Saturday, March 17, 2007

Betty Hutton, 1921-2007

The death of Betty Hutton this week was something of a shock since I didn't know she was still alive. Unlike most people I knew, I came to Betty Hutton through music first, not film. Specifically, I became a fan after reading this review in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide and purchasing the compilation "Spotlight on... Betty Hutton. It was simply one if the more brassy, ballsy, fun, life-affirming records I purchased that year and I soon searched out the films, Annie Get Your Gun, The Perils of Pauline and The Miracle at Morgan's Creek, the comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges.

Her New York Times Obituary took great notice of rags to riches to rags life...
Ms. Hutton’s electric presence in films like “The Fleet’s In” and Preston Sturges’s “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” masked emotional problems rooted in a poverty-stricken childhood. As a young girl, she sang for coins on street corners and in speakeasies to help support her alcoholic mother, who had been abandoned by Ms. Hutton’s father.

Years after Ms. Hutton’s film career ended, those emotional problems still plagued her. “I tried to kill myself,” she said in 1983, recalling her decline after fading from public notice.

Ms. Hutton re-emerged in the 1970s, when reporters learned she was working as a cook and housekeeper in the rectory of a Roman Catholic church in Portsmouth, R.I. Before being rescued and rehabilitated by a priest, she said, she had become addicted to sleeping pills and alcohol and had lost what she estimated to be a $10 million fortune.
Her life included four husbands and despite her onstage success, her offstage life could never measure up to her career. She was the proverbial Child of an Alcoholic who suffered the consequences of problems that she could not identify. She once told a reporter that...
`When I mentioned that I wanted to be a star, my mother thought I was nuts,'' Hutton recalled. ``I thought if I became a star and got us out of poverty, she would quit drinking. I didn't know (alcoholism) was a disease; nobody did. There was no A.A. then.''
You can see her desire to be liked and loved in her performances. Her mugging and shouting would get your attention and her balladry could break your heart. Like the great Anita O'Day, she wore her heart on her sleeve and that practice took its toll in loves lost and substance abuse.

When she did come around in the 1970s, she didn't want to go down the lucrative path of celebrity pity and sell her story in a tell-all. "I don't want to go into how I got here," Hutton told a reporter at the time. "I was a brokenhearted woman and didn't want to live anymore. I should be dead, but I'm not." That was it. Blunt and honest. You can hear it in her voice. She may have been viewed as zany, but anyone with a heart could see that her enthusiasm for life was honest and like may people who live with joy in their hearts and a big hole to fill, they jump into situations with those who aren't their for them but are their for themselves. It's a sin that someone who gave so much joy to so many people had to go through so much.

And it's a blessing that we had her for so long. Thank you Betty. We will miss you.

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1 comment:

Raeofsonshine said...

I knew there was a reason why I was intriqued by her...especially in "The greatest show on earth" with Charlton Heston. I could relate with her and could somehow see the pain behind it all. I also relate with her life story and have had a similar one. Parents from those years were oftentimes really messed up and nobody really knew what to do so they didn't say anything about it.. I had a World War II dad that kept it all inside while both parents drank... and I am still working on my issues as a result.. Thanks for the article. Her name came to mind today as I wondered where she went... blessings....