Betty Hutton (1921-2007)

Betty Hutton
Betty Hutton

Betty Hutton Betty Hutton was a highly talented and popular film, stage and television actress, particularly well known for her dynamic, outgoing personality. During the Second World War she became a national symbol of American style, talent and determination, famous for her performances in 'The Miracle of Morgan's Creek' in1942 and .'Annie Get Your Gun' in 1952.


She was born Elizabeth June Thornburg in Battle Creek, Michigan, on February 26, 1921. She had a sister, Marion, two years older, who became a singer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1938 to 1942. When Betty was just two years old, her father, a railroad worker, deserted the family to live with another woman. Betty heard no more of him for 14 years when, in 1937, she received a telegram informing her that he had committed suicide.


Now alone, Betty's mother, Mabel, took her two young girls to Detroit, and began work in a car factory. She quickly realised that during Prohibition there was more money in selling illegal alcohol and for several years she and her daughters moved from location to location just keeping one step ahead of the police who frequently raided such Speakeasies.

Mabel was an alcoholic but could play the guitar and she taught both Betty and Marion to sing and dance. Betty began singing publicly for the first time in a school production in 1930 when she was nine.

.In 1934, age thirteen, she got a job as a singer in a Michigan summer resort and then worked with a local band of high school students, gaining invaluable experience of handling live audiences.

New Name 1938

Two years later Betty had a short, unsuccessful trip to New York City where she was advised that she would never make it in show business. She ignored the advice and upon returning home, made an appearance with her sister in a Detroit nightclub. She was heard by bandleader Vincent Lopez who took her on as vocalist. It was Betty's big break and she quickly developed her trademark exuberant singing style under the name 'Betty Darling' In 1938, when sister Marion became a vocalist with Glenn Miller, both sisters began using the surname Hutton.

It was the start of a period of great success for Betty. In 1940 she appeared in a Broadway show, Two for the Show' which ran for 124 performances. This was followed by 'Panama Hattie' also on Broadway, co-starring Ethel Merman. The show was a huge hit and ran for 501 performances.

Movie Career

Before she appeared in a feature film, Betty's movie career began in 1939 with a number of musical short subjects for Vitaphone, filmed in New York. These included: One for the Book (1940) with Hal Sherman; Public Jitterbug No. 1 (1939) with Chaz Chase, Hal Le Roy and Emerson's Sextette; and Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra (1939). Also, in the same year, Paramount featured her in a short, 'Three Kings and a Queen'.

The producer of 'Panama Hattie' was Buddy DeSylva, and when he became an executive producer at Paramount Pictures in 1941 he proved to be an important contact for Betty. He signed her in a featured role in 'The Fleet's In' (1942), starring Paramount's number-one female star Dorothy Lamour, alongside Eddie Bracken and William Holden. The film was successful and Betty became a popular, nationally known star.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek 1942

One of Betty's best remembered roles was as the dopey but lovable Trudy Kockenlocker, in 'The Miracle of Morgan's Creek' in 1942, directed by Preston Sturges. The film was delayed by Hays Office objections but was finally released early in 1944..It was named in the National Film Board's Top Ten films of the year, and the National Board of Review nominated it for Best Picture of 1944, Sturges was nominated for the Best Writing Academy Award and the film made Betty a major Hollywood star. She appeared in two further films in 1944, 'And the Angels Sing' with Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Lamour, and 'Here Come the Waves' with Bing Crosby. Both films performed well at the Box Office.

Buddy DeSylva 1944

In 1942 Buddy DeSylva had become one of the co-founders of Capitol Records and in 1944 he signed Betty to a recording contract. The following year DeSylva co-produced her next movie hit, the musical 'Incendiary Blonde', in which she played actress and Speakeasy owner, Texas Guinan. After 'Duffy's Tavern' in 1945, Betty received top billing in 'The Stork Club' also in 1945 and produced by DeSylva. In 1947 she had another hit with 'The Perils of Pauline' in which she sang the Oscar nominated "I Wish I Didn't Love You So". By now, Betty had replaced DorothyLamour as Paramount's top female box-office attraction. But from the mid 1940's the trajectory of her career would be generally downwards.

In the late 1940's DeSylva's health began to deteriorate and he left Paramount, dying of a stroke in 1950. Betty's career suffered from a lack of guidance and she did several films which she disliked such as 'Dream Girl' in 1948 and 'Red, Hot and Blue' the following year with Victor Mature.

Annie Get Your Gun 1950

Her next screen triumph came in 1950 with 'Annie Get Your Gun' for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which hired her to replace Judy Garland in the title role of Annie Oakley. Reportedly she did not get along with her co-star Howard Keel, but the film, with the leading role specially revamped for Betty, was a smash hit, and Betty received the lion's share of critical praise.

In July 1952 Betty made the decision to leave Paramount to form a production company with her husband.

Television Career

After 'Annie', Betty's career became TV oriented. She appeared in the TV movie 'Satins and Spurs' in 1954 and had her own series 'The Betty Hutton Show' for 2 years from 1959. She guest starred in several TV series such as 'The Greatest Show on Earth', 'Burke's Law', and 'Gunsmoke' in the mid 1960s . After this Betty's career began to slump very quickly and she faded from public view.

Fall and Rise

Betty's successful life disappeared during the 1960's. Her mother died in a house fire in 1967 and in the same year when she and her fourth husband divorced, Betty declared bankruptcy. She began living in seedy hotels as her addiction to uppers and downers increased. She was following the same fatal path as Judy Garland.

She was discovered in the early 1970s by a New York newspaper working for a soup kitchen and later for a rectory as a house cleaner.

Betty was able to regain control of her life through the benign influence of Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Maguire who helped her with her addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs and to find new meaning to her life after Hollywood.

Hutton went back to school and earned a master's degree in psychology from Salve Regina University in 1986.


Betty married four times in all. Her first marriage was to businessman Ted Briskin in 1945. The couple had two daughters before divorcing in 1951.

Her second marriage was to choreographer Charles O'Curran from 1952 to divorce in 1955.

She married husband Alan W. Livingston in 1955, weeks after her divorce from O'Curran. They divorced in 1960.

Her fourth and final marriage in 1960 was to jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli. They divorced in 1967. She and Candoli had one daughter.

Betty's last known performance, in any medium, was on Jukebox Saturday Night, which aired on PBS in 1983.

Hutton stayed in New England and began teaching comedic acting at Boston's Emerson College. She became estranged from her daughters. She lived in quiet retirement in Palm Springs, California until her death on March 11, 2007. She was 86 years old.

None of her daughters attended her funeral.

Betty Hutton Academy Awards

No Nominations:

Betty Hutton Filmography

National Red Cross Pageant
Queens of the Air (Short)
Three Kings and a Queen (Short)
Public Jitterbug No. 1 (Short)