Gloria DeHaven never made it to the front ranks of film stardom and none of her credits can be considered a major classic, but she was in her own modest way one of the signature perky soubrettes of the 1940s, a hometown sweetheart for many GIs. A good singer and a highly vivacious screen presence, her career has had its ups and downs, but TV and stage work and the very occasional film have nonetheless kept her busy for over half a century.
DeHaven was born into a prominent entertainment family: her parents were Carter DeHaven and Flora Parker (often known professionally as Mrs. Carter DeHaven), famed vaudevillians and legitimate stage performers who also graced a number of silent films together. DeHaven and her brother Carter DeHaven Jr (who later became a producer) traveled with their parents on tour tours while growing up, and Gloria enjoyed her first screen exposure in a bit part in Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" (1936), for which her father served as assistant director. By 1940, DeHaven had been signed by MGM and she gained further experience as a singer with Bob Crosby and Jon Savitt's bands. She tread water for several years in small roles until she played one of the second leads in the brightly colored, high energy film version of the Broadway musical, "Best Foot Forward" (1943), which also got June Allyson off and running.
The biggest year of DeHaven's screen career came in 1944, when she performed in six films released that year and into early 1945. "The Thin Man Goes Home" (1944), the wartime installment of the popular comedy-mystery series, found DeHaven in typical supporting form as a hyperactive, gushy small-town denizen. Much more important, though, was a loan-out to RKO for "Step Lively" (1944), a highly amusing, musicalized revamp of the stage and screen farce "Room Service" in which her attractive alto and atypically relaxed charm teamed well with hot newcomer Frank Sinatra. Another popular entry came with "Two Girls and a Sailor" (1944); with their girl-next-door manner and pouting-lipped good looks, she and Allyson made a fairly credible sister act.
Even though some of her roles were still second leads, DeHaven was building momentum. She was off the screen for several years, though, after marrying fellow screen star John Payne. Her return to films, however, was a major boxoffice flop: the admittedly uneven but charming and underrated "Summer Holiday" (1948), one of many times her career path would cross professionally with Mickey Rooney's. DeHaven stayed at MGM for two more years, alternating between blonde and brunette, standardized lead and cutesy second lead, in a series of unmemorable films ranging from melodrama ("Scene of the Crime" 1949) to comedy ("The Yellow Cab Man" 1950). Her best films in this period were musicals, as she gamely supported Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in "Summer Stock" (1950) and impersonated her own mother in a cameo in the period biopic "Three Little Words" (1950).
DeHaven freelanced in several musicals, but the results (e.g., "Two Tickets to Broadway" 1951; "The Girl Rush" 1955) reeked of hackneyed storylines and forced gaiety. With the decline of the film musical DeHaven turned to stage tours and TV. She hosted the 15-minute ABC variety program, "The Gloria DeHaven Show" (1953-54), was a quiz show panelist on "Make the Connection" (NBC, 1955), teamed again with Rooney for the TV special "Mr. Broadway" (NBC, 1957) and began making regular appearances on Bob Hope's small-screen fests. She guested on "The Lloyd Bridges Show" (CBS, 1962-63) and very briefly hosted the syndicated "Girl Talk" in 1969 before the TV-movie gave her renewed visibility. DeHaven, looking lovely in her middle and senior years, performed in TV-movies including "Call Her Mom" (ABC, 1972), "Evening in Byzantium" (syndicated, 1978) and "Off Sides" (NBC, 1984) and even essayed one of the two leads in the mystery pilot "Ladies on Sweet Street" (ABC, 1990).
DeHaven also ventured into TV series work, playing the precinct secretary on "Nakia" (ABC, 1974), a police drama set among a Navaho tribe. She also performed on the short-lived sitcom, "Delta House" (ABC, 1979) and played a recurring role on the spoof soap, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (syndicated, 1976-77) but enjoyed better luck on more serious daytime drama. DeHaven played Sara Fuller on CBS' "As the World Turns" and in the 80s joined the cast of "Ryan's Hope" (ABC) as Bess Shelby, long-suffering mother of the town tramp. Her long-delayed return to features in the poor horror pic "Bog" (1978) was best forgotten, despite her casting in two roles, but DeHaven turned up again with Rooney for "The Legend of O.B. Taggert" (1995). Better still, she received her widest feature exposure in 40 years as one of the objects of Jack Lemmon's and Walter Matthau's schemes in "Out to Sea" (1997).