So how much did you know about one of our favorite stars, Van Johnson?
By the way the above photo is an original snapshot of Van taken by our pal Donald Gordon back in the early 1940s. The actor looks blissfully boyish here (he called himself “cheery Van”).
Let’s get right to our answers. (To review the questions, just scroll down to yesterday’s blog.) Here we go:
1) Answer: d) Bing Crosby. Johnson was No. 2 as voted by national theater owners, who watched the box office verry carefully.
2) Answer: a) Eddie Bracken and b) our friend Desiderio, better known as Desi Arnaz.
3) Answer: This is a trick question. Sorry. We just can’t help ourselves sometimes. All four choices appeared in the RKO version of Too Many Girls.
4) Answer: Hands down it is d) Lucille Ball. After being dropped by Warner Brothers after an abortive six-month stint, Johnson was prepared to return to the East Coast to attempt his luck again in New York. Desi Arnaz and Ball took Johnson to Chasen’s restaurant for a farewell dinner. Sitting at a nearby table on that night was Billy Grady, MGM’s talent chief, who had recently signed Ball to a studio contract. Lucille got up from the table, and took Johnson over to see Grady. Ball persuasively pleaded Johnson’s case with the MGM official. The result was an invite to Johnson from Grady for a screen test at the studio. The boyishly personable Van passed the test, and was signed to a contract paying him $350 per week.
5) Answer: b) Johnson’s MGM career lasted a dozen years and yielded 50 movies.
6) Answer: c) 1943’s A Guy Named Joe, directed by Victor Fleming and costarring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne.
7) Answer: d) In the spring of 1943, Johnson was driving to a studio screening when a car came barreling through a Culver City intersection and slammed into the side of the actor’s vehicle. Johnson sustained a fractured skull, multiple facial cuts, a severed artery in his neck and bone fragments piercing his brain. He was hospitalized for quite a spell, and his movie career was put on hold. One positive upshot was that Johnson was declared 4F and was never drafted. Due to the shortage of leading men in early World War II, Johnson wound up with some big movie parts that he might otherwise not have gotten.
8) Answer: c) Lana Turner. After her brief interlude with Johnson, she concluded: “He did it, but he didn’t like it.”
9) Answer: b) Keenan Wynn. His wife Evie left him to wed Johnson, all under the beady eyes of the MGM front office. One of Hollywood’s most egregious arranged marriages.
10) Answer: 1954’s The Caine Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart playing Captain Queeg. Johnson is superb in the picture as an upright naval officer.