Actress Betty Hutton dies at 86


Actress Betty Hutton, the exuberant blonde who starred as sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the 1950 film musical "Annie Get Your Gun," has died at age 86, her former studio, Paramount Pictures, said Tuesday.

Hutton died on Monday in the Palm Springs, California, area, but no information was immediately available on the cause of her death, said A.C. Lyles, a veteran executive and producer on the Paramount lot who knew her well.

Starting out as a big-band vocalist, Hutton earned the moniker "America's Number One Jitterbug" (after the popular dance craze) in the late 1930s, and later signed with Paramount to become one of the most popular box-office stars in the 1940s.

"She was like a bunch of Chinese firecrackers all going off at once," Lyles told Reuters. "She was loaded with energy and personality and talent."

Hutton appeared in a string of musical comedies, often paired with bumbling comic Eddie Bracken, and landed her first non-singing role in Preston Sturges' 1944 comedy "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek."

The following year, she starred in her first dramatic role as silent film actress and speakeasy owner Texas Guinan in "Incendiary Blonde," a title that stuck as one of Hutton's many nicknames.

And in 1952 she received top billing as a trapeze artist in Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic "The Greatest Show on Earth," co-starring with Charlton Heston and Dorothy Lamour.

But Hutton is perhaps best remembered for her star turn as Annie Oakley in the film version of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun," a role she landed when the original star, Judy Garland, became ill.

The film featured her performances of such memorable songs as "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Hutton's movie career fizzled after she left Paramount, the story goes, in a dispute over the studio's refusal to let her choreographer husband, Charles O'Curran, direct her films.

After a successful vaudeville stint during the 1950s, Hutton slipped into obscurity and turned up, years later, working as a cook and housekeeper at a Rhode Island rectory in the mid-1970s.

But she returned to Broadway in the early 1980s for a brief appearance in the role of the tyrannical orphanage proprietor Miss Hannigan in the hit musical "Annie," based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip. She later became a teacher of film and television at the Salve Regina College in Rhode Island.