Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Eve Abbott Wynn Johnson

Eve Abbott met her first husband, Keenan Wynn while they were both appearing on Broadway. She got her start with a small role in 1935's Romeo and Juliet. Evie was swimming with the big fish as the cast included Katherine Cornell, Maurice Evans, Ralph Richardson, Orson Welles and Tyrone Power. She and Power also had small roles in Saint Joan (1936) and they began an affair, but she later said, "Ty was too beautiful. I knew he would never settle down with one person." She later won roles in Hamlet, The American Way, The Star Wagon and Key Largo. I have lots of conflicting information. Some sources say she and Keenan met in The Star Wagon, others say Hitch Your Wagon. Another source says Evie's father operated theatres, as did his friend, the father of Katherine Cornell. This source says Evie spent six years as an apprentice to Katherine's stock company. Whichever it was, some "Wagon" show brought them together and they married in 1939. Once married, Evie, as she was known, stopped acting and became Keenan's agent and business manager. The couple moved out to California where Evie became known for her fabulous parties. From what I've read, it wasn't a happy union. Their fights were legendary in the neighborhood. Eddie Bracken, who lived across the street spoke of the ferocious arguments the three of them would have.

An aggressive broad, Evie was quite judgmental of Keenan's disdainful attitude regarding his career. I'm not sure that either had nice things to say about the other though he did give Evie credit for negotiating a fabulous deal with MGM. For a supporting player, $2,500.00 a week for 40 weeks was unheard of.
Keenan Wynn had met Van Johnson when both were "pounding the pavement" in NYC. They were both signed by MGM in 1942 and everyone moved to Los Angeles where the three became fast friends. In 1943, these three were in a car on their way to the studio to preview Keeper of the Flame when a car jumped a red light and hit them. Johnson, who'd been driving, was critically injured. Evie suffered a minor back injury. Once out of the hospital Van recuperated at the Wynn's home. In 1945, the Wynn's separated. Keenan told the press that he and Evie had nothing in common but their son. At some point, Wynn had a motorcycle accident (he loved bikes) and he moved back in with Evie so that she could nurse him back to health. Keenan's father, the comic actor Ed Wynn had commented, "I can't keep them straight. Evie loved Keenan. Keenan loves Evie. Van loves Evie. Evie loves Van. Van loves Keenan. Keenan loves Van."

According to Evie, Louis B.Mayer threatened her with not renewing Keenan's contract unless she did as he demanded. In his memoir, Arthur Laurents wrote, "A sunny male star caught performing in public urinals once too often was ordered by his studio to get married. His best friends, a young comedian and his wife, divorced so that he could marry the wife."

Ultimately, Evie obtained a Mexican divorce in January, 1947. Evie married Van Johnson the following day.

Years later, Evie was very bitter about L.B. Mayer, stating he..."was the worst of the lot, a dictator with the ethics and morals of a cockroach." Maybe L.B. had been bitter about that fabulous contract Evie had finagled and felt he had the right to ask whatever he wanted of his employee and his manager?

Initially, this new union of Van and Evie appeared successful. Evie continued to be the Hollywood party-giver, now in an Art Deco dream house (at 757 Kingman Avenue) that had been built by Cedric Gibbons for Dolores Del Rio.

Ned Wynn, Evie's son, who wrote "We Will Always Live In Beverly Hills" recalled how now that his mother was married to Van, she always had new jewels and furs. Cartier, Tiffany, Balenciaga, Givenchy....were the names he recalled seeing. (Evie had gotten custody of Ned as well as the couples other son Tracy. She and Van also had a daughter, Schuyler.) So yes, Van did do it once.

In 1952, Evie did face the cameras again. Roz Russell was so crazy about her that she insisted Evie take a part in Never Wave at a WAC.

It appears that Van and Evie drifted apart, split, but briefly reconciled in 1961. She joined Van in London where he was starring in The Music Man. She wasn't there long before she realized that Van was having an affair with a male cast member...."a boy, really. He's the lead boy dancer." That's what she told her son Ned, who tells the story in his memoir.

Things continued to plummet for Evie...Mr. Johnson claimed their divorce was, "the ugliest in Hollywood history." In 1999 she wrote, "I have been reduced to near poverty and went bankrupt some years ago thanks to Van's lack of appreciation for what I did for him by being pressured to marry him by MGM." She had planned to write a tell-all entitled, "All About Evie" but she never did. In 1996 and 2001, she appeared as herself in documentaries about Lana Turner and Tyrone Power. Her other son, Tracy Keenan Wynn is a screenwriter, most notably for, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In 2005, Tracy was a part of a class action age-discrimination suit against the Hollywood studios, talent agencies and production companies.

Evie died in August, 2004.

Ned's book is "in the mail" as I write.
I imagine I'll learn much more once it's been read.

1 comment:

  1. am i pathetic or what? i "stole" this comment from musto's blog:

    The Late Tallulah Bankhead says:

    Someone just told me that Van Johnson had a long, mad affair with Richard Deacon-- that bald, prissy queen from "The Dick Van Dyke Show." I wonder which one was the bottom?


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