June Allyson, the perenially perky actress who played wife, girlfriend and girl-next-door to a long line of leading men in the 40s and 50s, died Saturday at her home in Ojai, California; she was 88. The actress died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis complicated by a long illness, with her husband of 30 years, David Ashrow, at her side.
Born Eleanor Geisman in the Bronx, the actress grew up in near-poverty, raised by her divorced mother. After a serious injury at age eight, she spent years confinded in a steel brace, and began both swimming and dancing lessons to increase her mobility. The dancing paid off: in 1938, at age 21, she was cast in the Broadway production Sing Out the News. A prominent role in George Abbott’s Best Foot Forward brought her to the attention of Hollywood, and she was later cast by MGM in the 1943 film version, and signed to a contract by the studio. With her raspy voice, sunny disposition and wholesome good looks, she stood apart from other more glamorous actresses yet endeared herself to both women, who identified with her, and men, who saw her as the “perfect wife.”
Her appeal was epitomized in such films as Little Women, where she played the tomboyish Jo opposite Peter Lawford, and baseball drama The Stratton Story, her first film with James Stewart. Offscreen, Allyson caused concern from her studio bosses when she married Dick Powell, her occasional co-star; the actor had been married twice before and was 13 years her senior, and by most reports their marriage was often tumultuous.
In the 50s, Allyson most often played the steadfast wife, most famously opposite previous co-star Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story and Strategic Air Command. Other films during the decade included Executive Suite (with William Holden), The Opposite Sex, The Shrike (a rare unsympathetic role), Interlude, and a remake of My Man Godfrey alongside David Niven. As husband Powell’s health began to decline (he died in 1963), Allyson began her retirement from films, and through the 60s worked mainly in television, including her own show, The Dupont Show with June Allyson.
Her later career consisted mainly of TV movies and guest star appearances on shows ranging from The Love Boat to The Incredible Hulk, and she underwent another turbulent marriage, to Glenn Maxwell, her former husband’s barber. In 1976, she married current husband Ashrow, with whom she traveled extensively.
To most recent generations, Allyson was known as the upbeat spokeswoman for Depends undergarments, a role she undertook with aplomb as she helped pioneer research for urological and gynecological diseases in senior citizens. Allyson is survived by her husband and two children, daughter Pamela and son Richard, from her marriage to Powell. –Mark Englehart, IMDb staff
June Allyson was a delightful and terrific actress. Little Women, The Stratton Story (a personal favorite) and The Glenn Miller Story are excellent pictures that display her talent and lovable personality.
June Allyson faced great adversity to become a well-respected member of the MGM family. Her alcoholic father left her family when she was six months old and at age 8, she crushed by a falling tree limb while riding a bike. Allyson spent four years in a back brace and after that, she became a self-taught dancer, her instructors being Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
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