Friday, December 12, 2008

Farewell to the Boy Next Door

Sad news today: Van Johnson, one of MGM's biggest stars from the early '40s to the mid '50s, has passed away at the age of 92.

One of my very favorite Johnson movies is one of the films that made him a star: TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR (1944), costarring June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, and MGM's less well known "boy next door," Tom Drake. This is just about my younger daughter's favorite movie so the video has gotten a lot of play in our house over the years. Johnson and Allyson were a well-matched team and made several other films together.

The post Civil War film THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947), with another frequent costar, Janet Leigh, was another extra-special movie which deserves to be better remembered.

Another favorite is THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), an exquisitely lovely depiction of life in a small town during WWII. This MGM film was based on William Saroyan's novel; Van played Marcus, the brother who goes to war, leaving behind siblings Donna Reed, Mickey Rooney, and Butch Jenkins. The superb cast also included James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Fay Bainter, Frank Morgan, Dorothy Morris, Ray Collins, and, in a bit role, Robert Mitchum.

Other Johnson films reviewed here: THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY (1942), EASY TO WED (1946), THE DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), and CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE (1953).

As an MGM fan from way back, I've seen Johnson in many other films, including A GUY NAMED JOE (1943), THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), STATE OF THE UNION (1948), IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949), PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952), and BRIGADOON (1954). Johnson also appeared with Humphrey Bogart in THE CAINE MUTINY in 1954 and brightened YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968) as Henry Fonda's pal.

Johnson titles I still have ahead of me to see for the first time include WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945), BATTLEGROUND (1948), and COMMAND DECISION (1949).

More from The Washington Post.

Van Johnson was a significant part of what made MGM the greatest studio of its era. The work he leaves behind is a wonderful legacy.

Update: TCM will preempt its evening line up on Tuesday, December 23rd, to pay tribute to Van Johnson.


Blogger Unknown said...

I'm so sorry to learning of his passing. I always found him to be a likeable actor and I'd say The Human Comedy is one of my all time favorites. Surely it deserves to be out on DVD! I also like Johnson's film with Esther Williams but the title escapes me.
Glora DeHaven is also a favorite of mine but she seldom receives attention.

4:43 PM  
Blogger windycorner said...

Even though Mr. Johnson lived a good long life, this is sad news. He was always my mother's favorite actor so I sought out his films. He had such kind eyes and a lovely smile. Thanks for sharing all the titles, I'll add some to Mom's netflix queue.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

A very capable actor, who performed in a surprisingly wide variety of genres. His choir boy looks made him the boy next door, but there was a lot more to Van Johnson. Waiting for the TCM tribute to see which films they choose.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Truly sad news. My mother and I chatted about him and his movies last night. Two Girls and A Sailor and Battleground are, off the top of my head, favorite Van Johnson movies. Very different movies, but he's great in both...however, Two Girls and A Sailor is really June Allyson's show. He had such a grin.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Oh my gosh Laura- I didn't know. I'm saddened to read this here for the first time. Van Johnson is another one of my favorites. Last Time I Saw Paris has to be my favorite movie starring Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor.

6:59 AM  

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