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Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy

By Ronald L. Davis

280 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 18 b&w illustrations, filmography, index

978-1-57806-377-2 Cloth $30.00T

978-1-4968-0385-6 Paper $25.00T

Cloth, $30.00

Paper, $25.00

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The only full-length biography of this immensely popular screen star of the 1940s and 1950s

Van Johnson's dazzling smile, shock of red hair, and suntanned freckled cheeks made him a movie-star icon. Among teenage girls in the 1940s, he rose to great popularity as the bobbysoxer's heartthrob.

Johnson (1916-2008) won the nation's heart, too, by appearing in a series of blockbuster war films--A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Weekend at the Waldorf, and Battleground. Perennially a leading man opposite June Allyson, Esther Williams, Judy Garland, and Janet Leigh, he rose to fame radiating the sunshine image Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chose for him, that of an affable, wholesome boy-next-door. Legions of adoring moviegoers were captivated by this idealized persona that generated huge box-office profits for the studio.

However, Johnson's off-screen life was not so sunny. His mother had rejected him in childhood, and he lived his adulthood dealing with sexual ambivalence. A marriage was arranged with the ex-wife of his best friend, the actor Keenan Wynn. During the waning years of Hollywood's Golden Age, she and Johnson lived amid the glow of Hollywood's A-crowd. Yet their private life was charged with tension and conflict.

Although morose and reclusive by nature, Johnson maintained a happy-go-lucky facade even among co-workers, who knew him as a congenial, dedicated professional. Once free of the golden-boy stereotype, he became a respected actor assigned stellar roles in such acclaimed films as State of the Union, Command Decision, The Last Time I Saw Paris, and The Caine Mutiny.

With the demise of the big studios, Johnson returned to the stage, where he had begun his career as a song-and-dance man. After this he appeared frequently in television shows, performed in nightclubs, and became the legendary darling of older audiences on the dinner playhouse circuit. Johnson (1916-2008) spent his post-Hollywood years living in solitude in New York City.

This solid, thoroughly researched biography traces the career and influence of a favorite star and narrates a fascinating, sometimes troubled life story.

Ronald L. Davis, Wimberley, Texas, is the author of Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream; John Ford: Hollywood's Old Master; and Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne.

280 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 18 b&w illustrations, filmography, index