Actress June Allyson Dies At 88

June Allyson headshot, actress, B&W photo 1943 AP

June Allyson, the sunny on-screen "perfect wife" of James Stewart, Van Johnson and other movie heroes, has died, her daughter Pamela Allyson Powell said Monday. She was 88.

Allyson died Saturday at her home in Ojai, with her husband of nearly 30 years, David Ashrow, at her side, Powell said in a telephone interview.

She died of pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis after a long illness, Powell said.

During World War II, American GIs pinned up photos of Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable, but June Allyson was the girl they wanted to come home to. Petite, blonde and alive with fresh-faced optimism, she seemed the ideal sweetheart and wife, supporting and unthreatening.

"I had the most wonderful last meeting with June at her house in Ojai. We had gotten lost in the car. She told me: 'I could wait for you forever.' We were such dear friends. I will miss her," lifelong friend Esther Williams said.

With typical wonderment, Allyson expressed surprise in a 1986 interview that she had ever become a movie star:

"I have big teeth. I lisp. My eyes disappear when I smile. My voice is funny. I don't sing like Judy Garland. I don't dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they'd take me home to meet Mom."

Allyson's real life belied the sunshiny image she presented in films of the '40s and '50s. As she revealed in her 1982 autobiography, she had an alcoholic father and was raised by a single mother in the Bronx in New York. Her "ideal marriage" to actor-director Dick Powell was beset with frustrations.

After Powell's cancer death in 1963, she battled breakdowns, alcoholism and a disastrous second marriage. She credited her recovery to Ashrow, her third husband, a children's dentist who became a nutrition expert.

Born Eleanor Geisman in the Bronx Oct. 7, 1917, she was raised mostly by her mother. Ella was 6 when her alcoholic father left. Her mother worked as a telephone operator and restaurant cashier. At 8, the girl was bicycling when a dead tree branch fell on her.

Several bones were broken and doctors said she would never walk again. She underwent months of swimming exercises and regained her health.

"After the accident and the extensive therapy, we were desperate," Allyson wrote in her autobiography. "Sometimes Mother would not eat dinner, and I'd ask her why. She would say she wasn't hungry, but later I realized there was only enough food for one."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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