I watched a few minutes of "Annie Get Your Gun" on TCM this morning. It's a big MGM musical, but the role of Annie Oakley is played by Betty Hutton, not a typical MGM musical star. The reason Hutton got the part was because Judy Garland, who was originally cast as Annie, hated the director, Busby Berkeley, who she knew as a hard taskmaster from her days doing the Andy Hardy musicals with Mickey Rooney. She tried to get Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, to fire Berkeley, and when Mayer wouldn't, Garland stopped coming to work on time, and frequently didn't show up at all. So Mayer fired Garland, replacing her with Betty Hutton. Through the whole course of making the movie, the rest of the cast refused to speak to Hutton, even though she had nothing to do with getting Garland fired. The only exception was Louis Calhern, who played Buffalo Bill. Calhern was himself a last minute replacement for Frank Morgan, the Wizard from the "Wizard of Oz," who'd suffered a heart attack and died shortly after filming started. Busby Berkeley was eventually fired, too, but the movie was a big hit for MGM. It was also Hutton's greatest success.
Betty Hutton's career petered out within a few years. After leaving movies, Hutton tried tv and Las Vegas but found mainly failure. Broke, battling drug addiction, her fourth marriage having just ended in divorce, Hutton suffered a nervous breakdown.
After rehab, Hutton converted to Catholicism, and found a job as a cook in a rectory in Rhode Island. She held this position for several years, and despite having only a ninth grade education, entered college, eventually earning a master's degree in psychology from Salve Regina University in Newport. While at Salve Regina, despite the great difference in their ages, Hutton became best friends with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses. Estranged from her own daughters, Hutton sort of adopted Hersh, taking great interest in Hersh's singing career, and telling Hersh she was "gonna be the new me."
Hutton died in 2007, having worked her way back to the fringes of show business, but, alas, still estranged from her daughters. Shortly afterwards, Kristin Hersh posted this lovely account of her friendship with Hutton.
I'll be thinking of Betty Hutton when I recite Salve Regina this evening. We all have our share of "mourning and weeping," but Betty Hutton perhaps had more than most.
RELATED: On a tour of Europe in 1892, Annie Oakley is said to have shot the ash from a cigarette held by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. After World War I broke out, Oakley wrote to the Kaiser, requesting a second shot. The Kaiser never replied.