June Allyson, who with her petite 5-foot, 1-inch frame proved that size doesn't matter in Hollywood, died Saturday at her home in Ojai, California, after a long illness, her daughter, Pamela Allyson Powell, has confirmed. The singer, actress and dancer who compiled a list of movie, Broadway and television credits that far outweighed her diminutive stature was 88.
The cause of death was pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis, Powell said. Allyson's husband of nearly 30 years, retired dentist David Ashrow, was at her side.
Allyson made her chorus line debut in 1938 in the musical Sing Out the News and didn't stop working until 2001, easing up on film work in 1963 after the death of her first husband, Dick Powell, but maintaining a small-screen presence through guest spots on shows like Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, Airwolf, The Incredible Hulk and Burke's Law.
Although Allyson once said, "In real life I'm a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook--anything in fact but the perfect wife," her most memorable cinematic turns came playing the adored other half to top-tier stars. She played bandleader Glenn Miller's wife, Helen Berger Miller, in 1953's The Glenn Miller Story opposite Jimmy Stewart and the following year played William Holden's missus in Executive Suite.
Famous for her girl-next-door charm, Allyson won a Golden Globe in 1951 for the romantic comedy Too Young to Kiss, in which she played an aspiring young concert pianist who poses as a child prodigy in order to score a gig with a big-shot musical director played by Van Johnson.
From 1959 to 1961 Allyson hosted her own variety program, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, and continued to appear on prime-time staples like What's My Line?, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Show for the next 15 years.
Allyson's marriage to Dick Powell in 1945 created a minor scandal at MGM (where she was a long-time contract player), considering he was 13 years her senior and had been married twice before.
But despite a brief separation in 1961, the duo remained husband and wife until Powell's death from cancer in January of 1963. They had two children, Pamela (Dick Powell's daughter with Joan Blondell, whom Allyson adopted) and Richard Keith Powell. After her husband's passing Allyson ended up in a bitter custody battle with her own mother.
Before carrying on a decade-plus, much-publicized jet-setting romance with TV writer Dirk Wayne Summers, Allyson was briefly and tumultuously hitched to Powell's barber, Glenn Maxwell. They tied the knot in October 1963 and separated 10 months later. When Allyson sued him for divorce, she charged that he had hit her and abused her in front of her kids.
The actress, who battled with alcoholism and emotional problems after Powell's death, credited Ashrow, whom she wed in 1976, as the reason for her successful recovery. The couple supported the June Allyson Foundation, established by the Kimberly-Clarke Corp. to fund medical research and public awareness, and were also active fundraisers for the Judy Garland and Jimmy Stewart museums (in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, respectively). Both performers were close friends of Allyson.
"For nearly 60 years, we have been hearing how much she meant to so many people from all over the world," Pamela Allyson Powell told the Associated Press. "She still gets fan mail from places like Germany and Holland. They send old photos. It was wonderful to us."
In addition to her husband and two children, who both live in the L.A. area, Allyson is survived by her brother, Dr. Arthur Peters, and a grandson, Richard Logan Powell.