Gloria DeHaven, star of ‘40s musicals, dies at 91

Gloria DeHaven in her classic Hollywood heyday, left, and for "The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies" in January 2001.
Gloria DeHaven in her classic Hollywood heyday, left, and for “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies” in January 2001.
(Courtesy Harry N. Abrams Inc. publishers, left; Los Angeles Times archives, right.)

Gloria DeHaven, who started in show business as a child, was under contract during the golden age of movie musicals and later reinvented herself for soaps and more, has died. She was 91.

The actress died Saturday in Las Vegas, her agent confirmed Monday.

DeHaven’s parents were the popular vaudevillian and stage performers Carter DeHaven and Flora Parker. She and her brother, Carter DeHaven Jr., who would become a producer, would travel with their parents as they toured. She landed a bit part in Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 masterpiece “Modern Times” because her father was an assistant director on the film. She also had a small part in Chaplin’s 1940 satire, “The Great Dictator.”

She was signed to an MGM contract in 1940 and appeared in “Susan and God,” while also singing with orchestras, including Bob Crosby’s band. She appeared in several musicals during the early ‘40s, most notably 1943’s “Best Foot Forward” and 1944’s “Step Lively,” in which she was loaned out from MGM to RKO.


“Being under contract with MGM meant having everything done for you,” DeHaven told The Times in 1984. “There were doctors and dentists and tutors on the lot, at your beck and call, not to mention the best vocal teachers and hairdressers and costume designers.”

The downside of being under contract was not getting a chance to branch out, she said.

ARCHIVES: Gloria DeHaven on her umpteenth career change »

DeHaven took time off from the screen when she married actor John Payne. Her return was in the 1948 musical flop “Summer Holiday.” She continued at MGM in supporting roles in 1950’s “Summer Stock” and “Three Little Words.”


After that, she said, “The golden age of movie musicals had sadly ended.”

She later turned more and more to TV series, and had a recurring role in the 1970s soap opera spoof, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

In 1983, she took on the recurring role of Bess Shelby on the daytime drama “Ryan’s Hope.”

“Thanks to the soap I’ve gained an entire new, young audience who don’t know who the hell Gloria DeHaven is,” she told The Times in 1984. “They adore the character and like what I bring to the part. I mean, my major movies were in the 1940s and ‘50s, before some of these viewers were even born.


“My own contemporaries are fascinated that I’ve begun this sort of second career; or should I say umpteenth career, since I’m 58 and have been in show business since I was born.”

 She returned to the big screen in the forgettable 1983 film “Bog,” but scored a hit as Jack Lemmon’s love interest in the 1997 romantic comedy “Out to Sea.”

DeHaven had three husbands, and was married four times — twice to one of them. 

Her survivors include her son Thomas Payne, daughter Kathleen Hope Payne, son Harry Fincher, daughter Faith Fincher-Finkelstein and nephew Carter DeHaven.  


Former Times staff writer Susan King contributed to this report. 

Follow Christie D’Zurilla on Twitter @theCDZ.


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6:10 p.m.: This post was updated to include information about Gloria DeHaven’s survivors.

This post was first published at 8:55 a.m.