By Don Stradley
127 Film and Television Roles. Johnson's movie career began in 1940 with an uncredited chorus role in Too Many Girls. He went on to star in such memorable titles as A Guy Named Joe, Two Girls and a Sailor, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Battleground, In The Good Old Summertime, Go For Broke, Three Guys Named Mike, Brigadoon, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Divorce American Style, Yours, Mine, and Ours, Easy to Love, The End of the Affair, and The Purple Rose of Cairo.
1 Primetime Emmy Nomination. Johnson was featured as "Marsh Goodwin" in the hit television mini-series, Rich man, Poor Man, which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series in 1975. He would also appear in Rich Man Poor Man, Book II, the following year.
1 Episode of The Love Boat. In 1982 Johnson appeared on season five of the popular ABC show as Wilfred Moncrief, a retired film star who gets involved in the crew's staging of a musical. It was an all-star episode, featuring many famous musical performers, including Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Della Reese, Ann Miller, and Cab Calloway. In it, Johnson performs a bouncy number called, "Sing a Show Tune."
2 Episodes of Batman. In 1968 Johnson appeared as possibly the worst Batman villain of all time, The Minstrel. He was dressed like a harlequin and supposedly had a musical background as well as being an electronics genius. "Holy waste of talent, Batman!" Johnson was going through a messy divorce at the time and may have needed the dough. That might explain his many TV appearances in that period, including cameo shots on Here’s Lucy, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and The Virginian.
3 Episodes of Murder She Wrote. Johnson was a better fit as part of Jessica Fletcher's little world of intrigue and mystery. He appeared in seasons one, two, and seven, playing three different characters.
4 Times He Played Dr. Randall "Red" Adams. One of MGM’s popular movie series during the 1940s was the Dr. Gillespie franchise starring Lionel Barrymore. Johnson played the romantic young doctor, Red Adams, and caused a generation of teen girls to swoon. Yet he didn’t care for the films. After his final time as Adams in a movie called Between Two Women, he sighed that one more like it and “I’ll be on the skids.” MGM executives informed the producers of the Gillespie series that their freckle-faced male star would no longer be available.
4 Best Picture Oscar Nominees. Despite his appeal to teenage “bobbysoxers,” Johnson wasn’t relegated to musicals and B-grade romances. He found his way into some serious features, including four that were nominated for Best Picture Oscars: The Human Comedy (1943), Madame Curie (1943) Battleground (1949) and The Caine Mutiny (1954). Of The Caine Mutiny, Johnson always considered it an important movie in his career because it allowed him to portray a different type of character. “I was in a rut,” Johnson said, “Stanley Kramer (the film’s producer) saved my life.”
1 Major Automobile Accident. Johnson was driving to a special movie screening in 1943 when he was involved in a car crash near the border of Los Angeles and Culver City. He required emergency surgery that left him with a metal plate in his head and visible scars on his forehead and face. What movie was he on his way to see? Keeper of the Flame, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
1 Stormy Marriage. As Johnson became one of MGM’’s biggest stars, studio head Louie B. Mayer was concerned about rumors concerning his personal life. To quash stories about Johnson being gay, Mayer hatched a plan to arrange a marriage between Johnson and Evie Wynn, the wife of Johnson’s best friend, Keenan Wynn. A tough character and an opportunist in her own right, Evie agreed to the arrangement. The irony for Mayer was that Johnson’s career immediately stagnated; his legion of fans hated the idea that their idol had gotten married. The bogus union lasted 21 years and resulted in one daughter, though the pair were estranged for much of the final eight years. Though he often referred to Evie as “The Dragon Lady” and gradually lived a more openly gay lifestyle, Johnson continued to wear his wedding ring for many years.
1 Role He Didn’t Get. Johnson loved to work, but in 1959 he turned down the lead role of Elliot Ness on ABC’s The Untouchables. Legend has it that he simply declined the offer. Yet according to Johnson’s biographer, Ronald L. Davis, Johnson had wanted the part but it was Evie who told him to hold out for more money. The role went to Robert Stack.
7 Broadway Shows. He started out in the theater and never lost his love for it. Though he spent many of his later years in smaller, regional productions, earning the nickname “The king of dinner theater,” he had an admirable career on the New York stage. His work included the original cast production of Pal Joey in 1940-41, and La Cage aux Folles in 1987.
0 Oscar Nominations. The fact that that Johnson never received a nod from the Academy is one of the great oversights in the history of the movie business. His turn as Lt. Steve Maryk in The Caine Mutiny (1954) may have deserved a Best Supporting nomination. The same goes for his earnest depiction of Ted Randal in A Guy Named Joe (1943).
1 Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can see it at 6600 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. It was dedicated on February 8, 1960.
92 Years on the Planet. Johnson passed away in 2009.
In celebration of Van Johnson's birth date, you can enjoy "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954) on Film Master's Youtube Channel.
A Spanish dubbed version of "The Last Time I Saw Paris," (La última vez que vi París) is also available to watch on our channel here.