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Remembering Actor Van Johnson

Guest Author - Amber Grey

Born Charles Van Johnson on August 15, 1916. During high school he performed at the social clubs of New York. After graduating, Van found work as a dancer for various Broadway performances. In a cast that included actress/comedienne Imogene Coca, Van performed in the “New Faces of 1936" program. In the winter of 1941, Van worked as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway production of “Pal Joey.”

Eventually, Van made his way to Hollywood and was signed to Warner Bros. studios. He played bit roles until the studio could not find any more use for him. The studio decided that he could not make it as a main player in their films and canceled his contract. Van was heartbroken and decided it was
time to leave Hollywood for good. However, Van was given one last chance when he attended a party where he met legendary comedienne Lucille Ball. Ball introduced Van to MGM’s head casting director, Bill Grady. Grady gave Van a screen test and succeeded.

He was cast in his first starring role as “Ted Randall” in Victor Fleming’s “A Guy Named Joe” (1943) opposite Spencer Tracy. However, it was during the film’s production that Van fell victim of a car accident and forced the film’s progress to a halt. With serious injury to his head, a metal plate
was placed in Van’s skull which prevented him from serving in WW II. Fortunately, Van was able to keep his role in the film which made him a huge movie star over night when the film was released.

While most of his colleagues served in the war, it was on the home front that Van represented their heroism and courage on the silver screen. Again, Van co-starred with Spencer Tracy in “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” (1945) which depicted the Doolittle Raid, “Battleground” (1949) which depicted the Battle Of The Bulge, and the tear-jerking romantic drama, “Miracle In The Rain” (1956). Later
when Van reflected on the multitude of films in where he played a soldier, he commented, “By the war’s end, I’d been in every branch of the service, all at MGM.”

In Vincente Minnelli’s “Brigadoon” (1954), Van was teamed up with Gene Kelly, this time acting, singing and dancing opposite the triple threat giant. In 1955, Van began appearing on television with his first appearance being as himself on “I Love Lucy.” By the 1960s, Van mostly appeared on television. He starred as the villain “The Minstrel” in the Adam West “Batman” television series for two episodes as well as joining his colleagues on their shows — “The Dupont Show With June Allyson,” “The Red Skeleton Show,” and “The Doris Day Show.”

His last appearance in film was as “Mr. Ranthow” in “Clowning Around” (1992), ending his fifty-two years in show business. On December 12, 2008, Van Johnson peacefully passed away of natural causes at the age of ninety-two.
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