November 2, 2006, found a cavalcade of stars from Old Hollywood gathering at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to pay tribute to beloved actress June Allyson
, who passed away in July at age 88. The event, created and produced by celebrity producer/director Karen Cadle
, featured personal tributes from, and conversations with, June's friends and former co-stars Patricia Marshall, Gloria De Haven, Margaret O'Brien and Debbie Reynolds, as well as appearances by numerous other contemporaries, and letter and video tributes from those unable to attend. Esther Williams, a close friend of June's who was initially slated to appear in the tribute, was ultimately not well enough to take part due to health issues that have reportedly since been resolved; no statement was made on the absence of her fellow presenters Cyd Charisse and Kathryn Grayson.
Through a little faith, a lot of persuasive talk and my abiding love of classic movies (and the grace of Ms. Cadle, who sold us desperate June fans tickets to a sold-out show), I had the incredible opportunity to attend this truly once-in-a-lifetime event earlier this month. The El Portal was the perfect setting for this intimate tribute, and its 350-seat Main Theatre housed such notable attendees as Tippi Hedren, Jane Withers, Tab Hunter and Marsha Hunt in the audience with us, all of whom offered sentiments and anecdotes about their relationship with Allyson. June's family was also there, including her husband, Dr. David Ashrow, and her son and daughter with first husband Dick Powell. Prior to the 7:30 presentation, the celebrities arrived in a parade of vintage automobiles before walking the red carpet into the theatre, with many stopping to pose for photographers, conduct interviews with local television stations, and graciously give autographs to those of us lingering hopefully by the theatre doors (Debbie Reynolds was by far the sweetest and most patient, and I still can't believe she gave me her signature). Some of June's finest onscreen roles were showcased on a large screen above the stage, interspersed with commentary from on-stage guests Marshall, DeHaven, Reynolds, and O'Brien. Ms. Marshall sang a classy rendition of "The Best Things in Life Are Free" from Good News (1947), her only film with June; Ms. DeHaven, having starred as a sister to June's character on more than one account, spoke of their work at MGM in the 1940's; celebrity friend Reynolds helped to put June's place in cinema history (and further, her legacy with MGM) into perspective and talked kindly of June as both a dear professional and personal friend; and June's frequent co-star, childhood actress Margaret O'Brien, recounted several touching stories of June's kindness to the little girl twenty years her junior (she even went so far as to informally adopt only-child Margaret as a younger sister when asked to by the adoring little girl). The night's finale included a beautiful montage of both studio and candid portraits and stills of Allyson throughout her life, set to a stunning 1960s concert version of Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", made all the more poignant by the presence of Judy's son Sid Luft in the audience, too.
Hollywood Salutes June Allyson was a touching tribute that undoubtedly would have mystified the very woman it was dedicated to, that humble little girl from the Bronx who became more than an actress whom millions of fan still adore: she was, and remains, a beautiful, talented woman loved by both those who had the privilege of knowing her, and those who never did. I only wish June had witnessed this testament to our dedication - this outpouring of most sincere affection and sentiment - before her passing.
I'll never forget such an incredible night...or such an incredible lady.
Peruse the following links for more information on these related topics:
The official June Allyson website
Hillary's Classic Cinema Obituary for June Allyson, July 2006
El Portal Theatre
Karen Cadle, Karen Cadle International
Labels: Celebrity Encounters, Hollywood Jaunts, June Allyson, Remembrances