Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kathryn Grayson


Her dream was to sing opera, but Louis B. Meyer had other ideas. Born in North Carolina, Grayson's family moved to Los Angeles during her teens, at a time when MGM was looking for a young talent to rival Universal's Deanna Durbin. She was teamed with Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (playing the title role), in which she sang a bit of Strauss. Her clear, bell-tone soprano was used to good effect in Showboat, Kiss Me Kate, Desert Song, and a string of lesser operettas. She played opposite Gene Kelly in Thousands Cheer and Anchors Aweigh, but was better matched with stars with legit voices such as Mario Lanza and Gordon MacRae. With the decline of the movie musical in the 50s, she turned to the stage and the concert hall, often teaming with Howard Keel (with whom she had made several films). Together they played Vegas and toured widely with Man of La Mancha. Grayson hit Broadway as a replacement for Julie Andrews in Camelot, and headlined its first national tour. The 60s also provided her with opportunities to fulfill her life-long dream to sing opera; she played in La Boheme, La Traviata, and Madame Butterfly, among others.

Kathryn did a bit of television work, earning an Emmy nomination in 1956 for an episode of General Electric Theatre, and decades later, she appeared on Murder She Wrote several times.

I admit that Grayson was not one of my favorites, as I hold a general disinterest in the soprano voice. Give me the lower smokey tones of Garland any day. But Kathryn Grayson was a sweet presence on film, illustrated in the brief clip below from 1947. She is singing one of my favorites of the old standards (though I prefer the belty versions offered by Judy Garland and Karen Morrow); you will surely recognize a couple of Rat Packers in the scene:

Kathryn Grayson died yesterday at the age of 88.