Born Ella Geisman, New York City, 7 October 1917.
Public Schools in New York City and Pelham, New York, including Theodore
Roosevelt High School.
Married 1) actor/director Dick Powell, 1945 (died 1963); children: Pamela
(adopted) and Richard Keith; 2) Glenn Maxwell, 1963 (divorced 1963,
remarried 1966, divorced again); 3) Dr. David Ashrow, 1976.
First film appearance in Vitaphone 2-reel
Swing for Sale
, 1937; role in Broadway's
Best Foot Forward
, 1940; signed movie contract with MGM, 1943–53; played Jo March in
MGM remake of
, 1949; starred in
The Dupont Show with June Allyson
The June Allyson Show
), 1959–61; hosted
That's Entertainment III
, a documentary on MGM musicals, 1994.
Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress—Musical/Comedy,
Too Young To Kiss
, 1952; awarded Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting, Venice Festival,
, 1954; voted Most Popular Female Star, Photoplay Magazine Awards, 1954.
Shapiro-Lichtman-Stein, Inc., 8827 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90212,
The Knight Is Young (Mack) (as June); The Prisoner of Swing (Mack) (as Princess)
All Girl Review (French) (as Mayor)
Girl Crazy (Taurog) (specialty appearance); Best Foot Forward (Buzzell) (as Minerva); Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (as guest)
Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe) (as Patsy Deyo); Music for Millions (Koster) (as Barbara Ainsworth); Meet the People (Reisner) (as Annie)
The Sailor Takes a Wife (Whorf) (as Mary); Her Highness and the Bellboy (Thorpe) (as Leslie Odell)
Two Sisters from Boston (Koster) (as Martha Canford Chandler); The Secret Heart (Leonard) (as Penny Addams)
High Barbaree (Conway) (as Nancy Frazer); Good News (Walters) (as Connie Lane); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf) (specialty appearance)
The Bride Goes Wild (Taurog) (as Martha Terryton); The Three Musketeers (Sidney) (as Constance Bonacieux); Words and Music (Taurog) (guest star)
Little Women (Leroy) (as Jo March); The Stratton Story (Wood) (as Ethel Stratton)
Right Cross (Sturges) (as Pat O'Malley); The Reformer and the Redhead (Frank/Panama) (as Kathleen Maquire)
Too Young to Kiss (Leonard) (as Cynthia Potter)
The Girl in White ( So Bright the Flame ) (Sturges) (as Dr. Emily Dunning)
Remains To Be Seen (Weis) (as Jody Revere); Battle Circus (Brooks) (as Lieut. Ruth McGara)
The Glenn Miller Story (Mann) (as Helen Berger Miller); Executive Suite (Wise) (as Mary Belmond Walling); Woman's World (Negulesco) (as Katie)
The Shrike (Ferrer) (as Ann Downs); The McConnell Story ( Tiger in the Sky ) (Douglas) (as Pearl "Butch" Brown); Strategic Air Command (Mann) (as Sally Holland)
The Opposite Sex (Miller) (as Kay Hilliard); You Can't Run Away From It (Powell) (as Ellen "Ellie" Andrews)
My Man Godfrey (Koster) (as Irene Bullock); Interlude (Sirk) (as Helen Banning)
Stranger In My Arms ( And Ride a Tiger ) (Kautner) (as Christina Beasley)
The Thrill of It All (Jewison) (as Helen Banning)
See the Man Run ( The Second Face ) (Allen—for TV) (as Helene Spencer)
They Only Kill Their Masters (Goldstone) (as Mrs. Watkins)
Letters From Three Lovers (Erman—for TV) (as Monica)
That's Entertainment! (Haley Jr.) (archival footage)
Curse of the Black Widow ( Love Trap ) (Curtis—for TV) (as Olga)
Three on a Date (Bixby—for TV) (as Marge Emery); Vega$ ( High Roller ) (Lang—for TV) (as Marilyn's mother); Black-out ( Black-Out in New Y ork ) (Matalon) (as Mrs. Grant)
The Kid with the Broken Halo (Martinson—for TV) (as Dorothea Powell)
That's Dancing! (Haley Jr.) (archival footage)
That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen/Sheridan) (as host)
Allyson, June, with Frances Spatz Leighton, June Allyson , New
Interview with T. Vallance in Films and Filming (London), July 1982.
Interview in Photoplay (London), August, 1985
Parish, James Robert, and Ronald L. Bowers, The Golden Era: The MGM Stock Company , Bonanza Books, 1972
Young, C., "June Allyson," in Films in Review (New York), November 1968.
Maslin, Janet, "Hollywood Leaves Its Imprint on Its Chroniclers," in the New York Times , 11 July 1982.
Bergan, Ronald, "June Allyson at the NFT," in Films and Filming (London), August 1985.
* * *
Before she became June Allyson, Ella Geisman endured a some-what deprived childhood in The Bronx, New York, before gradually breaking into Broadway musical theater in the late 1930s. Like many Hollywood personalities of the studio era, Allyson, one of Metro-Goldyn-Mayer's most popular stars and biggest box-office draws of the 1940s and early 1950s, received her initial show business experience on the New York stage. At the age of twenty Geisman was cast in the chorus line of a flop Broadway musical, but this lead to other parts in more successful productions, including a bit part in the George Abbott-directed collegiate musical, Best Foot Forward. When Best Foot Forward was filmed in 1943, Geisman went to Hollywood with the show, and, as June Allyson, soon found herself with a Hollywood contract, primarily due to the efforts of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Joe Pasternak.
A number of bits in various MGM pictures (including specialty spots in Girl Crazy and Thousands Cheer and the role of Minerva in Best Foot Forward ) led to her first starring role in Two Girls and a Sailor , one of the last of the studio's big black-and-white wartime musical variety extravaganzas in 1944. Allyson was paired with Gloria De Haven as two sisters whose dream is to open up a USO canteen in New York City. Two Girls also featured MGM male juvenile Van Johnson, also from Broadway; for a time Johnson and Allyson enjoyed great popularity as America's post-war sweethearts. They later starred in 1947's High Barbaree , an odd and commercially unsuccessful fantasy drama with a World War II setting, and 1948's slapstick The Bride Goes Wild. Allyson was reunited with Johnson in one of her last MGM films, and one of the few in which she got a change-of-pace role as the sexy female lead, the 1953 film version of the sophisticated Broadway comedy, Remains to Be Seen. Like all of MGM's contract musical performers the petite charmer with the distinctively husky voice was also groomed for dramatic roles. As early as 1946 she was cast against type as Claudette Colbert's neurotic daughter in The Secret Heart , a somewhat Freudian melodrama. She was also featured as the treacly sweet Constance (and opposite another MGM musical performer, Gene Kelly) in MGM's swashbuckling version of The Three Musketeers in 1948, a role Allyson cites as one of her least rewarding.
Though her Little Women suffered in comparison to the classic 1939 George Cukor/Katherine Hepburn version, one of Allyson's choicest straight roles was in the 1949 MGM re-make. The actress turned in a strong and moving portrait of Louisa May Alcott's spunky pre-feminist heroine, Jo March, and the film remains a charming and opulent MGM Technicolor period piece. Allyson's scene opposite Margaret O'Brien in a rainy attic, as the two discuss Beth's premonition of an early death, is a peak dramatic moment for both young actresses.
But Allyson's best MGM picture is another classic college musical, Good News , a re-make released in 1947. Under Charles Walters' sparkling direction Allyson (as librarian Connie Lane) essays her best singing/dancing/acting role, wistfully doing a solo turn with the touching ballad "Just Imagine," and providing the film's exuberant dance finale with co-star Peter Lawford in the rousingly staged "Varsity Drag" number. She also appeared as one of the many guests stars in one of MGM's musically vivacious but otherwise turgid musical biography films, 1948's Words and Music. Allegedly based on the lives of songwriters Rodgers and Hart, the film features Allyson performing a charming on-stage version of the team's "Thou Swell" (from A Connecticut Yankee ) with the identical Blackburn twins. She also appeared on the guest star roster of another MGM musical bio clinker, Til the Clouds Roll By , a misfired fantasia on the life of Jerome Kern.
MGM occasionally loaned out its popular star to other studios and Allyson found herself graduating from ingenue roles to a series of doting wife parts, among these a role in The Stratton Story in 1949, and in Universal-International's extremely popular The Glenn Miller Story in which she played opposite James Stewart in the title role in 1954. Her by now predictable wifely duties continued in MGM's 1954 Executive Suite in which she was William Holden's supportive spouse, and in The McConnell Story and Strategic Air Command , both in 1955. June's self-effacing helpmate period peaked in 1956 with one of her intermittent returns to MGM for an ill-advised musical up-date of another celebrated Cukor film, The Women , retitled The Opposite Sex , in which Allyson took on the original Norma Shearer role of the betrayed wife. In revolt to all these good wife roles Allyson went radically against type in Universal's The Shrike , a rather murky melodrama (directed by and co-starring Jose Ferrer) about a castrating female. She also starred as a straying wife who becomes involved with a symphonic conductor in Douglas Sirk's Interlude in 1957. Allyson's last major studio film of the 1950s was another Universal marital melodrama, the Ross Hunter soaper Stranger In My Arms (1959). Allyson once commented: "I never did feel quite right about the roles I was called upon to portray—the gentle, kind, loving, perfect wife who will stand by her man through 'anything.' In real life I'm a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook; in fact, anything but the perfect wife."
The 1960s found Allyson moving into a series of intermittent stage performances, but finding greater success with her TV films and guest spots. Her television work included a brief stint with a show of her own, and spots on Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote. She made her last theatrical feature appearance in They Only Kill Their Masters in 1972, but was also seen on the big screen as recently as 1994 as the host of That's Entertainment! III and in outtakes and archival footage in 1985's That's Dancing and of course in the original 1974 edition of the MGM musical anthology series. She is also remembered by contemporary audiences for her appearances in a series of 1980s television commercials. Allyson retired to Ojai, California, though in January 2000 she came out of retirement to briefly appear with a group of other MGM stars in a musical touring stage production.