Van Johnson, whose boy-next-door wholesomeness made him a Hollywood star in the 1940s and '50s with such films as "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," "A Guy Named Joe" and "The Caine Mutiny," died Dec. 12 of natural causes at an assistant living center in Nyack, N.Y. He was 92.

With his tall, athletic build, handsome, freckled face and sunny personality, the red-haired Johnson starred opposite Esther Williams, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and others during his two decades under contract to MGM.

He proved a versatile actor, equally at home with comedies ("The Bride Goes Wild," "Too Young to Kiss"), war movies ("Go for Broke," "Command Decision"), musicals ("Thrill of a Romance," "Brigadoon") and dramas ("State of the Union," "Madame Curie").

Johnson was cast most often as the all-American boy. He played a real-life flier who lost a leg in a crash after the bombing of Japan in "30 Seconds." He was a writer in love with a wealthy American girl (Taylor) in "The Last Time I Saw Paris." He appeared as a post-Civil War farmer in "The Romance of Rosy Ridge."

More recently, he had a small role in 1985 as a movie actor in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

A heartthrob with bobbysoxers — he was called "the nonsinging Sinatra" — Johnson married only once. In 1947, at the height of his career, he eloped to Juarez, Mexico, to marry Eve Wynn, who had divorced Johnson's good friend Keenan Wynn four hours earlier.

The marriage ended bitterly 13 years later. "She wiped me out in the ugliest divorce in Hollywood history," Johnson told reporters.

As a youngster, Johnson had a brief run with Warner Bros. and then got a screen test and a contract with MGM with the help of his friend Lucille Ball.

His big break, with Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy in the wartime fantasy "A Guy Named Joe," was almost wiped out by tragedy.

On April 1, 1943, his DeSoto convertible was struck head-on by another car. "They tell me I was almost decapitated, but I never lost consciousness," he said. "I spent four months in the hospital after they sewed the top of my head back on."

"Joe" was postponed for his recovery, and the forehead scar went unnoticed in his resulting popularity.

Although he hadn't lost his boyish looks, Johnson's vogue faded by the mid-'50s, and the film roles became sparse, though he did have a "comeback" movie with Janet Leigh in 1963, "Wives and Lovers."

For three decades he was one of the busiest stars in regional and dinner theaters, traveling throughout the country from his New York base. In the '80s, Johnson appeared on Broadway in "La Cage aux Folles."

"The white-haired ladies who come to matinees are the people who put me on top," he said in a 1992 interview.

Robert Prosky, a character actor with hundreds of credits on stage and screen including "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Hill Street Blues," died Dec. 8 in a Washington hospital of complications from a heart procedure. He was 77.

Prosky appeared in more than 200 plays on Broadway and with Arena Stage, a regional theater company in Washington. He appeared in 38 films and numerous television shows.

On Broadway, Prosky's credits included "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "A View From the Bridge." He also completed a long run in Michael Frayn's "Democracy."

In the 1980s, Prosky spent three years on NBC's "Hill Street Blues" as Sgt. Stan Jablonski. He later appeared as a priest on trial for murder in ABC's legal drama "The Practice."

His film credits also included "Dead Man Walking" (1995) and "The Natural" (1984).

Kathi Mallec, an music press relations executive who opened children's theater companies in Nashville and Los Angeles, died Nov. 25. She was 54.

Mallec started her show business career at CBS Television in Hollywood, where she worked behind the scenes on such shows as "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "Win, Lose or Draw."

In the 1990s, she moved to Nashville and became a PR representative to Poison's Bret Michaels and country star Sammy Kershaw.

Back in Los Angeles, she established a talent management agency, Tiger Bay Entertainment, and opened a West Coast version of her Nashville children's theater company, the Bubblegum Playhouse.

Otto Spoerri, dubbed "the ultimate arbiter of industry power" because he determined seating at the Oscars, died Nov. 29 in his hometown of Zurich. He was 75.

Spoerri served as Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences controller from 1978-2002. Although he oversaw accounting, he was better known for seating scores of movie stars and industry executives at the Oscars.

Spoerri downplayed the highly political task, saying, "It's just working with the producer of the broadcast to make sure that where people sit makes the show flow smoothly."

Roger A. Gorden, an active member of IATSE Locals 33 & 728 for more than 30 years, died Dec. 7 in Fountain Valley, Calif. He was 57.

Michael Higgins, a stage actor for decades, died Nov. 5 in a New York hospital, where he was recovering from a fall at his Manhattan apartment. He was 88.

A two-time Obie Award winner, Higgins is perhaps best known for creating the role of Frank Strang in the original Broadway production of "Equus." Other Great White Way appearances included "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" and "Mixed Couples," with Julie Harris and Geraldine Page.

Higgins appeared in numerous productions of Eugene O'Neill's plays, including "The Iceman Cometh" with James Earl Jones and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" opposite Helen Hayes.
comments powered by Disqus