Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Kid Sister

Today is Marion Hutton's birthday. Most folks have probably never heard of her. For the elders among us, she probably sparks an uncertain memory. Her kid sister, Betty Hutton, became a fairly well known movie star in the mid to late 1940's and early 1950's.

When both girls were very young, their father abandoned his family for another woman, eventually ending his life a suicide. Their mother struggled to make ends meet until she found a career as a bootlegger. The sisters found work singing with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra. And then one day, Glen Miller found her and hired her as the girl singer for his band. She was 17 at the time. Miller and his wife Helen became Marion's legal guardian and foster parents.

Glenn Miller and Marion Hutton
At first, Miller wanted her to be billed as "Sissy Jones", thinking it enhanced her girl next door qualities. It lasted one night before she rebelled. The story may be apocryphal - her sister Betty was said to have appeared under the name once, too. The band called her by many names: The Kid, Kid Sister, Goldilocks, the Brat, the Whack, Tootsie-roll, the Dopey Duchess. The guys were, however, very protective of her. Even though she was so young and  the only female on the tour bus, she never had any problems with the guys. They saw to that, keeping each other in line.  I once heard that she could beat them all at shooting craps.

Here's the Miller band from one of their two movies, Orchestra Wives. Marion is the vivacious blond who can be seen singing with the Modernaires, backing Tex Beneke's vocal. Sadly, there is no footage of her singing any of her big hits with the Miller band (i.e. I Want a Hat With Cherries, The Jumpin' Jive, etc.) Although Marion is only briefly seen, one can get an idea of the sheer fun she must have projected onstage. This is the complete number - in early experimental movie stereo! (Thank You Daryl Zanuck.) Be sure to click the full screen option on the YouTube window before the Nicholas Brothers start dancing (in a sequence carefully placed so that it could be cut from use in theaters in the Southern U.S.).


Marion didn't have the best voice, but she made up for it with spunk and verve. In later years, she noted that she'd never thought of herself as a singer - she thought herself more of an entertainer. She was enormously popular with audiences (for many years, she was more popular than her sister), and stayed with the band through it's final performance in September 1942 when Miller dissolved the band to go into the army. She then went on tour with Tex and the Modernaires, landed a few small roles in movies, and after a few years faded from public view, more interested in starting a family than in having a career. In 1947, she married her third husband, Vic Schoen, a bandleader and arranger for the Andrews Sistrers, Bing Crosby, and most of the top names in the business.
The Modernaires surround Marion. Glenn Miller is seated going over the band's arrangements.

In the mid 1960's, Marion began treatment for various addictions, went to college and earned two degrees in psychology. She and Vic joined AA, and founded a drug and alcohol treatment center in the state of Washington called Residence XII. They perfomed together in numerous concerts to raise funds for the center. It was one of the first treatment programs specifically targeted to women.

Her sister Betty also suffered addiction problems, and attempted suicide after losing her voice. Betty regained control of her life through the help of a Catholic priest, and made national headlines in the 1970's when she was discovered working as a dishwasher in a rectory in Rhode Island. She followed in her older sister's footsteps and went to college, earning a master's degree in psychology.

In 1987, Marion, still married to Vic, succumbed to cancer. Residence XII still exists and still serves women with addiction problems. Their website is not linked here, as they don't even mention Marion Hutton, their founder who was once America's kid sister.

No comments: