June Allyson captivated audiences throughout the 40s and 50s with her charm, good looks, and go-getter attitude. But behind her good-girl persona, she hid her dark truth: A history plagued by tragedy and heartbreak.
1. She Was Born Into Turmoil
June Allyson, born Eleanor Geisman, had a rough go of it from the start. The tumultuous relationship between her parents, Clara and Robert, was already on its last legs when she was born on October 7, 1917. Sadly, her arrival did little to hash things out between them.
Only six months later, June’s troubled and alcoholic father abandoned the family. And it was all downhill from there.
2. She Felt Unwanted
With Robert suddenly out of the picture, Clara scrambled to support her family. She took on two jobs to make ends meet, but her busy schedule and broken heart kept her away from little June. Even when she did have extra time and cash, she preferred to pawn her off on relatives. This staggering feeling of abandonment followed June well into adulthood.
3. She Was In A Terrible Accident
As if losing her father and having an absent mother wasn’t heartbreaking enough, June suffered some pretty horrific injuries when she was just eight years old. While innocently riding her bicycle, a tree branch fell on top of her. The consequences of this freak accident were devastating.
She fractured her skull and broke her spine. But that wasn’t all.
4. She Lost A Friend
In addition to June’s awful injuries, the accident also made her lose one of her best friends. The tree branch crushed her beloved dog, who didn’t survive. Drowning in grief, she now had to face a chilling diagnosis.
Doctors believed she would never walk again. In spite of it all, little June was nothing if not determined. She made a full recovery within four years. Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time she defied the odds.
5. She Wanted More
For a while, June managed to see a silver lining appear. Her mother remarried, reuniting the family and ushering in a period of financial stability. They even had enough money to put June in dance school, a passion she had discovered while recovering. But these good times were cruelly cut short when her stepfather passed only a few years later.
Once again, June found herself staring into the abyss of poverty again, but she wasn’t going to sit back and let it consume her. She dropped out of high school in the middle of her junior year and set out to find work.
6. She Was Ambitious
The sky was the limit for June. Be it singing or dancing or acting, you’d have a hard time finding something that the driven star-to-be wasn’t willing to try. She even tried her hand at modeling, but the gig came to a swift end after she landed the sad “before” part in a swimsuit ad. It was a brutal blow to her self-esteem—but no amount of failure could dissuade her from chasing her dreams.
7. She Almost Gave Up
June’s ambition was also a vice, given that it almost ended her career before it even began. Her success in Broadway’s Best Foot Forward gave her a serious confidence boost, and in 1942, she made a daring decision. She moved from New York to LA with only $21.
Her struggle to find meaningful work had her ready to call it quits, but Lucille Ball convinced her to stick it out. It was good that June had a friend like Lucille because she was just about to hit it big.
8. Her Dreams Came True
June’s big break into Hollywood came with her starring role in 1944’s Two Girls and a Sailor. The film would see her typecast as the quintessential “girl next door”, and her on-screen chemistry with co-star Van Johnson was such a hit with audiences that they would play similar roles in four more films together.
June’s dreams were finally coming true—but the shadows of her past were lurking just outside of the spotlight.
9. She Told Some Lies
June’s joy for her newfound fame was overshadowed by one big fear: that details of her past would taint her flourishing reputation. So when MGM Studios, who signed her in 1943, started fabricating facts to make her more attractive to the public, she happily went along with it.
Revisions to her life included being an honors graduate and taking 5-6 years off her age. But when it came to manufacturing falsehoods, this was just the beginning.
10. She Had A Fake Boyfriend
Eager to sell their chemistry (and films), MGM sent June and Johnson out on some very public dates. And their scheme worked; the public went crazy thinking that the co-stars had found love outside the studio. But while there was certainly platonic love between the close friends, there was one tiny little detail preventing a real romance.
Johnson was gay. His lack of attraction to her didn’t phase her, though. Especially not with the real dates she was pulling.
11. She Was A Serial Dater
A new, young blonde on the scene is bound to turn heads, and June was no exception. With her petite stature (about 5’1 and barely 100 lbs), infectious smile, and signature husky voice, she drove the boys wild—and she knew it. Among her most high-profile beaux was English stud Peter Lawford, and she even had a brief fling with John F Kennedy. But here’s the twist.
12. She Didn’t Support Him
June’s political affiliation may surprise you, given that she dated a future Democratic president. It turns out that she was a devout Republican, and very publicly supported Richard Nixon in his campaigns—even the one against Kennedy during the 1960 election. That definitely had to have stung a little for her ex-flame.
Oh, but when it came to romance, June had no qualms about stirring the pot.
13. She Could Take Your Man
June had no trouble getting men, even those bound by holy matrimony. It wasn’t the ring on his finger that stopped her from dating David Rose, but the stern talking-to she got from MGM studio chief Louis B Mayer.
When he caught wind of their adulterous relationship, he pulled June aside and told her that if she valued her reputation, she would cut him off. The worst part? Rose was married to Judy Garland at the time, who would become one of June’s closest friends. When it came to Hollywood romances, June proved that was a force to be reckoned with.
14. She Had An Admirer
June quickly became a hot commodity, and the trail of men she left in her wake didn’t stop others from crushing on her. One such man was actor Dick Powell, who first laid eyes on her during a showing of Best Foot Forward back on Broadway in 1941. It was love at first sight, and he declared her the “cutest little thing anybody ever saw”.
While their first film together, 1944’s Meet The People, was a box-office flop, it was a massive success for June’s tumultuous love life.
15. She Couldn’t Win
Did I mention that Powell was 13 years older, twice divorced, and already a father of two? Those little tidbits of information didn’t sit well with Mayer, who was aghast when he discovered their relationship. He demanded that she end it, but then he took it one step further and gave her a chilling ultimatum: He told her that it was her man or her career.
16. She Stood Her Ground
June faced a difficult decision between her heart and her job. Only it wasn’t difficult. She waltzed into Mayer’s office one day, batted her pretty blue eyes at him, and asked him to give her away at their wedding. He may have persuaded her to leave Rose, but Powell was her Prince Charming—and no threat could make her let him go.
Mayer was so surprised by the request that he accepted, and on August 19, 1945, he walked the beaming bride down the aisle. But he was also a man of his word and suspended her contract. It would be the first of many bumps in the road for the newlyweds.
17. She Had Fertility Problems
June soon felt motherhood calling to her—but there was a problem. Remember that childhood accident? Doctors believed that her injuries had been so severe that she would never conceive. So she did the next best thing and adopted her daughter, Pamela, in August 1948. But her bundle of joy came with a seriously sinister secret…
18. They Adopted From The Black Market
You read that right. The Powells adopted Pamela from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, run by a woman named Georgia Tann. Seems innocent, right? I mean, sure, if Tann hadn’t been a notorious child trafficker who threatened vulnerable women into giving up their children so she could make a pretty penny by selling them.
And make a pretty penny she did, thanks to wealthy clients like the Powells and Joan Crawford. Not such a heartwarming story after all.
19. She Was A Medical Miracle
June liked to take people by surprise, and she certainly did when she announced her pregnancy in 1950. It was a Christmas miracle when the couple’s second child, a beautiful boy named Richard Jr, was born on December 24 of that year. But it wouldn’t be long until the Powells’ perfect marriage started to show its cracks—and things took an ugly turn.
20. She Prevented A Tragedy
June was at a party for Edgar and Frances Bergen one afternoon when the unthinkable happened. Their four-year-old daughter, Candice, fell into the pool—and June sprung into action. She dove in after the toddler, plucked her from the water, and returned her to her terrified parents. Unfortunately, she couldn’t save her own marriage from going under.
21. She Was Unhappy
By the mid-50s, June’s marriage was in serious trouble. Powell’s switch from acting to directing left him with a busy schedule, and June was not pleased. It was like looking into the past—and she wasn’t about to let her children go through the same thing she did. By the time she started working on The McConnell Story in 1954, she was over it. And luckily, her co-star Alan Ladd offered her a way out.
22. She Broke Her Vows
Things might have been fizzling out at home, but in the studio, June’s love life burned red-hot. The attraction between June and Ladd—who was also suffering in an unhappy marriage—was undeniable, both on and off the screen. And with Powell too busy with his own schedule to notice, the two started a full-blown affair and headed down a very scandalous road.
23. He Came Clean
Drunk on love, or driven by a massive ego? Whatever the reason, Ladd picked up the phone one day and made an audacious phone call.
When Powell answered, Ladd confessed that he was in love with June—and the response he got was not at all what he expected. Amused by the admission, Powell basically told Ladd to get in line. The situation was less amusing to June, and she separated from Powell in 1957. But their story was far from over.
24. She Couldn’t Break Free
The success of Two Girls and a Sailor was both a blessing and a curse.
Sure, it secured June’s claim to fame, but it also locked her into “goody two-shoes” roles—and her attempts to break out of them failed spectacularly. She was thrilled to finally play the villain in 1955’s The Shrike, even if everyone (including Powell) was against it. And while she had a blast playing the character, audiences hated it. They wanted their sweet star back, and wouldn’t accept her in a role like that.
25. She Fell From Grace
Unfortunately, June’s marriage wasn’t the only thing coming undone. She split from MGM in 1953, and while Universal signed her on in 1957 after hits like The Glenn Miller Story, she struggled to find success afterward. Over the next two years, the consecutive failures of Interlude, My Man Godfrey, and A Stranger in My Arms brought an unceremonious end to her A-List reign.
26. Her Television Show Flopped
With the loss of her A-List status, June gave television a try—but the transition was anything but smooth. The Dupont Show with June Allyson ran for one sad year and was met with unfavorable reviews and compared to fiction magazines. It was canceled after only two seasons, which, given how much she disliked filming it, she didn’t mind. However, things were about to go from bad to worse.
27. She Lost Her Trademark
Although June was insecure about her husky voice, it made her hugely popular with audiences and became an integral part of her identity. But in 1961 she underwent surgery for an issue with her throat, and the aftermath was crushing. She lost her signature rasp for a time, which did little to aid her already dwindling reputation. And so began the most difficult chapter of June Allyson’s life.
28. She Walked Away
June waited four years for Powell to change before she called it quits. Even though her fling with Ladd—who went back to his wife—didn’t last, she filed for divorce in 1961. She won a hefty settlement and custody of the kids, but June was a believer in “expect the unexpected”, and she was about to do something no one saw coming.
29. He Made Her A Promise
In a dramatic turn of events, June called off the divorce just before it was finalized. Powell had made one last passionate plea for their marriage, and in a grand romantic gesture, swore to his estranged wife that he wouldn’t let her go. That was enough to mend her aching heart, and they happily reconciled…but it wouldn’t be for long.
30. She Was All Alone Again
In September 1962, Powell revealed a devastating secret: He had cancer. Despite undergoing treatments, he died only months later on January 2, 1963. Like her mother before her, June suddenly found herself alone with two children to raise, and, unable to cope with her tremendous loss, she turned to a familiar substance.
31. There Was A Conspiracy
A wild conspiracy flew around about how Powell had gotten cancer. His 1956 film The Conqueror was partly filmed in a location just 220 km (137 mi) from the Nevada National Security Site, which received major fallout from nuclear testing. Out of 220 crew members, 91 developed cancer, and 46—including Powell and John Wayne—succumbed to it.
However, June denied that the film had anything to do with it, and blamed Powell’s chainsmoking habit instead.
32. She Had A Bitter Enemy
June’s reputation as a “good girl” didn’t protect her from drama, and Powell’s ex-wife, Joan Blondell, had it out for her.
Blondell—who Powell had only divorced the year before—was particularly upset when they exchanged vows, and she let everyone know it by writing a nasty characterization of June in her novel Center Door Fancy. The cattiness went both ways, though, with June allegedly having tried to stop Blondell from visiting Powell before he passed.
33. She Became Her Father
As hard as she tried, June just couldn’t escape the demons of her past. In a gutting repetition of history, she turned to her father’s comfort to numb her grief—and became just like him in the process. Her drinking morphed into an addiction that spanned over a decade and almost cost her everything.
34. She Moved On Quickly
June’s new beau, Glenn Maxwell, shocked people for all the wrong reasons. Not only had he been Powell’s long-time barber, but the couple planned to elope only weeks after his passing. Thankfully, June pumped the brakes on their relationship (Mayer was rolling in his grave), but it would be far from the end for the ill-fated lovers.
35. They Were A Disaster
Unfortunately, June’s relationship with Maxwell wouldn’t mend her broken heart. They waited a whole 10 months before tying the not, but their marriage quickly became an exhausting game of on-again, off-again. They divorced in 1965…but remarried the next year. And then they divorced for good in 1970. Clearly, these two were a mess, but the details were downright disgraceful.
36. He Was A Monster
It’s hard to say if June really loved Maxwell or if she just didn’t want to be alone. Either way, their marriage was a horror story—if you didn’t already gather that from the above. She publicly accused him of mistreating her, and in later years exposed him for being violent with her, gambling away all her money, and writing bad checks. Believe it or not, the 60s weren’t done with poor June just yet.
37. She Suffered More Loss
The world may have lost Dorothy of Oz when Judy Garland tragically passed in 1969, but June lost a dear friend. The two had grown close while working for MGM in the 40s, and June struggled to talk about her long after her passing. With the loss of her husband and best friend, she sunk deeper into the bottle than ever before.
38. Her Mother Betrayed Her
June and her mother had their ups and downs over the years, but nothing tested their relationship quite like this. Fed up with June’s drinking, she claimed that her daughter was an unfit mother and took her to court for custody of the children.
The case nearly destroyed what was left of her already floundering reputation. In the end, the court granted co-guardianship to her long-term on-and-off partner, Dirk Summers. But the damage had been done, and the stress took an almost fatal toll.
39. She Wanted Out
Single, sullied, and severely depressed, June was a shell of her sunny self. She had hit rock bottom, and the pleas of her friends and family to get help for her drinking fell on deaf ears. She didn’t want help—she wanted Powell, and she spent her days alone, waiting for her addiction to finish her off and reunite them. As fate would have it, brighter times awaited the fallen star.
40. She Had A Different Job In Mind
Spending so much time in and out of doctors’ offices had a profound impact on little June, so it’s not surprising that she had dreamed of being a doctor. She only wanted to act until she could pay for medical school. Even though she stuck with acting, the money still went to good use, since she paid for her brother’s medical training instead.
41. She Had A Bad First Date
There are definitely perks to your bro being a doctor—like his cute doctor friends. Sparks were soaring when June first met her brother’s best friend, dentist-turned-actor David Ashrow. They quickly arranged a first date, but it was far from the romantic evening that Ashrow had imagined.
When he arrived, a plastered June demanded that he leave. Ashrow, however, was persistent. Where most men would have turned tail and ran, he sat down and talked his way past the booze—and it would be just what she needed.
42. She Made A Promise
June’s fairy-tale ending seemed imminent. Her whirlwind romance with Ashrow brought her back to life. His eventual proposal left her ecstatic and joyful. However, he did have one condition. She needed to drop drinking. The decision was an easy one, and in 1976, a sober June stood at the altar for the fourth and final time.
43. She Carried His Legacy
After Powell passed, June took a serious interest in senior health. She became an outspoken advocate for the importance of research into their urological and gynecological health and later helped to establish the June Allyson Foundation for Public Awareness and Medical Research. But her goodwill didn’t end there.
44. She Turned Them Down
June’s passion for geriatric wellness didn’t go unnoticed; in 1984, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation approached her about becoming the spokesperson for Depend, their new line of adult incontinence products. But June, still haunted by the hit her reputation took over the last 20 years, was concerned about the stigma surrounding the issue. So she declined. But in the end, the decision wasn’t really hers.
45. Her Mama Made Her
June and her mother may have mended things over the years, but her rejection of Kimberly-Clark’s offer disappointed her mother deeply, who struggled with incontinence herself. She argued that June owed it to the people in light of her life’s success.
Although unhappy about it, June changed her mind, taking Kimberly-Clark up on its offer. Her influence was astronomical. Depend was—and continues to be—a commercial success, and June’s association greatly reduced the social stigma surrounding it. She continued to work with the brand for over 20 years.
46. She Had Friends In High Places
June’s political connections extended beyond Kennedy: She was also good friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. According to rumors, she even influenced his decision to switch parties. She attended numerous White House dinners at their invitation, and in 1988, Reagan recognized her work for seniors by appointing her to the Federal Council on Aging.
47. She Made A Deal With God
A long-time smoker, June dropped the habit for a surprisingly sweet reason. Her daughter-in-law was going through a difficult pregnancy, and they didn’t know if the baby would survive. One day, June sat down in a church, clasped her hands together, and made God an offer: If her grandbaby was born healthy, she would kick the habit. And June kept her word. When Rickie Powell came into the world happy and healthy, she never smoked again.
48. She Was Back At Court
Even in her old age, June couldn’t avoid petty drama. In 1993, she was taken to court by her sue-happy agent, Marty Ingels. Ingels claimed that June hadn’t paid him the commission for the Depend advertising. She denied the allegations and went on to countersue him for harassment—a case that she won after Ingels admitted to making 138 phone calls in eight hours.
49. She Honored Her Friend
June had felt like a hopeless spectator to Garland’s inner struggle, and believed that the help she had needed was never made available to her. So when her daughter Pamela started working as the director of a suicide prevention center, June jumped at the chance to get involved, making heartfelt speeches in honor of her departed friend.
50. She Got Her Happy Ending
June was a go-getter from the start, and she wasn’t going to let old age stop her. She remained active well into her 80s, doing personal appearances and continuing to promote Depend. Unfortunately, her health began to deteriorate after a hip-replacement surgery in 2003, and on July 8, 2006, she passed at home with Ashrow faithfully by her side.