A Guy Named Joe (1943) and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)—has died at the age of 92.
Ninety-two is a ripe old age for a man who was once known as “The Boy Next Door” at Metro during the 1940s, becoming one of the studio’s top box-office draws. He had a certain something that made bobbysoxers swoon, and he was frequently cast alongside actresses like June Allyson and Esther Williams.
This is a particularly difficult obituary for me to write because I stated some time back that Van Johnson was one of the few movie stars whose appeal I just couldn’t understand. However, I was rather fond of his performance in the 1954 musical Brigadoon as the cynically sour pal of Gene Kelly’s…and now that I think about it, I think I appreciated Johnson more when he wallowed in cynicism in films like State of the Union (1948) and Go for Broke! (1951). (A commenter also pointed out that I left out The Caine Mutiny —which I do like, and think he was very good in, and shortly afterward I also remembered him turning in a top-notch supporting performance in The Purple Rose of Cairo .)
Despite my feelings, Van Johnson was a talented performer who gave 100 percent in every part he undertook, and the world will be a little worse off since he’s left us. In fact, when I learned about his passing, I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to listen to his appearance on a March 20, 1949 broadcast of The Jack Benny Program—the one where he and Jack double-date with Mabel and Gertrude—but a search on SeeqPod turned up nothing.
R.I.P., Van. You will be missed.