Friday, December 12, 2008

 

Van Johnson (1916-2008)


"Batman and Robin/
rotate and revolve"

Those words may seem an odd way to begin a tribute to the long and distinguished career of Van Johnson, but that was my first exposure to him as a child, playing the special guest villain The Minstrel on the 1960s Batman while the Caped Crusaders cooked on a rotisserie. It was only later that I discovered Mr. Johnson's other works. He has passed away at 92.


Often he got leads, other times, Johnson was relegated to the role of sidekick or second banana, where he excelled even better.

He was the World War II pilot a ghostly Spencer Tracy tried to turn in to a new mate for his widow Irene Dunne in A Guy Named Joe, which Spielberg later remade as Always. He had his other fill of war films such as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Battleground.

In 1948, Frank Capra thrust him in the middle of the Tracy and Hepburn political dramedy State of the Union. 1954 brought him roles as one of the "mutineers" in The Caine Mutiny, as Gene Kelly's cynical buddy in the musical Brigadoon and gave him a chance to romance Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris.

He worked steadily through the 1970s on both the big screen and especially the small, landing where many early movie stars did, on both The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

His last notable appearance was as one of the cast of the movie within the movie in Woody Allen's masterpiece The Purple Rose of Cairo in 1985. Appropriately, Allen's film allowed him to appear in black and white one last time.

RIP Mr. Johnson.


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