Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Dance Party: A Huttonannny!

I've been thinking about Betty Hutton lately. Haven't you? Hutton was a huge film star in the 40s and early 50s, though no one has ever heard of her these days. She is chiefly remembered for having replaced Judy Garland in the film adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun. She suffered her own mental demons later in life, addicted to alcohol and sleeping pills, and even attempted suicide in 1970. Apparently her conversion to Catholicism reversed her downward spiral, and she cleaned up her act a bit. She went back to school, earning a Masters degree, and worked various odd jobs until returning to Broadway in the 80s as one of Dorothy Loudon's replacements in Annie.

She's largely forgotten now, which is a shame. I first became aware of this dynamo when, as a kid, I stumbled upon one of her old movies, The Perils of Pauline. In it, she introduced a couple of swell Frank Loesser tunes, including "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" and my favorite, "Rumble Rumble." I've used the latter at auditions occasionally, but nobody can touch Hutton's manic version. She was a topnotch clown, with a malleable face which rivaled that other female comic star of the period, Martha Raye (Hutton was much more attractive, however, and could believably play romantic scenes as well as comic ones). Her comedy songs were always gems, written by the top composers of the day such as Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and of course Loesser. She burst onto the scene in 1942, in a supporting role in The Fleet's In, swiping the film from star Dorothy Lamour with her hilarious rendition of "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry." A year later she was teamed with another Paramount superstar, Bob Hope, in Let's Face It, and by the end of the decade, she was the studio's top-grossing female star. She took billing over Fred Astaire in 1950's Let's Dance, and her performance as Annie Oakley the same year is generally considered classic.

Hutton broke her contract when Paramount refused to allow her husband at the time (she had four total) to direct her next film, and her career began its swift decline.
Here's just one example of Hutton's song styling, complete with machine-gun lyrics and bulldozer delivery. There's even a bit of dancing, in honor of the week's Dance Party, and a special guest, too. I can't stop talking about it!
Betty Hutton died two years ago this week.