Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Van Johnson

The actor was the soul of amiability in the golden age of MGM musicals, and he held it together when he made World War II pictures, too. (A car crash at the very beginning of his career kept him from active duty, though he made up for it on the celluloid front.) His hidden depths he was careful not to share with audiences, which may be why his career hasn't aged as well as that of his contemporaries (that, and a tendency toward ham and overstatement in more serious roles when the music stopped). Then again, there is little use anymore for a trained journeyman, who traveled between genres with relative ease, and a lightness of spirit frolicking with the leading lady likes of Judy Garland, June Allyson, and Esther Williams, something Hollywood just isn't very good at today, or does only with ironic quotes placed around the frame. Johnson, whose last film and TV roles were in the early 90s, was extinct long before his departure. But here's to the good times: The Human Comedy, A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Till the Clouds Roll By, In the Good Old Summertime, Battleground, holding his own in The Caine Mutiny, sardonic in Brigadoon, playing the lute as "The Minstrel" on TV's Batman, receiving an Emmy nomination for Rich Man, Poor Man, and fitting the elegant movie-within-the-movie in The Purple Rose of Cairo to a T.

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