Betty Hutton was born Elizabeth June Thornburg on February 26, 1921, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Two years later, Betty’s father decided that the family way of life wasn’t for him, so he left (he committed suicide 16 years later). Having to fend for themselves, Mrs. Thornburg moved the family to Detroit to find work in the numerous auto factories there, but times were hard and she decided to take advantage of Prohibition and opened a small tavern, at the time called a speakeasy. The police were always looking for those types of operation, both big and small, and when they detected one, they swooped in and closed it down. Mrs. Thornburg was no different from the other owners, they simply moved elsewhere. Poverty was a constant companion. In addition to that, Mrs. Thornburg was an alcoholic.
At nine years old, Betty began singing publicly for the first time in a school production. Realizing the voice Betty had, her mother took her around Detroit to have her sing to any group that would listen. This was a small way of getting some money for the poor family. When she was 13, Betty got a few singing jobs with local bands in the area. Thinking she was good enough to make the big time, she left for New York two years later to try a professional career. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and Betty headed back to Detroit.
In 1937, Betty was hired by Vincent Lopez who had a popular band that appeared on the local radio. Later, she would return to New York and it was here that her career took off. Betty found herself on Broadway in 1940, and it was only a matter of time before her career took off to bigger heights. The following year, she left New York for Hollywood, where she was to find new life in films. She was signed by Paramount Pictures and made her debut, at 21, in The Fleet’s In (1942), along with Eddie Bracken, William Holden and Dorothy Lamour. Reviews were better than expected, with critics looking favorably upon her work. She had previously appeared in a few musical shorts, which no doubt helped her in her first feature film. She made one more musical in 1942 and two more in 1943.
In 1944, she tried to break away from musicals and try her hand in a screwball comedy, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943). She proved – to herself, the public and the critics – that she was marketable outside musicals. In subsequent films, Betty was able to show her comedic side as well as her singing. In 1948, she appeared in her first big box-office bomb, Dream Girl (1948), which was ripped to shreds by critics, as was Betty’s acting, and the movie flopped at the box office. It wasn’t long before Betty became unhappy with her career. In truth, she had the acting talent, but the parts she got weren’t the types to showcase that. Though she did appear in three well-received films later, Red, Hot and Blue (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), her career was winding down.
Later, after filming Somebody Loves Me (1952), Betty was all but finished. She had married Charles O’Curran that year and he wanted to direct her in an upcoming film. Paramount didn’t like the idea and the temper tantrum-prone Betty walked out of her contract and movies. She did concentrate on the relatively new medium of television and the stage, but she never recovered her previous form. Her final film was a minor one, Spring Reunion (1957). Her TV series, The Betty Hutton Show (1959), didn’t fare too well at all. Betty lived in quiet retirement in Palm Springs, California until her death on March 11, 2007. She was 86 years old.
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