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Betty Hutton Interview: 'I should be dead, but I'm not'

Betty Hutton OlderBetty Hutton interview: Tragic reminiscences (image: Betty Hutton interview on the PBS show American Masters)

[See previous post: “Betty Hutton: Annie Get Your Gun, Dancing with Fred Astaire.”] The year 1967 was Betty Hutton's personal nadir: her mother died in a fire, she filed for bankruptcy, and her fourth marriage came to an end.

Besides the aforementioned Charles O'Curran, Hutton's husbands were camera manufacturer Theodore S. Briskin, Capitol Records executive Alan Livingston, and jazz trumpet player Pete Candoli. Repeating a line similar to Rita Hayworth's complaint that her many husbands went to bed with Gilda but woke up with Rita, Hutton once said, “My husbands all fell in love with Betty Hutton. None of them fell in love with me.”

Following a partial recovery in the early '70s, she landed a gig performing Annie Get Your Gun at a dinner theater outside of Boston. One night, she collapsed onstage.

“I don't want to go into how I got here,” Hutton told a reporter around that time. “I was a brokenhearted woman and didn't want to live anymore. I should be dead, but I'm not.”

In 1974, entertainment columnist Earl Wilson organized a benefit for her in New York. “I haven't got a cent,” Hutton bluntly declared. (The New York Times obit gave her weekly salary to have been $150,000 during her heyday, though there's surely at least one “0” too many in that figure.)

Betty Hutton and Catholicism

Like so many recovering addicts, Betty Hutton eventually turned to religion – initially Lutheranism, the religion in which was brought up, and later Roman Catholicism. Her conversion came about because she felt Rev. Peter Maguire of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, had helped to save her life. In 1974, during one of her numerous hospital stays, she happened to meet Maguire, who convinced her to work as a housekeeper at St. Anthony's rectory. “No one had ever talked to me before,” Hutton later recalled.

Hutton's work at the rectory lasted only a few months. Reportedly suffering from “a complete emotional breakdown,” in December 1974 Hutton's psychiatrist had her committed to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks. But from then on, Maguire became her mentor.

Brief career resurgence and college degree

A few years later, Betty Hutton resumed her show business career, mostly performing in nightclubs and local plays in cities such as San Francisco and Louisville. In 1980, for a limited time she played the nasty orphanage boss in the Broadway musical Annie.

Three years later, she landed what turned out to be her last show-business job: a role in the PBS special Jukebox Saturday Night.

In the mid-'80s, Hutton enrolled at Salve Regina, a Catholic college for women in Newport, R.I., where she graduated with a master's degree in psychology. Even though she had left school in the ninth grade, Salve Regina had decided that the actress' life experience entitled her to an baccalaureate. There she taught classes in TV and motion pictures; later on, she taught comedy and oral interpretation at Emerson College in Boston.

According to several unsourced online articles, Betty Hutton was a lifelong Republican who supported the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan. If so, she apparently was what's called a “moderate Republican”: in a 1977 interview with TV personality Mike Douglas, Hutton talked about the “great, great writers” working in Hollywood in the '40s, connecting them to the Red Scare, and saying, “they [the House Un-American Activities Committee] should never have done that scene to them [persecuting alleged communists].” She then added that those were “the writers I supported during that era!"

But perhaps the most memorable televised Betty Hutton interview was a remarkably candid – and quite touching – 2000 chat with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, whom she had known for a number of years.

Betty Hutton: The end

Following the death of Rev. Maguire in the mid-'90s, a grief-stricken Betty Hutton moved to Palm Springs. At age 86, she would die at her home in the California desert town on March 11, 2007, of complications of colon cancer. The official announcement of Hutton's death was withheld until after her funeral on March 13, at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in nearby Cathedral City.

“She wanted to have everything totally private, and we tried to respect her wishes,” her executor Carl Bruno told the Los Angeles Times. None of Betty Hutton's daughters attended the funeral.

Now, did Betty Hutton ever enjoy watching herself in all those lighthearted musicals made during Hollywood's so-called Golden Age? The answer is, No, she didn't.

“It isn't the movie I'm looking at,” Hutton once remarked. “Professionally, my career was great, but never was the scene offstage great for me.”

Below is the TCM Remembers segment aired at the time of Betty Hutton's death in 2007.

Screengrab of Betty Hutton interview on American Masters: PBS.

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1 Comment to Betty Hutton Interview: 'I should be dead, but I'm not'

  1. irish ed

    I fell in love with everything about Betty Hutton in an old movie late one night and will always love her. It is so tragic the nicest Hollywood stars chose abusive husbands. I will always regret I was never able to meet her and give her just a few minutes to show her someone truly cared for the real her.