Born Eleanor Geisman, October 7, 1917, in the Bronx, NY; died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis, July 8, 2006, in Ojai, CA. Actress. Screen actress June Allyson was best known for her roles in MGM films of the 1940s and 1950s. She played the ideal girlfriend in musicals in the 1940s, then progressed to playing the faultless wife in the 1950s. Allyson was a perky blonde whose husky voice belied her petite physique.
Born in the Bronx borough of New York in 1917 to a Dutch father and French mother, Allyson's young life was marred by poverty. Her father, a building supervisor, was an alcoholic who abandoned Allyson and her mother when she was only six months old. At the age of eight, Allyson was riding a bicycle and suffered severe injury when she was crushed by a tree limb. She spent the next four years in casts and a back brace. Allyson also required expensive medical treatments and medical therapies which made her family even more desperately poor.
When she recovered, Allyson decided to teach herself to dance. She used films starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire as models, and on a dare tried out for a Broadway chorus line in a musical comedy when she was only in the seventh grade. Allyson appeared in a number of chorus lines for Broadway productions, including the revue Sing Out the News , for which she changed her name to June Allyson. Though she later admitted she had little talent for the genre, she continued her career on stage through the early 1940s. In the New York Times Aljean Harmetz quoted Allyson as saying, "I couldn't dance, and, Lord knows, I couldn't sing, but I got by somehow."
Allyson's film career was launched after she acted in the stage comedy Panama Hattie . She was the understudy to lead actress Betty Hutton, and assumed her role as Florrie for five performances when Hutton became ill. A Broadway producer, George Abbott, attended one of the productions and cast Allyson in his musical Best Foot Forward . When MGM purchased the movie rights to Best Foot Forward , Allyson went to Hollywood to appear in her role in the film version, released in 1943.
Signing a deal with MGM to become a contract player, Allyson primarily appeared in their musicals in the girlfriend role in the 1940s. These films made her a popular star, especially with American soldiers serving in World War II. The young actress's breakout role came in 1944's Two Girls and a Sailor , in which she appeared opposite Van Johnson as his girlfriend. She would go on to appear in a number of films with Johnson including 1947's High Barbaree and 1948's The Bride Goes Wild . Other significant film roles for Allyson in the 1940s included two films with Robert Walker, 1945's Her Highness and the Bellboy and 1946's Till the Clouds Roll By . Allyson appeared as Jo March in the 1949 version of Little Women .
By the 1950s, Allyson left musicals and girlfriend roles behind and began to appear as the perfect wife in a number of films. One of her first wife roles came in 1949's The Stratton Story opposite James Stewart, who played an amputee baseball player; she played the wife of another baseball player depicted by Stewart in 1955's Strategic Air Command . Allyson also appeared in two more films with Johnson, 1951's Too Young to Kiss and 1953's Remains to Be Seen . In addition, she played a widow in 1953's The Glenn Miller Story , one of her best-known roles, and a pilot's wife in 1955's The McConnell Story .
While Allyson was a star, she grew weary of playing idealized women. However, her attempt to break out of the typecast resulted in box office failure. In 1955's The Strike , Allyson played a severe, cruel woman who drives her husband, played by José Ferrer, to a nervous breakdown. Allyson's acting chops in the role were highly regarded, but the ticket-buying public was not impressed.
Allyson's public image and, to a great degree, life were controlled by MGM until she left the studio in the 1950s. By this time, she had married and had two children with her first husband, actor Dick Powell. Though the marriage had difficult moments, the couple remained together until Powell's death in 1963. The year Powell died, Allyson married his barber, Glenn Maxwell, but it ended in divorce two years later. The couple later remarried but ended up divorcing again.
After leaving MGM, Allyson's film career struggled on through the late 1950s. In 1957, she appeared in the remake of My Man Godfrey . Two years later, Allyson had a role in the melodrama A Stranger in My Arms . The actress then worked in television with occasional appearances on her own anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson , from 1959 to 1961, guest spots on The Judy Garland Show , and appearances on other television shows. Allyson also returned to the stage, appearing in Broadway in 40 Carats . She also toured in No, No Nanette .
Allyson's film career was briefly revived in the early 1970s with They Only Kill Their Masters . After marrying dentist David Ashrow in 1976, Allyson took on guest spots in television series like Murder, She Wrote and also appeared in television movies. She published her autobiography, written with Frances Spatz Leighton, in 1982. In the mid-1980s, Allyson also became the national spokesperson for Depend adult diapers and appeared in a series of commercials for the product for a number of years. Allyson continued to act on television into the 1990s.
After a long illness, Allyson died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis at her home in Ojai, California; she was 88. She is survived by her third husband, Dr. David Ashrow; her children from her first marriage, Pamela and Richard; and a grandson.
Los Angeles Times , July 11, 2006, p. B10; New York Times , July 11, 2006, p. C14; Times (London), July 12, 2006, p. 58; Washington Post , July 11, 2006, p. B6.