[See previous post: “Betty Hutton Movies: 'It Had to Be You.'“] Betty Hutton's career would reach its peak in 1950: Top billed, she danced with Fred Astaire in Norman Z. McLeod's aptly titled Let's Dance. Though not a great movie, the pairing with Astaire signaled prestige; the RKO-turned-MGM star was certainly more well-regarded than the likes of Sonny Tufts, John Lund, Don DeFore, or Macdonald Carey.
That same year, Betty Hutton replaced a problematic Judy Garland in MGM's George Sidney-directed film version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Of note: On Broadway, the role of Annie Oakley had been played by none other than Hutton's Panama Hattie nemesis, Ethel Merman.
Annie Get Your Gun was to be one of MGM's biggest productions of the year. Hutton was even featured on the cover of Time magazine, but, according to her, such newfound prestige didn't prevent her fellow Annie Get Your Gun cast members, among them Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn, and Louis Calhern, and the film's crew from looking down at the Paramount outsider. She later claimed not to have been invited to the film's premiere in New York.
As expected, Annie Get Your Gun was a solid critical and box office success – probably Betty Hutton's biggest to date. On the downside, that same year her Paramount protector, Buddy DeSylva, died of a stroke.
Betty Hutton's Best Picture Oscar winner
Hutton was gone from the screen for a whole year, returning in 1952 with an even bigger success – at least with audiences: veteran Cecil B. DeMille's elephantine corn-o-rama circus superspectacle The Greatest Show on Earth. Surrounded by a stellar cast that included Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, Charlton Heston, and James Stewart (painfully miscast as a sad clown), trapeze artist Hutton (instead of original choice Hedy Lamarr) stood out as the only cast member who looked capable of making sane people pay to watch a circus show. Even so, this train wreck of a movie – both literally and figuratively – went on to win a sentimental Best Picture Academy Award.
(For the record, among the losers that year were Richard Thorpe's first-rate costume drama Ivanhoe and Fred Zinnemann's classic Western High Noon. At least DeMille – who'd been making [mostly mediocre] movies since the 1910s and who had tried to turn the Directors Guild of America into a far-right organization – failed to take home the Best Director Oscar. That statuette went to DeMille's DGA nemesis, John Ford, for The Quiet Man.)
Betty Hutton: Post-stardom
Betty Hutton's last star vehicle under her Paramount contract was the 1952 biopic Somebody Loves Me, about vaudeville star Blossom Seeley. That year she married dance director Charles O'Curran, who wanted to direct her in a film. The studio, however, balked at the idea. In a fit of temper, Hutton walked out on her contract.
Hutton, in fact, could be difficult, as she herself admitted. “When I'm working with jerks with no talent, I raise hell until I get what I want,” she told the Associated Press in 1954.
She would stay away from the big screen for five years. When Hutton returned in 1957 – in another Paramount production, Spring Reunion, co-starring Dana Andrews – she was all but ignored by critics and audiences alike.
Like numerous other faded film stars, in the '50s Betty Hutton turned to television, but with little luck. In 1954, she landed with a thud in the 90-minute TV special Satins and Spurs, a musical comedy featuring Hutton as a rodeo queen (shades of Annie Oakley) who falls for magazine writer Kevin McCarthy. Satins and Spurs was reportedly lambasted by critics when it aired in September. Compounding matters, her TV series, The Betty Hutton Show, lasted only one season in 1959.
Five years later, she could be seen in the Broadway musical Fade Out, Fade In, replacing Carol Burnett, but an addiction to pills and alcohol were by then taking a heavy toll.
[“Dancing with Fred Astaire, Annie Get Your Gun: Betty Hutton” continues on the next page. See link below.]
Betty Hutton Annie Get Your Gun publicity image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.