By Steve Starr
The once gorgeous star known as the "Blonde Bombshell" eventually ended up as a cook and housekeeper for priests in a Rhode Island rectory, where she drove them all crazy.
Elizabeth June Thornburg was born February 26, 1921, in Battle Creek, Michigan. When Betty was two, her father abandoned the family. Alcoholic Mrs. Thornburg, in order to make ends meet, opened a small speakeasy in their home.
When Betty was three, she and her five-year-old sister Marion began to sing for the customers, and, when Betty was eleven years old, the sisters sang in the streets and in other speakeasies for coins. Trouble with the law kept the family on the move, and they ended up in the slums of Detroit. There, living in poverty, Mrs. Thornburg found work in the auto factories.
When she was 12, Betty won second place in an amateur singer contest, and handed her 50-cent prize to the first place winner.
Years later, in 1950, she explained, "I wasn't being sweet. I wasn't being generous. I just didn't want any part of second money." At 13, Betty and Marion found work singing at a resort. Soon, they were performing with several local bands.
Two years later the sisters were hired to become the lead vocalists for the famed Vincent Lopez Orchestra for $65 a week, of which 20 percent went back to him. Lopez consulted a numerologist who suggested he give the sisters the solid-sounding surname Hutton. They sang both as a sister act and as soloists. Glen Miller hired Marion Hutton away and she became lead singer of the Modernaires with the Glen Miller Orchestra. For a short while, Marion became the bigger star.
In 1939, Mr. Thornburg committed suicide. That same year, Betty Hutton made several musical short films. In 1940 she left the Lopez band to appear on Broadway in Two For The Show. Then, producer B.G.DeSylva hired her for his musical Panama Hattie, which starred Ethel Merman. When DeSylva took over the reins at Paramount Pictures, he brought Betty to Hollywood for her first big film musical, The Fleets In (1941). Hutton was a sensation, and made 14 films in the next eleven years.
There was no one with more energy than Betty Hutton. Her frantic, manic, comic style was totally unique. She was known as the "Blonde Bombshell" and "Bouncing Betty", and became the musical queen of Hollywood.
She was beautiful, sexy, and a dynamo who could act, dance and sing better and certainly louder than almost anyone. Yet, she could also vocalize sweet ballads. In 1944, she said, "When I sing, I don't stop by putting my neck into it. I put my feet, ankles, knees, torso, teeth and topknot into every note. Gosh, do I knock myself out!"