Kathryn Grayson dies at 88

Starred in MGM musicals including 'Kiss Me Kate'

Kathryn Grayson, the lilting soprano who starred in the classic MGM musicals "Show Boat," "Kiss Me Kate" and "Anchors Aweigh," died Wednesday of natural causes in her Los Angeles home. She turned 88 last week.

Grayson was preparing for an operatic career and singing on Eddie Cantor's radio show when MGM head Louis B. Mayer heard her and signed her to a contract at age 15, grooming her to compete with Fox's child-singing star, Deanna Durbin.

After taking acting lessons, the curvaceous Grayson was cast in the "Andy Hardy" movies.

During the '40s, she performed in such films as "Seven Sweethearts," "Thousands Cheer," "Anchors Aweigh" (opposite Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly), "Two Sisters From Boston," "Till the Clouds Roll By," "It Happened in Brooklyn," "The Kissing Bandit" and "That Midnight Kiss."

Grayson really hit her stride in the 1950s, appearing with Howard Keel in three memorable movies. Grayson sang and acted as the riverboat belle Magnolia in "Show Boat" (1951); as a Parisian dress-shop owner in "Lovely to Look At" (1952), in which she sang Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"; and as high-strung actress Lilli Vanessi in "Kiss Me Kate" (1953).

Later, Grayson and Keel performed together in nightclubs -- she was a coloratura soprano, he was a baritone -- and toured in summer stock.

Grayson's final film appearance was in 1956 in Paramount's "The Vagabond King," a remake of the 1930 version in which Grayson performed the singing role originally done by Jeanette MacDonald.

When the musical era in films ended in the early 1960s, Grayson turned to her first love, opera, and to the musical stage, touring in, among others, "Show Boat," "Rosalinda," "Kiss Me Kate" and "The Merry Widow," which led to her replacing Julie Andrews in "Camelot" in 1962 on Broadway. She appeared in the operas "La Boheme," "Madama Butterfly," "Orphesus in the Underworld" and "La Traviata."

Grayson also numerous dramatic turns on TV, guest-starring on such programs as "General Electric Theater" -- for which she earned an Emmy nomination in 1955 -- and, most recently, "Murder, She Wrote" in 1989.

Grayson was married twice, to actor John Shelton and later to actor-singer Johnnie Johnston. She is survived by her daughter, Patricia Kathryn Towers; grandchildren Kristin and Jordan; and four great grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private and interment by cremation, with a memorial to follow. Donations can be made to the American Diabetes Assn.