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Obituary: Robert Hutton

Robert Bruce Winne (Robert Hutton), actor, producer, director, screenwriter: born Kingston, New York 11 June 1920; married (one son, one daughter); died Kingston, New York 7 August 1994.

ROBERT HUTTON was one of the new breed of stars ushered in by the Second World War. Just as the Depression needed a new, tougher kind of actor (Cagney, Tracy, Gable), so did the movies of the war years - only in this case they were required to be anything but tough. They were fighting men, of course; but they needed to be the idealised absent loved ones of countless mothers, wives and sweethearts. They looked as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

MGM had Robert Walker and Van Johnson to play their GIs; Warner Bros fielded Dane Clark and Robert Hutton, who got to be entertained by virtually every star on the lot in the most self-congratulatory of the all-star musicals of the time, Hollywood Canteen (1944), written and directed by Delmer Daves. Clark got to dance with a girl who looks like Joan Crawford and faints dead away when she tells him she is Joan Crawford. 'That's democracy,' he decides later, 'all them big guys talking to little guys like me.' Hutton confesses that he prefers Joan Leslie to the girl back home, and, since he is the millionth visitor to the canteen, Bette Davis and John Garfield conspire to ensure that he spends an evening with her. 'I'll try to show you a good time' is Leslie's promising greeting to him, but the scene between them could not have been anyone's idea of a good time.

Earlier in the year Hutton had appeared in Janie, directed by Michael Curtiz, one of the myriad pictures about a small town coping with a new army garrison in its midst. In all of them the bobbysoxers are agog with excitement and their parents apprehensive - needlessly, of course, since the GIs have nothing more venal on their collective mind than a jam session. The sleepy-eyed Hutton did not even get a clinch with Janie (Joyce Reynolds), perhaps because the plot concerned her unsuccessful efforts to be alone with him.

The end of the war posed a more urgent question, that of the returning soldier. Warners, never a company to flinch at a problem, coped with that in a sequel; Janie Gets Married (1946), with Leslie replacing Reynolds. It did not repeat the success of the original; nor did two reunions with Reynolds, Always Together (1947) and Wallflower (1948). The contrast between the peppy, impulsive Reynolds and the romantic, decent Hutton was only one of several screen teams of the era. Warners made Hutton one of The Younger Brothers (1949), because the western at this time could prolong many a sagging career but he was not a natural man of the West.

He moved over to Columbia to make And Baby Makes Three, as Barbara Hale's intended; but since he was billed below Robert Young, husband No 1, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. He was the intended of Audrey Dalton in Casanova's Big Night (1954), but her virtue was in question and Bob Hope was hired to test it. He more than held his own amidst an interesting cast - it also included Joan Fontaine, Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price - but his other credits of the decade were disappointing. An exception might be Cinderfella (1960), in which Jerry Lewis took the title-role and Hutton was one of the Ugly Brothers.

With nothing else in view, Hutton accepted a British offer to play a safecracker in an efficient espionage drama, The Secret Door (1962), of which he was also associate producer. Back in the US, he was involved in the production of The Slime People (1963), also directing and starring in this cheapo shot mainly in a meat market. He returned to Britain to play a military commander in Finders Keepers (1966), a Cliff Richard vehicle.

Hutton continued to work in Britain, in mainly forgettable horror movies, including Torture Garden (1967), in which he was a movie star whose own career is prolonged by a pact with a mad magician which has turned him into an android. He did another parody of a movie star, called Rock Stewart - capitalising on his vague resemblence to Rock Hudson and a closer one to James Stewart - in Doctor In Clover (1965), the last of a series which starred first Dirk Bogarde and later Leslie Phillips. Hutton did have a major role in the best of the Connery 007s, You Only Live Twice (1967), as one of the bigwigs watching the approach of the Third World War; without knowing (as we do) that superman Bond can prevent it. In 1974 he wrote both story and screenplay of Persecution, which dauntingly teamed Lana Turner and Trevor Howard.

(Photograph omitted)