one, red-headed, freckled, wholesome looking star-struck kid, appearing in school plays whenever he could. He began his professional career appearing as a chorus boy on Broadway in Entre Nous, and then in New Faces of 1936.

Soon he landed a role as a college boy in a Rodgers and Hart musical, Too Many Girls, and was spotted by RKO Studio agents who hired him to recreate his role in the 1940 film version starring Lucille Ball, in which he became chorus boy #41.

Johnson signed a six-month contract with Warner Bros. Pictures, where he had a bit part in Murder In The Big House (1941). While driving with friends Keenan Wynn and his wife Eve to a screening of the Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracy film Keeper of the Flame (1942), Johnson was in a terrible, near death car accident that spared his passengers but left him needing a metal plate inserted in his head. Spencer Tracy was his co-star in a movie he was working on, and insisted that the film, A Guy Named Joe (1943), the first of five movies he made with Esther Williams, be held up until Johnson recovered at the Wynn's home.

The auto crash and resulting scar that later showed up in some of his films seemed to enhance his career. Now exempt from military service in World War II, he received a seven-year contract with MGM Studios, where he made musicals with the most popular stars of the day. Johnson, a great dancer and charming singer, was also a very good actor equally at home in musical comedy or serious drama. He became a favorite of teenagers, then called Bobby-Soxers, who inundated his studio with thousands of their fan letters and mounds of homemade cookies.

Even though he could sing well, he was often called "The Voiceless Sinatra," stemming from his similar popularity among the same young crowd. In 1944, he first received top billing in Two Girls and a Sailor 1944), opposite June Allyson, with whom he made five films. For two years, Johnson was rated one of Hollywood's top ten box-office draws, placing second in 1945 and third in 1946.

On January 27, 1947, Johnson married Eve Lynn Abbot, who on that very day had divorced his best friend, actor Keenan Wynn. Van's movie released that year, The Romance of Rosy Ridge, was co-star Janet Leigh's film debut. A year later, the Johnsons produced a daughter, who years later stated in a tabloid, The Globe, that her father was a cold and disinterested parent.  The Johnsons separated in 1960 and divorced in 1968. Johnson's stepson, Ned Wynn, proclaimed that Van left Eve for a male dancer during a stage production of The Music Man. In 1999, a few years before her death, Eve told the press that their marriage had been arranged by MGM to cover up his sexual orientation.

In the 1950's, Johnson declared that he had been a movie star and now wanted to be an actor, stating, "…a man just gets to his beautiful period when he is forty."

Van's problem was that, although he was a bit heavier and had acquired a more worried expression on his face, he did not look much different at forty than at twenty, and his boyishness hurt his work at sustaining belief in portrayals of maturity, even though he gave great performances, such as in The Caine Mutiny (1954), in which his scar showed prominently. Johnson made numerous television appearances throughout the 1960's and 1970's. Some of  hisvery successful other films include Wives & Lovers (1963) and Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968). In 1985, Van made a comeback touring with the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles, and appeared in the Woody Allen film, The Purple Rose of Cairo.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson turned 90 years old, his red locks a bit gray, but sporting his trademark red socks.

Van Johnson died of natural causes on Friday, December 12, 2008.s


The Stars by Richard Schickel
The Movie Stars Story edited by Robyn Karney
Van Johnson websites

Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect-Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications.  A photographer, artist, designer, and writer, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in original Art Deco photo frames and artifacts, celebrating its 39th anniversary in 2006. Steve Starr's personal collection of over 950 gorgeous Art Deco frames is filled with photos of Hollywood's most glamorous stars.

STARRLIGHT- Starr's column on movie stars of the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's, appears in various publications that include Entertainment Magazine Online, the Windy City Times, and the Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.

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Van Johnson DVDs

Miracle in the Rain

Starring: Jane Wyman, Van Johnson Director: Rudolph Maté

• Plot Outline Wartime romance about a lonely man and woman who meet one rainy afternoon in New York.
• Plot Synopsis: A fanciful, O. Henryesque tale set in New York City during World War II. A shy, lonely woman and a dashing soldier from Tennessee meet in the rain late one afternoon, and end up falling in love. But Fate threatens to come between them.

• Studio: Warner Home Video
• DVD Release Date: February 6, 2007

The Caine Mutiny

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson

• Plot Outline When a US Naval captain shows signs of mental instability that jeopardizes the ship, the first officer relieves him of command and faces court martial for mutiny.
• Plot Synopsis: During the Second World War, onboard a small insignificant ship in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, an event occurs unlike any that the United States Navy has ever experianced. A Ship's Captain is removed from his command by his Executive Officer in an apparent outright act of mutiny. As the trial of the mutineers unfold, it is then learned that the Captain of the ship was mentally unstable, perhaps even insane. The Navy must then decide: was the Caine Mutiny a criminal act? Or an act of courage to save a ship from destruction at the hands of her Captain.

• Studio: Sony Pictures
• DVD Release Date: December 15, 1998
• Run Time: 125 minutes

Starring: Roger Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson

Van Johnson plays Charles Wills a young reporter for the "Stars and Stripes" in Paris. He secretly dreams of writing the great novel that is in his head and in the midst of the celebrations for VE Day he encounters two very different sisters, Helen Ellswirth a flighty, beautiful fun loving girl not used to any responsibilty and her older sister Marion (Donna Reed),the down to earth emotionally repressed one. Both women are like night and day and while Marion falls for Charles it is Helen who captures his eye and his heart. They marry and Charles enters the unorthodox world of the Ellswirth family presided over by Helen and Marion's lovable but laid back father James (Walter Pidgeon in a delightful performance). From Amazon

Director: Richard Brooks
Format: Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC
Studio: Westlake Entertainment
DVD Release Date: November 1, 2003
Run Time: 116 minutes