By Will Dunham
Gloria DeHaven, the perky singing actress who starred in a parade of breezy Hollywood musicals in the 1940s and 1950s and gave Frank Sinatra his first big-screen kiss, has died at age 91, her agent said on Monday.
DeHaven, who appeared in more than two dozen films starting as a child in a bit role in Charlie Chaplin’s last silent movie, died on Saturday in hospice care in Las Vegas, Scott Stander said in an email.
The actress suffered a stroke a few months ago, the agent said.
A versatile singer from a show business family, she thrived in Hollywood musicals, mostly from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, until the genre fell out of fashion in the 1950s.
DeHaven starred in “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944) with Van Johnson, June Allyson and Jimmy Durante; “Summer Holiday” (1948) with Mickey Rooney; “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” (1949) with Donald O’Connor; “Summer Stock” (1950) with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly; and “So This Is Paris” (1955) with Tony Curtis.
In the musical “Step Lively” (1944), DeHaven gave a young Sinatra his first on-screen smooch.
In the late 1950s, DeHaven’s film career stalled and she turned to acting on television and in stage musicals and singing in nightclubs. She returned to the big screen for the 1997 comedy “Out to Sea” with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
She was born in Los Angeles on July 23, 1925, to parents who were vaudeville performers. She made her film debut with a small role in Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) co-starring Paulette Goddard, a silent gem released in the era of talkies, exploring the pitfalls of modern industrialized society.
“Chaplin needed two kids to play Paulette Goddard’s ragamuffin sisters,” DeHaven told the Toronto Star in 1989. “All we had to do was wear tattered clothes, eat bananas and do big takes. I thought, ‘If this is show business, count me in.'”
Her breakout role was in the Lucille Ball musical comedy “Best Foot Forward” (1943), a film that also boosted Allyson’s fortunes.
DeHaven’s marriage to actor John Payne, best known as the co-star of the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), ended in divorce. She was married four times to three different men (one twice) and she had four children.
(Reporting by Will Dunham and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Trott and Kevin Liffey)