Thursday, March 15, 2007

Incendiary Blonde

Betty Hutton was a native Michigander. You knew she had grown up in Detroit because she called her mother's 1920s illegal drinking establishment a "blind pig" instead of a "speakeasy."

I liked Betty Hutton before I even knew her as "Betty Hutton." I first saw her years ago in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and I liked her in it, but I didn't know she had made any other movies, let alone the fact that she was one of Paramount studio's biggest stars in the 1940s. I only knew that she was funny and the movie was funny, but then I pretty much put her out of my mind. Then a few months ago I happened to be flipping through the channels and stopped on TCM for a moment, and Annie Get Your Gun was playing. I hadn't planned on watching a movie that night, but it only took a few minutes of Hutton -- so manically exuberant, and yet so achingly vulnerable -- that I couldn't turn away.

Betty was the type of performer who gave a hundred and ten percent every time, and then added another twenty percent for good measure. Bob Hope called her a walking vitamin pill. In a lot of ways her energy and over-the-top style seemed driven by desperation, by a woman who so wanted to entertain and make people happy that she would do it at any and all costs. There's something endearing about that, though, about a woman so desperate to please that she lays everything on the line, she holds nothing back. I know she endeared herself to me.

Of course, Betty was more than just an irrepressible ball of energy who belted out novelty songs like "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief." Watch and listen to her perform a song like "They Say It's Wonderful" from Annie Get Your Gun and get a glimpse into the quieter Betty, the Betty of longing and fear and love and sadness.

I was shocked and saddened to read about her death, but I take heart that she had a conversion to Catholicism several years ago, and I pray for the repose of her soul. Rest in peace, Betty.

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