What Those Who Remembered Forgot: Betty Hutton (1921-2007) on the Air

Well, I guess that, too, “Comes Natur’lly.” I just learned of the passing of singer-comedienne Betty Hutton. The star of Hollywood cinema classics like Preston Sturges’s wartime romp Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), the screen adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Cecil B. DeMille’s Academy Award-winning Greatest Show on Earth (1952) died yesterday at the age of 86.

Like her sister Marion, with whom she performed before embarking on a film career with The Fleet’s In (1942) (for which this is a radio trailer featuring Hutton’s “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry”), was often heard on radio variety programs, including the morale-boosting wartime shows Mail Call and Command Performance, belting out trademark numbers like “Murder, He Says.”

Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, the gal who couldn’t quite conquer television was also heard on most of US radio’s top-notch film and theater programs, including Theater Guild, the Lux Radio Theater and the Philip Morris Playhouse, performing in light comedies like “Page Miss Glory” (an old Marion Davies vehicle) or in adaptations of her own films, such as the Screen Guild‘s version of Stork Club or the Screen Directors Playhouse presentation of Incendiary Blonde.

Unfortunately, most of Hutton’s dramatic performances on radio have not been preserved. What can be appreciated online is the solidification of the Hutton image. She’s “like a dynamo . . . with a short circuit,” quipped ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy when, on 28 September 1947, Hutton was a guest on Edgar Bergen’s comedy program, singing “Poppa Don’t Preach to Me” from her latest movie, The Perils of Pauline. Rather than tampering with her successful tomboy persona, as attempted in Mitchell Leisen’s misguided box-office dud Dream Girl (1948), Hutton was given the opportunity to ridicule such efforts to make a lady out of her by agreeing and failing to act like someone “knee-deep” in culture (one of the “Boston” Huttons, a family “so old, it’s been condemned”). “Why,” she insisted, “I can be so refined, you wouldn’t even know it’s me.”

“She’s much too wild for you,” Bergen had warned his wayward puppet, complaining that there was “room for improvement” in Hutton’s conduct. “After all, girls are not boys.” Betty Hutton was the kind of “Incendiary Blonde” that could give a mischievous dummy like Charlie ideas without making a log fire of his wooden heart.

3 Replies to “What Those Who Remembered Forgot: Betty Hutton (1921-2007) on the Air”

  1. My remembrance of Betty Hutton that caused her to have a certain fondness in my much younger heart is a film clip of her appearing with Vincent Lopez\’ Orchestra. The early video promo shows a young Hutton super-charged with enthusiasm of performance – a sort of subtle sexual dynamism that pierced my post World War II heart at a critical age. She was a far cry from the low period in her life and just beginning her rise. Needless, I am in mourning.

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