) was an American actress and operatic soprano singer.
From the age of twelve, Grayson trained as an opera singer. She was under contract to MGM by the early 1940s, soon establishing a career principally through her work in musicals. After several supporting roles, she was a lead performer in such films as Thousands Cheer (1943), Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and Show Boat (1951) and Kiss Me Kate (1953) (both with Howard Keel).
When film musical production declined, she worked in theatre, appearing in Camelot (1962–1964). Later in the decade she performed in several operas, including La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Orpheus in the Underworld and La traviata.
Early lifeShe was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the daughter of Charles E. Hedrick and Lillian Grayson Hedrick (1897–1955). Charles was a building contractor-realtor.
The Hedrick family later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was discovered singing on the empty stage of the St. Louis Municipal Opera House by a janitor, who introduced her to Frances Marshall of the Chicago Civic Opera, who gave the twelve-year-old girl voice lessons.
Grayson's sister, Frances Raeburn (born Mildred Hedrick) was also an actress and singer, appearing alongside her in the film Seven Sweethearts. She also had two brothers, Clarence "Bud" E. Hedrick,and Harold.
1940sIn 1940, an MGM talent scout saw Grayson performing at a music festival. Metro hoped to find a replacement for Deanna Durbin, who left the studio for Universal Pictures. For the next 18 months, Grayson went through voice lessons, drama coaching, diction, diets and exercise. Within a year, Grayson had her first screen test. However, the studio executives were not satisfied, and she went through a further six months of lessons until she made her first film appearance in 1941's Andy Hardy's Private Secretary as the character's secretary Kathryn Land. In the film, she takes part in three musical numbers.
Two further films were planned for Grayson in 1941; White House Girl, which was later made in 1948 with Durbin, and Very Warm for May, from the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein musical of the same name. Ann Sothern was also slated to appear, however, this fell through as well. The film eventually was made in 1944 as Broadway Rhythm.
She appeared in three films in 1942: The Vanishing Virginian, Rio Rita and Seven Sweethearts. In the first, Grayson plays the teenage daughter, Rebecca, of the eccentric Yancey family from Lynchburg, Virginia.Set in 1913, the film was based on Rebecca Yancey Williams's own family.
Abbott and Costello. Grayson portrayed the title character, Rita Winslow. The film was originally meant to be an adaptation of the 1927 Broadway musical, however, only two songs were retained for the film, the title song, and "The Ranger Song," which was performed by Grayson.
Co-starring Van Heflin, Seven Sweethearts cast Grayson as the youngest of seven daughters from Holland, Michigan, who is hired by reporter-photographer Helfin to serve as a model and secretary while he covers the town's tulip festival, and with whom he falls in love.
In 1943, Grayson appeared in the film Thousands Cheer, (originally titled Private Miss Jones), along with Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Eleanor Powell, June Allyson and others. The film was intended as a morale booster for American troops and their families. Grayson starred as the singing daughter of an Army commander.
It was announced in 1942 that Grayson would appear in An American Symphony with Judy Garland.Garland was replaced by June Allyson and the film was retitled Two Sisters from Boston and released in 1946.
Grayson did not appear in any films for nearly two years (from 1943 to 1945), but instead worked at entertaining troops during the war and performing on radio programs. Her return to films in Anchors Aweigh, a musical romantic-comedy set in Los Angeles and co-starring Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Anchors Aweigh was the fifth-highest grossing film of 1945, earning over $4.779 million. This was followed by Two Sisters from Boston and guest appearances in Ziegfeld Follies and Till the Clouds Roll By. Grayson's performance in Till the Clouds Roll By was of a song from the musical Show Boat, which would be remade five years later, with Grayson in the starring role.
MGM unwisely re-paired Grayson and Sinatra for two movies in 1947 and 1948, It Happened in Brooklyn and The Kissing Bandit. Both films performed poorly at the box office, and audiences thought the plots absurd. After the setbacks of Brooklyn and Bandit, Grayson was partnered with tenor Mario Lanza in That Midnight Kiss in 1949.
1950sThe Toast of New Orleans, and performed the Academy-Award-nominated song "Be My Love".
While shooting the Madama Butterfly scene in the film, Lanza kept attempting to french kiss Grayson, which Grayson claimed was made even worse by the fact that Lanza would constantly eat garlic before shooting. Grayson went to costume designer Helen Rose and she sewed pieces of brass into Grayson's gloves. Any time Lanza attempted to french kiss her after that, she hit him with the brass-filled glove. For the premiere of the film, Grayson traveled to New Orleans, and was a guest at an auction selling the film's costumes.
June Allyson as the role of Ina Massine in 1951's Grounds for Marriage. She portrayed an opera singer with laryngitis, alongside Van Johnson who played her doctor and love interest. This was also first non-singing role at MGM. Grayson's musical performances do appear in the film, but in the form of recordings.
Grayson was next cast as Magnolia Hawkes in the 1951 remake of the 1927 Hammerstein and Kern musical, Show Boat, alongside Howard Keel and Judy Garland, however, Garland dropped out of production,and the role went to Ava Gardner. Show Boat was the third-highest grossing film of 1951, earning over $5.533 million.
Grayson teamed again with Keel that year in Technicolor musical Lovely to Look At, a remake of the 1935 Astaire and Rogers film Roberta. This would be her last film with MGM, as her contract ended in January 1953. MGM announced her appearance in Rose Marie and a musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but the contract ended before production on either film began.
Warner Bros.After 11 years with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Grayson's contract ended, and she went on loan to Warner Bros.. She quickly got to work, and by May, Grayson's first musical with the studio was released, The Desert Song alongside Gordon MacRae. She was asked to perform La bohème at the Central City Opera House in Central City, Colorado, but due to her filming obligations for The Desert Song, she had to turn them down. 1952 also saw an enormous fire on the Warner Bros. lot, and Grayson was among the movie stars who assisted in removing equipment while the fire blazed.
Grayson appeared on television occasionally from the 1950s, e.g., guest starring in the General Electric Theater episode, Shadow on the Heart, with John Ericson. In the 1980s, she guest starred in three episodes of Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury.
Stage careerGrayson appeared on stage in numerous productions including Show Boat, Rosalinda, Kiss Me, Kate, Naughty Marietta, and The Merry Widow, for which she was nominated for Chicago's Sarah Siddons Award.
In 1953, Grayson optioned the story It's Greek to Me, written by Helen Deutsch, to be accompanied by a score from Cole Porter. The story was a mythical love story about Hercules and Hippolyte, and Grayson hoped to be reunited with Howard Keel and take the show on the road, however, the project fell apart.
Her casting in The Merry Widow led to her replacing Julie Andrews in 1962 as Queen Guinevere in Camelot. She then continued the role for over sixteen months in the national tour of the United States before leaving for health reasons.
Grayson had a lifelong dream of being an opera star, and she appeared in a number of operas in the 1960s, such as La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Orpheus in the Underworld and La traviata. Her dramatic and comedy stage roles included Night Watch, Noises Off, Love Letters and Something's Afoot as Dottie Otterling.
Musical careerHaving trained from the age of twelve, as an opera singer, Grayson sang soprano, in the style of operatic arias.
While appearing in her films roles, Grayson also performed on the radio. Grayson performed on concert tours throughout the 1950s. In May 1951, Grayson had to postpone a concert tour due to being unknowingly cast in Lovely to Look At. "My concert bookings were all set. So when I read in New York that I was to do this film, I said 'How silly!', then boom! The next day I got my studio telegram asking me to return for the picture!"
In 1952, Grayson was offered more than $10,000 to perform for a week at the Riviera night club in New Jersey before making The Desert Song. After filming The Desert Song, Grayson created a recording of the musical with Tony Martin.
Grayson supervised the Voice and Choral Studies Program at Idaho State University.
Personal lifeGrayson married twice, first to actor John Shelton (born Edward S. Price) and then to the actor/singer Johnnie Johnston.
John SheltonShelton and Grayson eloped to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they were married on July 11, 1941. The two had courted for 18 months, after meeting while making screen tests.
In July 1942, Shelton moved out of their Brentwood home and into his own apartment. This came after a month of reconciliation after a judge dismissed their divorce suit. Grayson charged Shelton with mental cruelty. They divorced on June 17, 1946.
Johnnie JohnstonGrayson wed Johnston on August 22, 1947 in Carmel, California. On October 7, 1948, Grayson's only child, daughter Patricia "Patty Cake" Kathryn Johnston was born. Grayson and Johnston separated on November 15, 1950. On October 3, 1951, Grayson was given a divorce from Johnston on the grounds of mental cruelty. Johnston's This Time for Keeps co-star, Esther Williams, claimed in her 1999 autobiography that while making the film, Johnston would read Grayson's intimate letters aloud to the girls in his fan club, including the "all-too-graphic details concerning what she liked about his love-making."
Though she never married again, Grayson was frequently seen in the late 1950s with Robert Evans.
According to her secretary, Grayson died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles, California on February 17, 2010, aged 88.
Year Film Role Notes
1941 Andy Hardy's Private Secretary Kathryn Land
1942 The Vanishing Virginian Rebecca Yancey
1942 Rio Rita Rita Winslow
1942 Seven Sweethearts Billie Van Maaster
1943 Thousands Cheer Kathryn Jones
1945 Anchors Aweigh Susan Abbott
1946 Ziegfeld Follies Herself in "There's Beauty Everywhere"
1946 Two Sisters from Boston Abigail Chandler
1946 Till the Clouds Roll By Magnolia in 'Show Boat' / Specialty
1947 It Happened in Brooklyn Anne Fielding
1948 The Kissing Bandit Teresa
1949 That Midnight Kiss Prudence Budell
1949 Some of the Best Herself uncredited
1950 The Toast of New Orleans Suzette Micheline
1951 Grounds for Marriage Ina Massine
1951 Show Boat Magnolia Hawks
1952 Lovely to Look At Stephanie
1953 The Desert Song Margot Birabeau
1953 So This Is Love Grace Moore aka The Grace Moore Story
1953 Kiss Me Kate Lilli Vanessi / "Katharina"
1956 The Vagabond King Catherine de Vaucelles
1977 The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena Herself documentary
1994 A Century of Cinema Herself documentary
2003 Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot Herself, Kate/Lilli in Kiss Me Kate
2004 The Masters Behind the Musicals Herself