Actress June Havoc dies at 97

Mon Mar 29, 2010 10:36pm EDT
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By Duane Byrge

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - June Havoc, a stage, movie and TV actress who started in vaudeville at age 2 and was the younger sister of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, died Sunday at her home in Stamford, Conn. She was 97.

Havoc and Lee were the focus of the 1959 musical "Gypsy," based on the latter's best-selling memoir "Gypsy." Starring Ethel Merman as Mama Rose, the show was a Broadway hit. But it led to a long-term fallout between the siblings because of Havoc's displeasure with her sister's fictionalized portrayal of her. They remained antagonistic until Lee was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1970, when they made amends.

Along with her sister, Havoc was pushed into a vaudeville career by their headstrong stage mother. Billed as Baby June, she had bit parts as a toddler in silent comedy shorts and performed in early Hal Roach comedies starring Harold Lloyd.

Although less famous than her notorious stripper sister, she carved out a career on Broadway and motion pictures, mostly in musicals and comedies. She made her Main Stem debut in "Forbidden Melody" (1936) and was most widely acclaimed for her performance as Gladys in the 1940 production of Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey," opposite Gene Kelly and Van Johnson.

She won the Donaldson Award for the hit musical "Mexican Hayride" in 1944.

Havoc was nominated for a Tony Award in 1964 for directing "Marathon 33," based on her early experiences as a marathon dancer in Depression-era dance contests.

Havoc appeared in "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) with Gregory Peck but mostly performed in B-level movies including "Four Jacks and a Jill," "Powder Town" and "Sing Your Worries Away," all in 1942. During the late '40s and early '50s, she had roles in such films as "The Story of Molly X" and "Lady Possessed" with James Mason.

Other film credits include "The Iron Curtain," "Once a Thief" and "Follow the Sun." After "Lady Possessed" in 1952, she took a quarter-century break from the big screen, returning in "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" (1977) and later in "Can't Stop the Music and "A Return to Salem's Lot."   Continued...

<p>June Havoc, a stage, movie and TV actress who started in vaudeville at age 2, in a 1924 photo. REUTERS/Prints and Photographs Division/LOC/Handout</p>