Star Wars Episode XVI: Van Johnson / by Karina Longworth

Van Johnson

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Join us, for the final episode in our Star Wars series (for now). VanJohnson 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. 

Show Notes:

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 gaypositioning 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


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