Van Johnson, one of the best light comedian/song and dance men of the 1940s-50s, died this week at age 92. His boyish, All-American good looks made him a popular choice for musicals, romantic comedies, and some dramatic roles as well. He was so well known as the ideal boy-you-wish-lived-next-door performer that Cole Porter included him in the lyrics of his song “Give me a Primitive Man.”
Johnson could play a lead but he was better as a wise-cracking wingman for Gene Kelly in Brigadoon and Henry Fonda in Yours, Mine and Ours. My favorite Van Johnson performances include In the Good Old Summertime, opposite Judy Garland in the musical pre-“You’ve Got Mail” remake of “The Shop Around the Corner,” about the two warring music store employees who don’t know that they are real sweethearts through an anonymous letter exchange. I also love the neglected gem “Wives and Lovers,” which has a wonderful scene where he watches with combined fascination and horror as his daughter makes her lunch. Johnson was not the best singer, dancer, or actor but he was fun to watch because he was so comfortable and natural on screen and always looked like he was having a good time.
And I love this little dance number from “I Love Lucy.”