Kathryn Grayson was called, "The most beautiful woman in the history of movies." Here's her story, from opera dreams to Hollywood stardom.
Star of the Month: Kathryn Grayson
January TCM Star of the Month
I am excited to have the opportunity to become a Kathryn Grayson fan this month! TCM will play several of her films every Tuesday this month, and I intend to catch as many as possible.
Star of the Month
"The most beautiful woman in the history of movies"
The talented Kathryn Grayson is TCM’s Star of the Month for January 2019. To be completely honest, though she is a name and face I have known since I first became a classic Hollywood fan at age 9, Ms. Grayson is a star I have always been more or less indifferent to. And I really don’t know why! She is undeniably talented and beautiful. (Her co-star and friend Howard Keel referred to her as “the most beautiful woman in the history of movies.” And, in my personal opinion, she just seems like she was a really nice, sweet person in real life! Perhaps I would have become a great fan of hers at an earlier age if there had been more information available on her. I love to read about the stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and to date there is still no full-length biography available on Ms. Grayson. Also, growing up I did not have access to very many of her films.
From opera dreams to Hollywood stardom
Those familiar with her know that Ms. Grayson was a coloratura soprano. In fact, she trained from the time she was 12 years old to become an opera singer. It was always her dream to be an opera singer, but her beautiful face and figure, combined with her lovely singing voice, led to her discovery by an MGM talent scout at the tender age of 18.
Kathryn signed with MGM, and was immediately thrown into MGM’s rigorous training program, which included diets and exercise regimens, lessons in voice, acting, dancing, diction, and anything else MGM thought she may need to be proficient at for films. Esther Williams, fellow MGM contract player and star of the magnificent water musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, described this training program as “MGM University” because of the myriad of classes and intenseness of training the hopeful stars were put through!)
Kathryn’s first film appearance was in 1941 alongside Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary. (The Andy Hardy films were often used by MGM to promote the female contract players they thought had “star power.” Appearances in the Hardy film series led to stardom for Kathryn, Esther Williams, Lana Turner, and Donna Reed, among many others.)
Kathryn made five films between 1941 and 1943, before taking a two-year break from filmmaking! Sounds like a risky career move doesn’t it? She took the two year break so she could go entertain our troops during WWII, a decision that I admire her greatly for. What is further commendable about her service to our troops is that Kathryn would only perform for integrated audiences. At the time, troops were still segregated, so Kathryn’s performing condition was pretty gutsy and ahead of her time. Pretty darn awesome.
It seems Kathryn was rewarded for the sacrifice of those two years: the best films of her career came in the decade that followed, starting with Anchors Aweigh in 1945, which paired her with Frank Sinatra AND Gene Kelly. Talk about a dream combination! Kathryn is absolutely gorgeous in this one, and somehow manages to be unbelievably cute at the same time. (Don’t miss the sunflower dress she wears in this film! It is absolutely to die for!)
Another notable film Kathryn made during this period was Show Boat, with an all star cast that also included Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion, and the stunning Ava Gardner, who Kathryn was great friends with. Kathryn’s voice is beautifully featured in this classic, with music and lyrics by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hamerstein II.
A few years later came Kiss Me Kate, another really fun film that once again paired Ms Grayson with Howard Keel, and also featured Bob Fosee and the charismatic Ann Miller. The banter and chemistry between Kathryn and Howard Keel in this film is great!
Fulfilling her childhood dream
Kathryn’s film career was wrapping up by the end of the 1950s, as film musicals began to wane in popularity. She moved her talents to the stage at this time, and found great success in stage productions of Show Boat, Kiss me Kate, and The Merry Widow, among others. She finally realized her dream of becoming an opera star in the 1960s, appearing in several operas, including Madame Butterfly.
She continued working in various stage and television productions. Her last credited appearance was in an episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1989. After this, it seems Ms. Grayson focused on voice training, offering private singing lessons and lending her expertise and experience to Idaho State University’s Voice and Choral Studies program.
Ms. Grayson passed away in her sleep on February 17, 2010 at age 88. She is survived by one daughter from her second and final marriage to actor Johnny Johnston.
Let’s enjoy the beautiful film legacy Kathryn Grayson left us by watching her films on TCM this month! On Tuesday, January 8th, don’t miss:
See the full TCM schedule for the month of January and more classic film fun here.