Monday, September 8, 2008

Energizer bunny has nothing on this girl

OK, here's a question. What do you get when you mix Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Lucille Ball, Drew Barrymore and energizer bunny?
Well.... it's a super star singer, dancer, actress, funny face.. the girl you have to love.
Here's a hint: Bob Hope called her once "a vitamin pill with legs."
Yes, it's amazing Betty Hutton.

I watch her videos, and wonder does she ever get tired. Can't she just stand there, look pretty and sing? She must be one of the first diagnosed with ADD. I don't think they spent any money on her choreograper. All that shaking, and jumping was so natural for Betty. It was swing era, and the jitterbug was a free (street) style of dancing. Betty was born for that. I can't stop watching her. She always leaves a smile on my face.

There was no one with more energy than Betty Hutton. She could out run Energizer Bunny. 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.

Life story that only Hollywood can make.
Betty was born Elizabeth June Thornburg in 1921 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her father walked out when she was two and killed himself sixteen years later; her mother was a factory worker turned bootlegger turned alcoholic. 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. They joined Vincent Lopez's band at 15. 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 1942 at age 21 Hutton was signed to starring role in The Fleet's. She made 14 films in 11 years during the 1940s and early 1950s, including Annie Get Your Gun for MGM in the role of Annie Oakley. Her career extended into the '60s, what with drugs, booze, bankruptcy, a failed suicide, and, eventually, God, it didn't get better. Married four times with three daughters, Hutton lived near Palm Springs, California until her death in 2007. None of her three daughters attended the funeral.

Time Magazine article, April 24, 1950

It was not an auspicious debut. Mom strummed the ukulele in the blind pig that she operated in Lansing, Mich., and out onto the floor came a skinny, freckled five-year-old named Betty June Thornburg, with her sister Marion, seven. While the speakeasy customers sipped needled beer, the blonde moppets sang and wriggled their way through Black Bottom and other favorite anthems of the year 1926.

"Mom didn't do anything real bad," recalls Betty Hutton, as larger audiences have since come to know the freckle-face. "How is a woman supposed to make her living with two kids when her husband deserted her? Mom just ran a joint on a small scale. We'd operate until the cops got wise. Then they'd move in and close us down, and we'd move somewhere else. Marion and I would entertain the customers by dancing and singing. We really lived that way until we were 12 and 14 years old . . . Things were really tough. At one time we were down to one can of beans."

When she could get it, Betty's mother, Mabel Lum Thornburg, took daytime work on the assembly lines in automobile factories at 22¢ an hour. For a time, after she and the children had begun to share a Detroit basement flat with two other families, she worked as a "tackspitter," tacking upholstery into car seats. She would come home at night "with nails in her fingers where she'd missed." Says Betty grimly: "I made up my mind then that no one—no one—would keep us like that."

No one has. Last week 29-year-old Betty Hutton was a $260,000-a-year movie star on the verge of her splashiest success. She was still going strong on the momentum she had picked up on the wrong side of the tracks. Her relentless determination to get to the top had flung her from speakeasies to street-singing to bandstands, then onto Broadway and into the startled public eye as the frenzied high priestess of a nameless chaos-with-music that has been wrongly called jitterbugging.

It has been nine years since she zoomed into Hollywood. All but bursting with vitality, she tore into her film career with a bellicose zeal and a tomboyish winsomeness that suggested a cross between one of the Furies and Little Orphan Annie. Last year, having made two duds in a row (Dream Girl and Red, Hot and Blue), she decided, probably correctly: "My career needed a jolt."

Plotting & Prayers. Within the fortnight, U.S. moviegoers will see the jolt her career has gotten: MGM's Annie Get Your Gun, 1950's biggest, costliest ($3,200,000) musical. The star: Betty Hutton. As something extra, Actress Hutton will pop up as co-star with Fred Astaire this summer in another brightly colored song & dance film, Paramount's Let's Dance. Though Hollywood's box office has been slumping, there are still surefire receipts in a lavish Technicolored musical—and not enough surefire cinemusical stars to go around. As the cinemusical girl of 1950, Betty holds just about as firm a grip on the immediate future as Hollywood can offer.

Impatient but determined, Betty had prayed, pleaded and plotted for the role of Annie from the time she saw Ethel Merman do it in the 1946 Broadway hit. She never doubted she would get it, even after M-G-M outbid Paramount, her home studio, for the film rights. With Judy Garland cast in the lead and shooting already begun, Betty still insisted on betting an M-G-M executive that she would play the part.

After 30 days of expensive shooting by two directors, MGM's Garland had a nervous breakdown, and the studio had to start again from scratch. Betty sent emissaries scurrying to MGM's Louis B. Mayer, who said: "We'd be silly to give the part to somebody on another lot." But after rummaging around among its own players, the biggest star constellation in Hollywood, M-G-M decided that it needed Betty just as badly as she needed the part.

It was a decision that audiences are likely to approve. Originally tailored to Broadway's first lady of musicomedy, Annie Get Your Gun demands a star with high-voltage showmanship and an earthy flavor. Betty Hutton, who is not remarkably pretty, by movie standards, nor a remarkably good singer or dancer, has a vividly unique personality in a town that tends to reduce beauty and talent to mass-produced patterns. Watching her in action has some of the fascination of waiting for a wildly sputtering fuse to touch off an alarmingly large firecracker.

Annie Get Your Gun breaks no new ground. But thanks to irrepressible Betty, Irving Berlin's fine ten-song score and a showmanlike production, it should leave moviegoers feeling that they have been roundly entertained. The picture sticks close to the original musicomedy book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, takes all its music & lyrics from the original Berlin tunes. It loses a few laughs getting by the censor, as well as five of the show's lesser songs. It gains trom jettisoning a conventional romantic subplot and from the broader canvas of the screen.

Brimming with colorful costumes and extravagant, Hollywood-style Wild West shows, the film is a fictional embroidery of the romance and rivalry between Sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Crackshot Frank Butler (Broadway's Howard Keel). Annie, who can't miss anything she shoots at, eventually learns that You Can't Get a Man with a Gun. She gets him by learning how to shoot and miss.

Betty carries the show with such riotous energy and eagerness to please that she threatens to carry it too far. She plunges into her first two numbers like a bronco out of a rodeo pen, filling the screen with so much motion that it is hard to listen for the words—and impossible to ignore the singer. She lacks Ethel Merman's craftiness with comedy, but along with her unbridled vitality, she gives the role something that brassy Ethel Merman never attempted: she kindles the love story with poignancy, makes it seem something more sincere than a musicomedy plot. In a slow, sentimental number like They Say It's Wonderful, performed with breathless tenderness, she puts together the rare blend of singing and acting talent that makes lyrics carry emotion as well as melody. And, toward the end, when she bounces back into animal spirits to join Keel in Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better, her strident comic style and Berlin's flamboyant duet seem to have been made for each other.

"Hiya, Dollface!" Betty's all-out assault on an audience is a trademark that she carries into every appearance, public or private, that might conceivably make the world more Hutton-conscious and thus advance her career. Her clarionlike entrance into a restaurant ("Hiya, dollface! Hey, got my table?") is one of the digestive hazards of eating out in Hollywood. During a wartime bond tour, she stole the headlines in most of 20 cities from a trainload of more prominent stars by rushing to kiss the mayor on arrival; in one city she had to leap onto a police motorcycle to beat the rest of the troupe to City Hall.

When she is working on a picture, Betty makes it a point to be in bed by 9 p.m., turns out before 6. On the rare occasions when she is not playing to the crowd, she is likely to be quiet, moody, tortured by self-doubt. During the filming of Annie, she would telephone Director George Sidney at night: "Were you really satisfied with that take? . . . But you didn't smile at me very much. Are you sure you aren't mad at me?" Or she would telephone Sidney's wife to ask fretfully if the boss had come home in a good mood. Betty cries easily, suffers insomnia, confesses at times that her success has not brought her happiness. Once, with the candor that makes her pressagents tremble, she-blurted to an interviewer: "You know what I think I've done? I think I've loused up my life."

A Real Bad Hurt. Betty's life began on Feb. 26, 1921, in Battle Creek, Mich., "by the railroad tracks between Postum and Kellogg." She was two when her father, a railroad brakeman named Percy Thornburg, drifted off to California with another woman. Soon after, the mother took Betty and Marion to Lansing. They did not hear of Thornburg again until 1937, when he killed himself in a Los Angeles suburb and left the two girls $100 each.

"Betty was jealous of her sister right from the start," says her mother, who has since remarried and lives in Hollywood not far from Betty. "She was always in my lap, always after affection. She would stand on her head, do cartwheels, yell or do anything to attract attention away from her quieter sister." As the girls grew up, Betty envied Marion her more luxuriant hair and her pretty face.

When she was five, an older boy playfully threw Betty off the end of a pier. She hit a nail in one of the pilings and snagged her left cheek, near the eye; the scar is still faintly noticeable. "It made my inferiority complex worse," says Betty. "The kids called me 'Bad-eye Bodie' and nicknames like that, that hurt real bad. So I acted fresh and tomboyish, as if I was tougher than anybody on the block."

The family moved to Detroit when she was eight, but it was still the wrong side of the tracks. "I'd do anything to escape," says Betty. "I got broody and bad. I'd dance and sing on street corners. I never did anything real wrong, but I landed in juvenile hall sometimes." At eleven she played Mae West in a school theatrical, and began doing well on amateur nights in Detroit theaters. At 14, she became a vocalist for a band of high-school boys. At 15, tired of waiting to be discovered, she packed off with some musicians to dazzle Manhattan, which refused to be dazzled. Somebody gave her the fare to get home. After that, Betty, just past her first year in high school, went to school no more.

One night in January 1938, her future finally beckoned. Bandleader Vincent Lopez, playing in Detroit and looking for a new girl singer, saw her performing in a nightclub. He gave her the job at $65 a week, and she celebrated by eating steak for the first time—at breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. But she soon began to worry tearfully that she was not getting over. Then, at dinner one night in Philadelphia, a trombonist in the band confided that she was going to be fired. Betty gulped three brandy-and-benedictines and went to the theater in the reckless conviction that she had nothing to lose.

That night the Hutton style burst upon a relatively powerless world. Between choruses of Dipsy Doodle, she began to throw her body around as if she had no further use for it. She mugged, turned somersaults, hopped on musicians' laps and pulled their hair, fought off imaginary adversaries, tore up sheet music, swung Lopez off his feet, made a flying tackle at the microphone. In a favorite metaphor, Betty says: "I murdered the people."

Lopez decided that his vocalist, whom he had first billed as Betty Jane, deserved a new name. A firm believer in numerology, he let the numbers lead him to "Hutton." "I tried to get a vibration that would make her a lot of money," he says. "It was a five-eight vibration. After that she did fine." By the time the band played Billy Rose's Casa Mañana, Betty had whipped her own vibrations into enough of a frenzy to dazzle Manhattan at last—and to make Rose caution her not to "tear down my theater."

The Dangerous Life. In her new glory as "America's No. 1 Jitterbug" ("As a matter of fact," she says, "I couldn't jitterbug"), Betty worked up to $175 a week for Lopez. Then she quit him, though their contract still entitled him to 20% of her earnings. She went into a Broadway revue, Two for the Show, and got rave reviews.

During the show's run, hardworking, hard-cussing Actress Hutton spared her fellow performers no more than she spared herself. She thrashed about so violently that once she catapulted off the stage and onto a drummer in the orchestra pit. In a number that required her to maul Keenan Wynn, she once toed him into a dead faint, forced him to take to protective padding. Among her later victims: Bob Hope, whose teeth caps she sent scattering over a soundstage floor during a bit of jujitsu; Cinemactor Frank Faylen, whom she knocked out with a right to the jaw when the director demanded realism; Eddie Bracken, who, in a saloon scene, caught a Hutton slap on the back that looped him over the bar and into a heap on the other side. "When they work with me," crows Betty, "they gotta get insurance policies."

After Two for the Show closed, Bandleader Lopez inadvertently helped Betty to get her next big break. She had stopped paying his 20%, and he sued her for $646.50. Betty stormed into the office of Theatrical Attorney A. L. Berman, whose clients included Buddy De Sylva, the Broadway and Hollywood producer and songwriter. While she was in the office, De Sylva telephoned Berman from California to get "someone like Betty Hutton" for a supporting role in Panama Hattie, the musicomedy he was then casting for the Manhattan stage. "Why not Hutton herself?" asked Berman. "I've got her right here." Betty won both the part and the lawsuit.

$10 Down. With her talent for a nonstop fireworks display and her brash, kid-sisterly appeal, she also won something more important: the role of De Sylva's protégée. He soon became Paramount's executive producer, a post he held for four years. One of his first decisions was to take Betty out of Panama Hattie and on to Hollywood.

During her first weeks in Hollywood, in 1941, Betty sobbed over the telephone to friends in New York about her feelings of loneliness and rejection. But Hollywood caught no glimpse of that mood. She quickly bought a mink coat (on $10 down) and a Buick convertible, sampled two apartments and then leased a penthouse—all without being quite sure how she would meet the monthly payments. At Paramount she insisted on the services of the head make-up man as well as a downstairs dressing room (just between those used by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby). She made pressagents tear up her first publicity stills and shoot another set. When she visited the music department and was asked what sort of thing she did, she leaped onto Composer Johnny Mercer's back with a wild yell: "I do something like this. Get it?" She greeted dignified Cecil B. DeMille with "Hiya, dreamboat."

On her first picture, The Fleet's In, Betty complained to De Sylva that the director and cameraman were leaving her out of things. They politely explained: "We can't keep her in the camera." De Sylva had a camera dolly rigged up and told the director to follow her all over the set if necessary. "You can't keep her quiet," he said. "You'll lose her." But as he brought Betty slowly along to starring parts, De Sylva tried to impress her with the need for channeling her energy instead of letting it run all over the lot.

Qualms & Classics. In her fourth film, and her most memorable, Betty showed convincingly that it could be done. Having asked for her to star in his The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Writer-Director Preston Sturges exploited not only her comic verve but her unsuspected capacity for pathos in a non-musical part. Says Sturges: "She's a full-fledged actress with every talent the noun implies. She plays in musicals because the public, which can do practically nothing well, is willing to concede its entertainers only one talent."

After Miracle, Actress Hutton got choosy about her scripts for the first time. As her stature in Hollywood grew, so did her qualms over her meager education. When De Sylva asked her what she wanted for Christmas one year, she asked for good books, got a set of 100 classics, and actually started reading them. She also became irked with her "blonde bombshell" publicity and engaged Margaret ("Maggie") Ettinger, one of Hollywood's higher-powered press-agents, to give her more tone. Maggie introduced her to the right people and schooled her in how to get on with them.

In September 1945, after many a romantic attachment, Betty married a wealthy, handsome Chicago camera manufacturer named Ted Briskin, then 28. They had met in a nightclub and "it was love at first sight." Six months later they separated, and quickly reunited as Betty explained: "Ted has been after me to give up my career . . . I love Ted very dearly, but I have worked all my life to get where I am, and I can't give it up . . . Ted understands now." They had two daughters, Lindsay Diane, 3½, and Candice, 2. After another separation last year, Betty and her husband parted again three months ago. This month she got a California divorce for "mental cruelty."

Living It Up. Last week Betty was hard at what she calls "living it up." She had bought a complete new wardrobe, spent a frenzied two days in San Francisco singing for the fun of it at nightclubs she visited. Every night she was out on the town, mostly with different escorts. In the daytime she burned up excess energy by taking golf lessons. Buoyed by the raves of the movie trade press for Annie and her performance, she treated nightclubbers (including her ex-husband) at Hollywood's Mocambo to an impromptu performance of the whole score. Then she impulsively grabbed customers as dancing partners and swung half a dozen of them around the floor.

She decided in midweek to stop seeing Cinemactor Robert Sterling for a while, "because I'm not in a position to get too serious, and we were seeing each other, y'know, every five minutes." For weeks she had been showering Sterling with gifts and public displays of affection, and had had her friends trying to dig up better jobs for him. Openhandedly generous, Betty gives heavily and anonymously to charities, has given cars to her mother and her ex-secretary, once gave her hairdresser a mink coat. But she never mixes generosity with her career. De Sylva, who, after a long illness, has been trying to get back into movie production as an independent, stopped speaking to her last year. She had refused to do a picture "for him because she did not like the script.

Betty has worried some lately about her special problem of getting the right husband. "I could marry someone in the business who was higher up than me, or making more," she says thoughtfully. "But when a real man comes up against the situation where he gets second billing, he walks. I don't know how I'm going to be happy."

On Top. This side of happiness, Betty seems to have just about everything. She has far outstripped sister Marion, who borrowed the Hutton name and made her own show-business success as vocalist with Glenn Miller's orchestra and in radio and movie jobs. Betty's children have all the things she went without, including a nurse to change their beautiful dresses five times a day. After moving ten times in five years to successively grander Hollywood living quarters, she has an eleven-room ranch-style house in Brentwood