Betty Hutton, RIP

Annie_l Betty Hutton, who died this week at 86, was a versatile star of movies, musicals, and TV, but only rarely did she hook up with a project that allowed her to reach her full potential. Though her fame peaked more than 50 years ago, her bio remains a cautionary tale for today’s Hollywood, so eager to pigeonhole its actresses.

Hutton was certainly hard to pigeonhole. Tall, gangly, and tomboyish, she had a bombshell body but not smoldering sex appeal. She had dramatic gifts, but she was better at knockabout comedy than at playing the romantic lead. She sang not prettily but with great enthusiasm. This unlikely combination of gifts turned out to make her an ideal fit for the lead role of Annie Oakley that Ethel Merman had created in Annie Get Your Gun, when the Irving Berlin musical became a film (pictured) in 1950.

addCredit(“Betty Hutton: The Kobal Collection”)

She starred in a number of musicals in Hollywood and on Broadway, acted in several biopics in the 1940s, and had her own TV series in the late 1950s, but her insistence on controlling her career may have doomed her as much as her unusual mix of talents. Even today, Hollywood has few roles suited to a tall, funny, tomboyish bombshell. (Jenna Elfman may be the closest in spirit to Hutton among today’s stars.)

As a result, Hutton is best remembered today for just three movies. One is Annie Get Your Gun; another is The Greatest Show on Earth (which TCM will air on Thursday as part of a mini-tribute to Hutton, along with Robert Osborne’s latter-day interview with the actress), a movie notorious as the weakest film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar (Hutton plays the female lead, a trapeze artist, in a very broad performance). The third is Preston Sturges’ 1944 classic The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, one of the funniest films ever made, and still one of the most outrageous. Hutton is delightful, sweet, and effervescent in the lead role of a young woman who wakes up after a drunken night with a group of departing soldiers to find herself married to one of them — she can’t remember which one — and pregnant. Writer/director Sturges called her "a full-fledged actress with every talent the noun implies. She plays inmusicals because the public, which can do practically nothing well, iswilling to concede its entertainers only one talent." Sixty years later, not much has changed.

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  • m.e.

    I have to say popwatch.
    You do amazing tributes to starts recently passed.

  • Evie

    Awww!! This is strange because I was just singing “Anything You Can Do…” and thinking of her singing with Howard Keel. And I agree, you do do excellent tributes.

  • Robert Long

    Tall ? I think you will find she was no more than 5’3″. Her performance in Annie Get Your Gun was, I feel, absolutely flawless. Her facial expressions were so endearing during Howard Keel’s “The Girl That I Marry” !

  • John W. Chance

    You’ve made no mention of her outstanding filmed performances during the forties in the shorts made for troops overseas that showcased her exuberant dancing ability as well as her singing, and at that time, her ravishing beauty.

  • Mike

    Didn’t know where else to share this, but since we’re on the subject of musicals…
    Former contestant of Rock Star: INXS, Suzie McNeil, is starring in Toronto’s production of We Will Rock You! Get a move on, EW! I expect a story soon.

  • Rhonda

    I also love your tributes—I learned to love the films of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s because of my mom. To be honest I prefer them to today’s current crop of movies and stars. Thanks for acknowledging these actors and actresses and giving them the credit they deserve in a world that has pretty much forgotten their contributions to the world of entertainment. “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” is one of my favorites—Betty Hutton was always so much fun to watch.

  • Frank

    Okay, I’m going to be a hater. I just watched “Annie Get Your Gun” a few weeks ago, and I was amazed (and dismayed) by how totally over the top Betty’s acting in that movie was. She took mugging to a whole new level! However, she was hilarious in “The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek”. She had a very interesting personal life – check out her Wikipedia bio for info on her mother.

  • Winona

    I’ve only known Betty’s work from Annie Get Your Gun… but after reading the wonderful tributes, I’ll be sure to check out her other films.

  • david

    I watched ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ a few weeks ago and think it is really getting a bumb rap as it seems to hold up better than some of the other films nominated that year.

  • eliz. s.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for her performance in “Red, Hot and Blue” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041795/) because that was the first film I ever saw her in, on my aunt and uncle’s tv in the early 90s. She had such a huge talent.

    http://www.allaboute.net/blog

  • ms.c.

    I’ve never seen the movie, Annie Get Your Gun. I may rent it now. I liked the Greatest Show on Earth. I don’t know if it deserved an Oscar, but I thought it was cute.
    I got on an old movie kick recently after buying some Classic Movie DVD packs recommended in EW. I just discovered Jean Arthur and I think she’s fantastic. I’ll see if I’ve been missing out on Betty Hutton, too.

  • Jakeem

    I just found out that Turner Classic Movies is doing a special salute to the late Betty Hutton’s film career on Thursday, March 15.
    Here is the lineup (based on Eastern Daylight Time):
    12:00 p.m. MGM Parade Show #27
    12:30 p.m. “The Stork Club”
    2:15 p.m. “The Perils of Pauline”
    4:00 p.m. “The Greatest Show on Earth”
    7:00 p.m. “Private Screenings: Betty Hutton,” an interview she did in 2000 with TCM host Robert Osborne.

  • Karen

    Her movies cant conpare today’s films-corny to say”they dont make ‘em like they used to”.The music tracks now is a hiphop nightmare-compared to the big band sound in musicals Betty Hutton starred.Watch Stork Club.she’s a ham,sure.But that was her “gimmick”.She had a tough personal life. She’ll be missed-but will go on in her films!

  • Jacques

    Betty Hutton lives on at http://www.DRAMA.TV Starring in The Perils of Pauline! It’s free and no forms.

  • Jennifer Haynes

    The ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ may be weak, but I’ve never tired of it, I’ll watch it every time it plays. In contrast, who watches ‘Forrest Gump’ any more?

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