Gloria DeHaven, an MGM player who appeared in several of the studio’s midcentury musicals alongside stars including Fred Astaire, has died at 91. Her bio and long list of screen credits suggest she was a real trooper or, as one obit puts it, “a stalwart of show business.”
As the Hollywood Reporter recounts, DeHaven (born in 1925) got her start in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Her story about it was pretty delightful:
Her father was good friends with Chaplin. “One day I came to visit my dad on the set [of Modern Times] and they needed two little girls to be in a shot with Paulette Goddard,” she once recalled. “All they had us do was eat bananas and run around. I said, ‘If this is show business, I’m definitely in!’”
Nice work if you can get it, indeed. One of those seemingly indefatigable pros from the studio system era who kept the business humming for decades, DeHaven appeared in several MGM musicals, via THR:
The vivacious DeHaven... appeared in a number of top films with leading stars, including Thousands Cheer (1943) with Gene Kelly; Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) with June Allyson and Van Johnson; Step Lively (1944) with Frank Sinatra; Summer Holiday (1948) with Mickey Rooney; The Doctor and the Girl (1949) with Glenn Ford and Nancy Reagan; Two Tickets to Broadway (1951) with Janet Leigh and Tony Martin; and The Girl Rush (1955) with Rosalind Russell.
Please do watch the trailer for The Doctor and the Girl, though sadly Nancy Reagan’s part was too minor to get a shout-out. To see her musical talent, check out this clip from Three Little Words. The movie was set in the world of Tin Pan Alley and she played her own mother, vaudeville’s Flora Parker.
In her long career, DeHaven also sang in nightclubs, did Broadway and other live musical theater, appeared on soap operas and all manner of TV shows, and even hosted a call-in movie show on New York’s WABC in the early 1970s. Her last movie appearance came in 1997, with Jack Lemmon, in Out to Sea. And sounds like, in all that time, she racked up some great anecdotes and it would have been worth some light criminality for a chance to get her at one of your dinner parties. When she chatted with the L.A. Times in 1985 about her turn on Ryan’s Hope (h/t the Guardian), she told the reporter:
“You know, ‘Ryan’s’ isn’t my first soap,” DeHaven said. “In the 1960s, for 18 months on ‘As the World Turns,’ I played Sarah Fuller, a glamourous designer who broke up romances left and right and caused grief to the brothers Hughes, Bob and Don, until she was pushed down a flight of stairs by her illegitimate child.
“Soaps were done live then, and weren’t quite the ‘respectable’ thing to do for someone who’d had a Hollywood career. But I have the greatest respect for soaps, and ‘Ryan’s’ offered me a chance to play a kind of character I’d never tried before. If you don’t stretch yourself in this business, you’re dead.”