Gloria DeHaven, Effervescent Star of MGM Musicals, Dies at 91

Step Lively (1944) -Frank Sinatra, Gloria DeHaven-Photofest-H 2016
RKO Radio Pictures Inc./Photofest

She wandered into Charlie Chaplin’s 'Modern Times' and later appeared in 'Best Foot Forward,' 'Three Little Words,' 'Two Girls and a Sailor' and 'Out to Sea.'

Singer-actress Gloria DeHaven, the perky star of MGM musicals in the 1940s and a stalwart of show business for more than six decades, has died. She was 91.

DeHaven, who made her screen debut in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) as Paulette Goddard's kid sister — her father served as an assistant director on the film — died Saturday while in hospice care in Las Vegas, her daughter, Faith Fincher-Finkelstein, told The Hollywood Reporter. DeHaven suffered a stroke about three months ago, she said.

The vivacious DeHaven, a studio player at MGM, appeared in a number of top films with leading stars, including Thousands Cheer (1943) with Gene Kelly; Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) with June Allyson and Van Johnson; Step Lively (1944) with Frank Sinatra; Summer Holiday (1948) with Mickey Rooney; The Doctor and the Girl (1949) with Glenn Ford and Nancy Reagan; Two Tickets to Broadway (1951) with Janet Leigh and Tony Martin; and The Girl Rush (1955) with Rosalind Russell.

In Three Little Words (1950), a biography of Tin Pan Alley songwriters Bert Kalmar (played by Fred Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Red Skelton), DeHaven played her real-life mother, vaudeville star Flora Parker. She sang the 1920s tearjerker "Who’s Sorry Now?" in the film.

DeHaven also performed in numerous other movies, including Best Foot Forward (1943), Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby (1949), Summer Stock (1950), Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), So This Is Paris (1954), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and the dreadful Bog (1979).

Her last movie appearance came as a lovely widow and romantic interest of Jack Lemmon's character on the cruise-ship-set Out to Sea (1997).

She played Annie "Tippy-toes" Wylie, a bisexual CB radio aficionado who also had an affair with the husband of Louise Lasser's character, on the fabled Norman Lear syndicated series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and had a continuing role on the short-lived 1974 ABC series Nakia, starring Robert Forster.

DeHaven also appeared on the soaps As the World TurnsRyan’s Hope (playing a woman who for a while lived in a trailer camp) and All My Children.

Gloria Mildred DeHaven was born July 23, 1925, in Los Angeles, the daughter of Parker and actor-director Carter DeHaven. They were billed in vaudeville as the song-and-dance team “Mr. and Mrs. Carter DeHaven.”

Her father was good friends with Chaplin. "One day I came to visit my dad on the set [of Modern Times] and they needed two little girls to be in a shot with Paulette Goddard," she once recalled. "All they had us do was eat bananas and run around. I said, 'If this is show business, I'm definitely in!'"

She appeared in Susan and God (1940), the film version of a Broadway play that starred Joan Crawford, Fredric March and Rita Hayworth, and her first film under contract at MGM was Best Foot Forward with Lucille Ball. Later, she appeared in The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), the fifth of the six private detective films that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy.

In the Big Band era, she was a featured vocalist with the Bob Crosby and Jan Savitt dance bands and later headlined gigs in Las Vegas, New York and London nightclubs.

DeHaven made her Broadway debut as the star of the 1955 musical version of Seventh Heaven with Ricardo Montalban. She also toplined summer stock productions of The Sound of Music, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Hello, Dolly and Plaza Suite.

DeHaven played many guest-starring roles on TV, beginning in the halcyon days of live TV and on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Rifleman, The Defenders, Burke’s Law, Marcus Welby, M.D., Wagon Train and Gunsmoke.

Later in her career, she appeared on Fantasy Island, Quincy M.E., The Love Boat, Highway to Heaven, Murder, She Wrote and Touched by an Angel.

In the late 1960s, she also hosted Prize Movie, a weekday morning series on WABC-TV in New York.

DeHaven was married four times, including once to actor John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street, Kansas City Confidential) and twice to businessman Richard Fincher. All her marriages ended in divorce. She moved to Las Vegas in 2003 from Beverly Hills to be closer to family.

In addition to her daughter Faith, survivors include children Tom Payne, Harry Fincher and Clancy Payne; grandchildren Taylor, Ryan and Holly; and son-in-law Bruce.

A memorial service will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 20 at St. Monica Catholic Church.