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Heartthrob Van Johnson Dies

Gay
Heartthrob Van Johnson Dies

Gay actor Van Johnson, a mainstay of MGM musicals and comedies of the 1940s and '50s who also played dramatic roles, died Friday in a senior center in Nyack, N.Y., of causes related to old age.

Gay actor Van Johnson, a mainstay of MGM musicals and comedies of the 1940s and '50s who also played dramatic roles, died Friday in a senior center in Nyack, N.Y., of causes related to old age. He was 92.

Johnson, a native of Newport, R.I., was a chorus boy on Broadway before coming to Hollywood and rising to stardom playing a pilot in 1943's A Guy Named Joe, costarring Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy. Exempt from military service because of severe injuries sustained in a car accident a few months before making that film, Johnson went on to become one of the busiest and most popular actors of the World War II years. Tall, with red hair and freckles, he had all-American good looks and was often cast as a boy-next-door type. His films included Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Week-End at the Waldorf, In the Good Old Summertime, State of the Union, Brigadoon, The Last Time I Saw Paris, and The Caine Mutiny.

He maintained a heterosexual public image, marrying Evie Wynn in January 1947 just hours after she divorced actor Keenan Wynn, a friend of Johnson's. The Johnsons had a daughter, Schuyler, and divorced in 1968. However, in recent years several biographers have reported that Johnson was gay or bisexual. "Johnson's orientation was probably more homosexual than heterosexual," observed Ronald L. Davis in Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy, adding that the star became particularly attracted to younger men as he grew older.

As he grew older Johnson also returned to the stage, not in the chorus but in leading roles, including one major gay role: In 1985 he replaced Gene Barry in the Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles, playing Georges, the "plain homosexual" husband to drag queen Albin. Johnson received good reviews and generated ticket sales. His other latter-day stage credits include On a Clear Day You Can See Forever on Broadway; The Music Man in London; and several regional and dinner theater productions. (Trudy Ring, Advocate.com)

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