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Join us, for the final episode in our Star Wars series (for now). Van Johnson was MGM’s big, All American heartthrob during World War II, an one of the most reliably bankable stars in Hollywood, on and off, for over a decade. On screen, Johnson embodied bland, unthreatening, boyishness. Off-screen, he was an introvert with a mysterious personal life, and by 1947, Van’s lack of a lady friend was becoming a distraction. In a bizarre effort at damage control, Van married his best friend’s wife — on the same day as their divorce.
This is the sixteenth and final episode in our Star Wars series. At least, for now -- I'd like to return to the concept later, but transpose it to other wars. We'll also be revisiting the lives and careers of people like Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne in a future series on the blacklist.
This episode was requested on our forums by “Marc” way back in January, when the Star Wars series first began. Marc had made a note in the forums about the “VanJohnson marriage switch,” which I had never heard of before. I had knownJohnson as the rather milquetoast co-star/romantic lead in musicals like The Shop Around the Corner. (I did like him in the Fitzgerald adaptation The Last Time I Saw Paris, although that movie suffers from the problems a lot of adaptions of great 20th century literature suffered from under the production code.) But I somehow missed the stories about Johnson’s marriage, as well as the flurry of writing that followed his death in 2008. While the New York Times obit suggests Johnson married Evie Wynn against the wishes of MGM, manyotherwritings in concert with Johnson's death noted that Johnson was widely acknowledged to be gay, positioning the marriage as a studio-ordered cover-up.
The above linked posts helped me find the books which I based this episode on, all of which are great reads: We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills by Ned Wynn, VanJohnson: MGM's Golden Boy by Ronald L. Davis, and Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer.
Thanks for listening for these sixteen weeks! We'll be on hiatus for the next three weeks, so this might be a good time for you to explore our archives. Here are some of my favorite episodes that you might have missed:
Kay Francis, 1930s party girl par excellence
Isabella Rossellini in the 1990s
Low-budget horror pioneer Val Lewton
Ida Lupino, groundbreaking female film director
The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland
Faster Does It by Kevin MacLeod
Gymnopedie No 2, by Eric Satie, performed by by Kevin MacLeod
Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod
Money by Jahzzar
Impossible Bouquet by No Age
Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie
Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie
Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst
Divider by Chris Zabriskie
For Better or Worse by Kai Engel
There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie
Celebrity Skin by Hole