June Haver

Star of Forties film musicals
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The Independent Online

One of the brightest musical stars of the late Forties, June Haver was a pretty blonde whose memorable roles included those of Rosie Dolly in The Dolly Sisters (1945) and the legendary Marilyn Miller in Look for the Silver Lining (1949). A former band singer, she developed into a splendid dancer, performing sparkling duets with such tap experts as Gene Nelson and Ray Bolger. Although her personal life had its share of tragedy, and she spent some time in a convent, she ultimately enjoyed a long marriage to the actor Fred MacMurray.

She was born Beverly Jean Stovenour in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1926, but her parents divorced when she was a baby and she took the surname of her stepfather, Bert Haver. A child prodigy with a determined mother, she made her stage début at the age of six in a show called Midnight in a Toy Shop. Her younger sister Evelyn recalled that she was "pretty as a Dresden doll" but "very self-assured". At the age of seven, June played the piano with Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and by 1937 she had her own radio show. From 1939 she sang with a series of bands. "Every time a bandleader came to town," she said,

I'd march to his hotel armed with my scrapbook. I'd tell him that he could get a lot of publicity if he would let me sing with his band for his one night stand in our town.

She made her screen début in 1942, singing in four shorts made by Universal. Given a contract with 20th Century-Fox, she made her feature film début as a hat-check girl in the lavish Busby Berkeley musical The Gang's All Here (1943). Another newcomer, Jeanne Crain, also had a one-line role in the film, and the studio then cast them with Lon McCallister in Home in Indiana (1944). The Technicolored family film showcased the fresh beauty of the two girls, with Crain playing the unaffected tomboy and Haver the glamour girl who vies with Crain for McCallister's affection.

Haver had star billing in Irish Eyes are Smiling (1944), a biography of the songwriter Ernest Ball (played by Dick Haymes). In the offbeat musical Where Do We Go From Here?, set in three different periods of American history, Haver was one of two girls encountered by the hero (Fred MacMurray) in all the episodes - Joan Leslie was the other. Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin wrote the score.

The next five years were to be the peak of Haver's career. She co-starred with Fox's biggest attraction, Betty Grable, in the lavish musical biography of the Hungarian siblings, The Dolly Sisters (1945), an enormous hit, although Grable's was the meatier role. Haver's romantic partner in the film, Frank Latimore, became her boyfriend for a time. She received top billing in the delightful Three Little Girls in Blue (1946), which reworked a theme the studio used a lot (three fortune hunters masquerade as an heiress, her secretary and her maid).

The whimsical Wake Up and Dream (1946) was the weakest of her Fox films, but it included the one standard that she introduced on screen, "Give Me the Simple Life" (many of her musicals were period pieces with numbers already familiar). She then made one of her most popular and entertaining movies, another screen biography (of the composer Joe Howard), I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now? (1946). For an elaborate dance routine in the film, she was partnered with a newcomer, Gene Nelson, who encouraged her to improve her dancing skills.

In 1947 Haver eloped with the trumpeter Jimmy Zito, whom she had first met when he was playing with Ted Fio Rito's band seven years earlier. She was later to call the hasty marriage to a former teenage crush "the biggest mistake of my life" and they separated after three months, divorcing the following year. Haver was particularly upset because she had converted to Catholicism, and had determined that her marriage would be more stable than that of her original parents.

The inconsequential Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay (1948) reunited her with McCallister, then she starred in yet another musical biography, Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949), its subject the composer Fred Fisher. In this film, Haver's singing voice was dubbed for the first time (by Bonnie Lou Williams). Warners then borrowed her for two films which were among her finest (with Williams singing for her in both).

In Look for the Silver Lining (1949) she played the incandescent star of such musicals as Sally and Sunny, Marilyn Miller. Though those who remembered Miller criticised Haver as too bland, her performance was engaging and her dancing ability indicated how hard she had been working. Two tap-dancing duets with Ray Bolger were outstanding, and she performed a splendid piece of eccentric step-dancing (very similar to Miller's original style) for the title number. The film was one of Warners' three biggest hits of the year.

At Haver's recommendation, the studio signed Gene Nelson as one of her co-stars in The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950), and she danced better than ever. (Nelson always acknowledged the boost that her support gave to his career.) Personally, Haver's life was troubled. After her divorce, she had been courted by a handsome and successful dentist, Dr John Duzik, whom she planned to marry, but in October 1949 he suddenly died of haemophilia during an ulcer operation.

In the summer of 1950, Haver went to Rome and Jerusalem and had an audience with the Pope, while at home Fox seemed to be losing interest in her career. I'll Get By (1950), although it featured a flock of great song standards, was a pallid remake of the earlier hit Tin Pan Alley (1940), with Haver and Gloria DeHaven in the roles played originally by Alice Faye and Betty Grable. Love Nest (1951) gave Haver a chance to show her comedic ability, but she then went on suspension rather than accept weak scripts or ones which did not adhere to her strict views on family entertainment.

Her last movie was The Girl Next Door (1953), which paired her with the dancer Dan Dailey. It started filming two years earlier but, while shooting a dance routine, Haver missed a leap into Dailey's arms and suffered concussion. After the film's eventual completion, Haver announced her intention to be a nun, and she became a novice at St Mary's Academy in Kansas.

She left the convent after seven months ("for health reasons") and took up interior decoration, then at a party she met the recently widowed Fred MacMurray. They married in 1954 and two years later adopted twin girls. Active in charity work, Haver appeared with her husband on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in 1958, but turned down offers of work, saying that she always planned to retire "while I was still under, rather than over the hill".

Tom Vallance