1940s heartthrob appeared in film and TV
Van Johnson, boyish 1940s heartthrob who starred in “The Caine Mutiny,” died Friday in Nyack, New York. He was 92.
As well as dozens of film roles during the 1940s and 50s, he made many later TV appearances and was Emmy nommed for his role on “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
The wholesome, red-haired thesp co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and with Deborah Kerr in “The End of the Affair,” appeared in musicals like “Brigadoon” and romantic comedies such as “Weekend at the Waldorf” and “The Bride Goes Wild.”
Born in Newport, R.I., he started in the chorus in “New Face of 1936.” He made his film debut in “Too Many Girls,” and was signed to Warner Bros. When Warners dropped his contract after “Murder in the Big House.,” he was about to return to New York, when Lucille Ball invited him to dinner at Chasen’s restaurant.
“Lucille tried to cheer me up, but I just couldn’t seem to laugh,” he said in a 1963 interview. “Suddenly she said to me, ‘There’s Billy Grady over there; he’s MGM’s casting director. I’m going to introduce you, and at least you’re going to act like you’re the star I think you will be.'”
While working on “A Guy Named Joe,” he suffered a serious car crash that left him exempt him from service in the war.
After recovering, he finished “A Guy Named Joe” and appeared in other WWII films such as “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”
MGM cashed in on his stardom with three or four films a year. Among them: “The White Cliffs of Dover,” ”Two Girls and a Sailor,” ”High Barbaree,” ”Mother Is a Freshman,” ”No Leave No Love” and “Three Guys Named Mike.”
On TV, Johnson is often remembered for his appearance on “I Love Lucy,” and later appeared on “Batman” as the Minstrel as well as on “Here’s Lucy,” “The Love Boat,” “Maude,” “McCloud,” “Quincy M.E.,” “MacMillan and Wife.” He also appeared on several episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” and returned to film in Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”
For three decades he was one of the busiest stars in regional and dinner theaters, traveling throughout the country from his New York base. After starting his career on Broadway in 1930s, he returned in the 1980s as a replacement in “La Cage aux Folles.”
He married actress Eve Wynn, from whom he separated in 1961, and they had one daughter.