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Handsome hunk Van Johnson was one of the biggest stars in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, appearing in dozens of major films.

Johnson married former stage actress Eve Abbott (1914–2004) on January 25, 1947, the day after her divorce from actor Keenan Wynn was finalized. In 1948, the newlyweds had a daughter, Schuyler. By this marriage, Johnson had two stepsons, Edmond Keenan (Ned) and Tracy Keenan Wynn. The Johnsons separated in 1961 and their divorce was finalized in 1968. According to a statement by Eve Abbott Johnson, their marriage had been engineered by MGM: "They needed their 'big star' to be married to quell rumours about his sexual preferences and unfortunately, I was 'It'—the only woman he would marry." When Johnson’s marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce, it wasn’t because he left her for a younger woman. He left her for a younger man! (Evie always surrounded herself with gay men and was also very close to Tyrone Power.)

Johnson helped raise Evie’s two children from her marriage to Keenan Wynn. In fact, it was Johnson’s stepson Ned Wynn who outed him when Ned’s 1990 memoir “We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills” recounted the salacious details of his mother’s divorce from Johnson.

Johnson lived in a penthouse in the Sutton Place area of East 54th Street on Manhattan's East Side with his cat Fred until 2002, when he moved to Tappan Zee Manor, an assisted living facility in Nyack, New York. After having been ill and receiving hospice care for the previous year, he died there on December 12, 2008. Wendy Bleisweiss, a close friend, indicated that he died of natural causes. His body was cremated. He died at age ninety-two.

Stern, Keith (2009-09-01). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals (Kindle Locations 6758-6763). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Further Readings:

Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy (Hollywood Legends) by Ronald L. Davis
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi; First Edition ~1st Printing edition (August 8, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1578063779
ISBN-13: 978-1578063772
Amazon: Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy

Van Johnson's dazzling smile, shock of red hair, and suntanned freckled cheeks made him a movie-star icon. Among teenaged girls in the 1940s he was popularized as the bobbysoxer's heartthrob.

He won the nation's heart, too, by appearing in a series of blockbuster war films--A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Weekend at the Waldorf, and Battleground. Perennially a leading man opposite June Allyson, Esther Williams, Judy Garland, and Janet Leigh, he rose to fame radiating the sunshine image Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chose for him, that of an affable, wholesome boy-next-door. Legions of adoring moviegoers were captivated by this idealized persona that generated huge box-office profits for the studio.

However, Johnson's off-screen life was not so sunny. His mother had rejected him in childhood, and he lived his adult life dealing with sexual ambivalence. A marriage was arranged with the ex-wife of his best friend, the actor Keenan Wynn. During the waning years of Hollywood's Golden Age she and Johnson lived amid the glow of Hollywood's A-crowd. Yet their private life was charged with tension and conflict.

Although morose and reclusive by nature, Johnson maintained a happy-go-lucky façade even among co-workers, who knew him as a congenial, dedicated professional. Once free of the golden-boy stereotype, he became a respected actor assigned stellar roles in such acclaimed films as State of the Union, Command Decision, The Last Time I Saw Paris, and The Caine Mutiny.

With the demise of the big studios, Johnson returned to the stage, where he had begun his career as a song-and-dance man. After this he appeared frequently in television shows, performed in nightclubs, and became the legendary darling of older audiences on the dinner playhouse circuit. Johnson (1916 - 2008) spent his post-Hollywood years living in solitude in New York City.

This solid, thoroughly researched biography traces the career and influence of a favorite star and narrates a fascinating, sometimes troubled life story.

We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills: Growing Up Crazy in Hollywood by Ned Wynn
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (January 1, 1992)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140159746
ISBN-13: 978-0140159745
Amazon: We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills: Growing Up Crazy in Hollywood

The author, son of Keenan Wynn, grandson of Ed Wynn, and stepson of Van Johnson, writes an often bitter and cynical account of growing up in Hollywood. A substance abuser at an early age, he describes his aimless, self-indulgent life. The narrative is sometimes confused, but the general effect is one of catharsis: as the story progresses, Wynn begins to take responsibility for his life rather than blaming others for his problems.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2012 09:51 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. Van Johnson was one of my favourite "old time" actors ... he really was appealing. Of course, I never knew anything about his private life ... the studios were very clever at hiding things.
Dec. 12th, 2012 10:03 am (UTC)
There was a major scandal both when they married then when they divorced. Van Johnson is one of those names that always pop up when I read about the closet screen, but I think he was a very private man, and those managed to not being in the spotlight.
Dec. 12th, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
I remember a lot of this coming out when he died. (He was one of my heartthrobs, too...)
Dec. 12th, 2012 01:33 pm (UTC)
even if he was alone in the end, I think it was a nice things that he died so old and in a apparently peaceful way.
Dec. 12th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
I must've missed that, or perhaps my memory's playing tricks, which wouldn't be surprising.

It's sad he was alone at the end, but not many people who die in their 90's have many contemporaries left. At least he had a kitty, by the sounds of it.
Dec. 12th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
yes, and if the annals remembers the name of the cat, it means it must have been important to him.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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