sepia1137

IN THE heyday of M-G-M musicals, Gloria DeHaven was the breathlessly effervescent, sexy-yet-vulnerable girl next door. Often she found herself playing ingénues or overshadowed sisters; M-G-M superstardom eluded her.

But DeHaven had a distinction unshared by Ann Miller, Esther Williams, or June Allyson: She was a real singer, with a sweet, throaty voice that quavered with emotion. Years before Connie Francis became a star by reviving
Who’s Sorry Now?, DeHaven broke hearts with that 1920s tearjerker. She sang it in Three Little Words (1950), a film in which she played (for a five-minute cameo) the woman who introduced the song: her mother Flora Parker, half of “Mr. And Mrs. Carter DeHaven,” a popular vaudeville duo. Yet Gloria released only sporadic recordings, and nothing past the ‘60s; this CD compilation of her studio discs is overdue.

Gloria Mildred DeHaven’s born-in-a-trunk life began in Los Angeles on July 23, 1925. A decade later her father was working as assistant director on Charlie Chaplin’s
Modern Times (1936), and Gloria wound up onscreen in the small role of Paulette Goddard’s kid sister. Flora was a stage mother, though not of the oppressive Mama Rose variety, as DeHaven was quick to note in a ‘50s radio interviewer. “They sent me to Edward Clark’s little theater school here in Los Angeles,” said the singer in her crisp, pert manner. “I learned music and singing and dancing and dramatics.” Band-singing stints with Bob Crosby and Jan Savitt followed. In 1940, a DeHaven family friend, director George Cukor, arranged for Gloria to take a small role in M-G-M’s Susan and God, which starred Joan Crawford and Fredric March. With that, the fourteen-year-old became the studio’s newest Cinderella.

They took advantage of her singing. In
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), Between Two Women (1945), and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (1949), DeHaven sang chestnuts from her parents’ era. As an actress, she could handle more than just the confectionary escapism of those films, and M-G-M entrusted her with beefier roles in The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Summer Holiday (1948), a musical version of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! She had some real-life drama to inspire her, in the form of an impetuous marriage to movie star John Payne. Her stint at M-G-M ended in 1950, the year that DeHaven co-appeared with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in one of the studio’s classics, Summer Stock.

M-G-M had begun to phase out its extravagantly costly musicals, and most of their still-young stars were let go. For the next few years, DeHaven bounced from studio to studio. Signed briefly by 20th Century Fox, she co-starred in
Down Among the Sheltering Palms, a second-rate knockoff of South Pacific; it stayed in the can for three years, then opened in 1953 to little notice. RKO reached high with Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), a splashy extravaganza choreographed by Busby Berkeley; it starred three M-G-M outcasts – Tony Martin, Ann Miller, and DeHaven – along with Janet Leigh. The score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin fell far below that of the team’s recent Broadway smash, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but DeHaven gave her all to two solos, Let the Worry Bird Worry for You and The Closer You Are. In The Girl Rush (Paramount, 1955) she introduced the saucy “An Occasional Man,” a minor hit for Jeri Southern. So This Is Paris (Universal, 1955) teamed her with Tony Curtis for a forgettable dose of ooh-la-la.

Between films, DeHaven performed in supper clubs; Decca also signed her in 1951 to her first record deal. The company saddled her mainly with commercial fluff (“Red Hot Pepper Pot,” “I Wish I Wuz”), pitched blatantly at the charts; Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians backed her on several sides. But DeHaven also got to sing with some classy leaders – Tommy Dorsey’s former arranger Sy Oliver; Dave Barbour, the guitar-playing ex-husband of Peggy Lee – and to record a few pretty ballads.
Hold Me Hold Me Hold Me came from Two on the Aisle, a then-current vaudeville-style Broadway revue that starred Dolores Gray and Bert Lahr. DeHaven’s cover of the Tony Bennett hit Because of You reached number eleven on the charts.

She did her best recorded work for RCA Thesaurus, a transcription service that supplied tracks for radio. DeHaven’s Thesaurus sides are sampled here commercially for the first time. Backed by small ensembles, she sings choice standards (
Someone to Watch Over Me, He’s Funny That Way, The Lady Is a Tramp) with intimacy and great charm. DeHaven revisited her big-band past on the Navy Reserve radio series Stand By for Music. Backed by the orchestra of Glenn Miller arranger Jerry Gray, DeHaven offers dreamy versions of Blue Moon, Somebody Loves Me, and Who’s Sorry Now? This CD also takes a look back at DeHaven’s big chance on Broadway. Seventh Heaven (1955) teamed her with Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican screen hunk who wasn’t known as a singer. Film composer and resident Decca maestro Victor Young wrote the score with an obscure lyricist, Stella Unger. DeHaven pulled out all the stops in two heart-tugging, tear-stained ballads, Where Is That Someone for Me? and If It’s a Dream, but Seventh Heaven closed in five weeks.

Summer-stock productions and television shows like
As the World Turns, Flipper, and Mannix kept DeHaven busy in the ‘60s. Then came the ‘70s nostalgia craze – ignited in part by the M-G-M documentary extravaganza That’s Entertainment! – and the studio’s stars basked in a new wave of attention. DeHaven guested on dramatic TV shows galore, including Marcus Welby, M.D., Fantasy Island, and Falcon Crest, and played running parts on two soap operas, All My Children and Ryan’s Hope. Still fetching in her fifties, she was cast as the other woman of Tom, the husband of the title character in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a scandalous late-night adult soap opera.

Acting work had eclipsed her singing, but in 1989 DeHaven launched an acclaimed new nightclub act. Her conductor and pianist was William Roy, who like DeHaven had worked as a child actor in Hollywood. After seeing the show at Rainbow & Stars, an art-deco cabaret in Manhattan, John S. Wilson of the
New York Times praised DeHaven’s “fresh voice,” full of “vim and vigor.” She made her last film appearance in Out to Sea (1997), an all-star reunion of showbiz veterans headed by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. At this writing, DeHaven lives in retirement near Las Vegas.

M-G-M gave all its young stars a stake on immortality, and it’s for her work there that DeHaven remains best known. But even without the glamorous trappings of those musicals, she truly had a voice to remember.

-- James Gavin, New York City, 2009

[James Gavin’s books include
Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne (2009) and Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker (2002). Visit his website: jamesgavin.com.]