The June Allyson Centenary Blogathon: Ten Things You Might Not Know About June Allyson

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Hi, everyone! If you haven’t noticed, I had to change my topic for the wonderful June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by the always gracious Simoa of Champagne for Lunch. My original idea was to review Strategic Air Command (1955), one of the lesser-known films that June made with the incomparable James Stewart, while visiting the Al Lang Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where a portion of the picture was filmed. I couldn’t resist the opportunity as it’s one of the many classic movie filming locations that I recently found out are near my hometown! As much as it disappoints me as I’m sure it does my readers, however, not only was I unable to access the film itself, but I wasn’t even able to get into the stadium! I was aware that it is still in use today (after being converted into a professional soccer stadium in 2011), but I was unaware that the sport had just started its season this month! Rest assured that one fine day I’ll get into the location, take some pictures, and write an article about it that will do it justice. Until then I want to give Simoa a huge thank you for allowing me to change my topic so late in the game, and I hope you all learn something new as I share with you ten facts that you might not know about our lovely birthday girl June Allyson, who would have turned the big 100 today!

1. When June was eight, she fractured her skull and suffered a broken back as a result of a falling tree branch. Her doctors told her that she would never walk again, and for four years she was confined to a heavy steel brace that covered her entire torso. She ultimately regained her health, and even taught herself to dance by watching the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

2. June had the ability to cry on cue. She later explained that her method for inducing tears was to “try very, very hard not to cry, so the more I thought about not crying the more I cried”. Her Little Women (1949) costar Margaret O’Brien also had this gift, and according to Allyson, they both “could not stop” crying during O’Brien’s death scene.

3. She never had the opportunity to place her hand and footprints in front of the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like many of her costars, but she was awarded a star for her work in motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and got to place her hand and footprints in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park on August 21, 1989 (which is thought to be heavily inspired by Grauman’s).

4. After filming The Secret Heart (1946) together, Allyson became great friends with her costar, Claudette Colbert. On June 18, 1948, Claudette became godmother to June’s only daughter, Pamela Powell.

5. June was an avid fan of mystery writer Agatha Christie, so much so that her personal library consisted of every novel that Christie ever wrote. She also considered Christie’s character Jane Marple to be her favorite female detective.

6. She initially wanted to become a doctor, and began acting in order to pay for medical school. She ended up falling in love with the craft, and eventually paid for her brother to become a doctor instead. She still took a lifelong interest in health and medical research, however, especially after her first husband Dick Powell passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer on January 2, 1963.

7. During the time of her breakout role in Two Girls and A Sailor (1944), June stood at just 5′ 1″ and weighed only 99 pounds.

8. In 1945, Harvard Lampoon voted June as their worst actress of the year. The “award” for worst actor that year went to Van Johnson, who costarred with June in six films.

9. Judy Garland was one of June Allyson’s closest friends. The two met while they were both under contract at MGM in the 1940s, and Judy would often give June rides to the studio in her car. In interviews after Garland’s passing in 1969, Allyson said that she could hardly talk about Garland without crying because she was “such a special lady who didn’t have appropriate help available to her in her lifetime”.

10. Despite often portraying the perfect housewife in film and on television, June was quoted as saying, “In real life I’m a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook – anything in fact but the perfect wife”. I managed to dig up a few of her own personal recipes courtesy of the blog Classic Celebrity Recipes, so go ahead and try them out for yourself and tell me if you agree with June!

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The April Showers Blogathon: Thunder on the Hill (1951)

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Hooray! I’m already back with my first post for April! Today I’m celebrating the coming of the new month with The April Showers Blogathon, celebrating the best uses of rain in motion pictures. I’d like to start off as always by thanking the host of this blogathon, Steve over at Movie Movie Blog Blog, for creating such an interesting topic for everyone to write about. I shower the blogathon with love and hopes that it’s a great success, and if you’d like to read all of the other soggy entries, check out this post! Without further ado, let’s begin!

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Theatrical poster for Thunder on the Hill (1951).

Of all types of weather that’s displayed in film, you could say that rain is the most important. Rain can make a romance more tender or dramatic, a noir more heartwrenching, or a horror even more chilling. Rain can stop the plot of a picture or even help it along, and when I was thinking about great uses of rain on the silver screen, my mind immediately went to Thunder on the Hill (1951), an underrated gem starring two incomporable stars of the day, Claudette Colbert and Ann Blyth, the latter being one of my favorite actresses of all time and the namesake for my two blogs. The film begins with a heavy downpour, so heavy that it floods the county of Norfolk, England. The innundated streets prevent ambulances from getting to county hospitals, and the only shelter and medical center available for miles is the convent and hospital Our Lady of Sorrow that rests on top of a steep hill, safe from the floods and headed by Mother Superior (Gladys Cooper) and Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert). Though she has no real authority, it appears that Sister Mary attempts to run the convent and hospital with a self-righteous need to do everything her own way, which causes tension between herself and some of the nurses in the convent. It’s later revealed that Sister Mary has strived to make no mistakes due to one that she made in her past which led to her sister’s death; Mary forbade her union with a man whom Mary felt was unfit for her, and her sister committed suicide as a result.

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Ann Blyth and Claudette Colbert in a publicity photo for Thunder on the Hill (1951).

Even more chaos erupts in the convent when two guards, Sergeant Melling (Gavin Muir) and Miss Pierce (played by Norma Varden, one of the most recognizable character actresses of classic film), arrive with their prisoner, Valerie Carns (Ann Blyth). Valerie is considered a notorious murderess and practically evil incarnate by the townspeople who seek refuge in the convent due to her cold-blooded murder of her brother, composer Jason Carns. In fact, she was in the process of being transported to Norwich for her execution when the floods came and left them stranded at the convent in the first place.  Sister Mary informs Valerie and her guards that the floods cannot allow anyone to be transported anywhere, and that the three will have to wait a few days until the water recedes before going on their way. Valerie is in despair when she hears the news, unable to bear waiting longer and longer to die, and Sister Mary attempts to comfort her while Valerie remains cynical. In spite of everything, she still maintains her innocence, and the closer Sister Mary gets to Valerie, the more she too believes that Valerie did not kill her brother. All too quickly Mary begins to become obsessed with the case and with clearing her new friend’s name, even involving the other Sisters in her attempt to save Valerie’s life. But will the holier-than-thou nun be stopped before she can bring out the truth? Will Mary endanger everyone when the real killer is revealed?

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Ann Blyth in a scene from Thunder on the Hill (1951).

As I mentioned before, rain can either halt the plot of a film or help move it along. At the start of this film, one might suspect that the floods would stop the action by not allowing Valerie to be transported to her execution. It’s soon revealed that quite the opposite is true when Mary begins her journey to solve the murder of Jason Carns almost singlehandedly. The movie is filled to the brim with stellar leading as well as supporting performances, and there’s no shortage of suspense despite the action basically being limited to just the location of the convent. It’s easy to see how utterly vital the rain is in this film when you think about how different it would have been without it. If the flood hadn’t swept over the county of Norfolk, Valerie Carns would have simply been led to her demise, Sister Mary would not have discovered the real murderer, and essentially all of the events that occurred in the duration of the film would have simply ceased to exist. If that doesn’t show how important weather can be to a picture, I don’t know what does.