Presenting part 1 of a feature on singer, actress, and entertainment personality, Betty Hutton. Enjoy this blend of her history, with sound bites of her early performances.
Born in 1921, on February 26: as Elizabeth June Thornburg in Battle Creek, Michigan. She wased wither her older sister, Marion, by their mother, Mabel Lum Thornbird.
Their father, depending on the source was either a railroad brakeman, or foreman. Possibly both at different times. He left for another woman, and wasn’t heard from for years. About the time the girls were coming into some notoriety, a telegram came to tell of his suicide.
Mable made bathtub gin, and beer, and sold it in a makeshift speakeasy during prohibition. Eventually moving the family to Detroit to work in the automobile industry, money from a speakeasy was more profitable.
In later interviews, Betty shares how she started singing bawdy songs on the kitchen table to earn pocket change from customers. When life got rough, she would run to hide with the nuns in a local convent. Also that by age 9 she was singing on the street, and completed the ninth grade when she dropped out of school at age 14 or 15. Meanwhile Marion finished school, Betty sang with high school dance bands, saved her money, and went to New York to try to break into the recording business.
Returning home, she and Marion sang with the Vincent Lopez orchestra. Both were noticed by Glenn Miller while he was reforming his band in 1938, but he felt Marion would be the easier one to manage. Glenn and Helen Miller became Marion’s legal guardian, and the only father she ever remembered. The guardianship also allowed Marion to get into the nightclubs where the underage teenager would otherwise have been barred from entering.
As 1939 came, Betty continued singing with Vince Lopez, signing a contract that paid him 10% of her current, and any future earnings. A legal problem that would follow her, but be cleared up as her movie career was taking off.
Going to the studio on May 25: Betty records “Igloo” and “Concert In The Park” with Sonny Skyler for Bluebird Records. Within 2 weeks, July 5, Betty recorded “The Jitterbug” for Bluebird Records.
Her hit won her the title of America’s #1 Jitterbug, though she admits in later interviews that she never learned to dance the jitterbug.
It was in the Summer of the year the family learned of the suicide of Percy Thornbird. Marion collapsed from exhaustion, and had to be temporarily replaced by Kay Star. September 6: Betty appears with Vincent Lopez at the Avalon Ballroom in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
In 1940 Marion was married to Jack Filbin, later a TV producer for Jackie Gleason.
Meanwhile, Betty won a part in the production of Two For The Show, which opens on February 8 at the Booth Theatre. Then on May 25: Two For The Show closes after 124 performances.
As Betty prepares to take on another role, Marion has to go on maternity leave to have her first son. Discovered by Broadway producer Buddy DeSylva, he casts Betty in his next show, August 13, Cole Porter’s Panama Hattie. It takes until October 30: before Panama Hattie opens at the 46th Street Theatre.
Marion’s career grows in 1941, and outshines her sisters, for now. June 1: Betty drops out of Panama Hattie to relocate to Los Angeles, where Buddy DeSylva casts her in his first film for Paramount Pictures. However, She is replaced in the show by Ann Barrett. Movies are destined for Betty, and on September 20: Filming begins on The Fleet’s In. Dorothy Lamour is the star, with Betty as her supporting actress, and shooting wraps up quickly on October 31.
Radio is the next medium for Betty to conquer and makes her first appearance on November 4: on Bob Hope’s radio show. The response is so great that she negotiates a thirteen week comedy and singing contract with the show. Though episodes don’t exist, a few rehearsal shows do, and clips showcasing her comic acting as she goes on a date with Bob, and sings the Boogly Woogly Piggy are shared.
As 1942 rolls through, another rehearsal show exists near the end of Betty’s 13 week contract. This time at Camp Roberts, and joined by a former cast member who left Bob’s show 3 years earlier, Betty, Francis Langford, and Patsy Kelley take part in a sketch to date the newly drafted Bob Hope and Skinny Ennis, as they entertain the troops there. Betty sings Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry. But the recording is less than ideal, so we share a better clip of the tune later.
Betty’s first film is finally released on March 12: The Fleet’s In is a hit with Both critics and moviegoers, and Betty scores a hit with the tune “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry”. OnApril 12: she Appears on radio’s “Command Performance” singing to the troops overseas, “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry” with the Ray Noble Orchestra. Days later, April 17, Filming begins on Happy Go Lucky. Betty again sings to the troops on June 2.: Returning on Command Performance” she sings “Murder, He Says” with the Billy Artzt Orchestra.
As one film wraps up, June 10: on Happy Go Lucky, Betty begins another one on June 11, Star Spangled Rhythm. In rapid fire pace, on July 23: Filming is completed on Star Spangled Rhythm.
Responding to requests from fans, Betty again sings for the troops on August 25, on Command Performance” with “The Fuddy Duddy Watchmaker” with the Alfred Newman Orchestra.
Cast in her first role as the lead character, October 21: finds Betty Filming begining on The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek. Though some shows no longer exist to record her talent, we know that on December 21, Betty Appears on the AFRS show, Mail Call” with Cecil B. DeMille, Bert Lahr, Mickey Rooney, Richard Haydn and Douglas Aeronnaders. Filming is then completed on December 23: on The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek except for some scene additions in February 1943.
Early in 1943, promotions of her newly released film, and songs are made. Starting on January 4 when Happy Go Lucky is released to theaters.
Betty’s career is still lagging behind her sister’s, but with the recent break up of Glenn Miller’s band, and the explosion Betty is making in Hollywood, the limelight is about to shift. The show today is running long, but to wrap up, there are still a few clips to share.
From January 27: when Betty appears on Eddie Cantor’s radio show with Rudy Vallee and Jimmy McHugh, we share her at Rudy’s party, and singing her hit, “Murder He Says”. Another of her radio appearances is lost to time when she was a guest on Abbott and Costello’s radio program with Monty Wooley on January 28: Though her schedule begins to ramp up with another film beginning to be shot on February 3 Let’s Face It, and Betty performs again for the troops on February 6 on Command Performance” singing “Murder, He Says”. We take time to present only her second song in the episode, “Doing It For Defense”. Also we back track to add on her earlier performance of “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry,” since her earlier recording was passed over due to the audio quality.
Of the films listed, most are currently freely available on Youtube.com, except for The Fleet’s In, featuring Dorothy Lamour. Get ready for part 2, coming soon, where we’ll continue to track the growing success of Betty Hutton. The best years of her professional life are still ahead of her, and she throws herself into supporting the troops.
Sources for information are largely from