February 18, 2010 / 10:55 PM / 10 years ago

Kathryn Grayson, star of MGM musicals, has died

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kathryn Grayson, a singer and movie star of the 1940s and 1950s best known for MGM musicals such as “Kiss Me, Kate,” has died at age 88, her secretary said on Thursday.

Grayson died at home in Los Angeles on Wednesday in her sleep, said Sally Sherman, who had worked with Grayson for 31 years.

The actress was among the top movie musical performers of her day, starring opposite Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in 1945’s “Anchors Away” and Ava Gardner and Howard Keel in 1951’s “Showboat.”

“She was a lady of class and quality, with the greatest sense of humor conceivable,” Sherman said.

Scott Stander, Grayson’s longtime booking agent with Los Angeles-based Scott Stander and Associates, echoed Sherman’s sentiment, calling Grayson “very much her image.”

“She didn’t cuss, didn’t use foul language,” he said, “She was well-liked, gracious and true to what everybody thought.”

Born in North Carolina on February 9, 1922, Grayson was raised in Missouri in a family that loved music. She began singing when she was 8 years old, training to be a soprano in the opera. But as a 15-year-old, the diminutive brunette signed a contract with MGM after studio executives heard her sing.

Sherman said Louis B. Mayer, the legendary studio boss at MGM, once told Grayson that if she went into the opera no one would know her, but if she stayed with movies, she would never be forgotten. “That certainly was true,” Sherman said.

Grayson’s first film role was in 1941’s “Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary” and other movies included “It Happened in Brooklyn” (1947) again opposite Sinatra, and “That Midnight Kiss” (1949) with Mario Lanza.

When the musical era began to fade in Hollywood, Grayson switched from films to stage and resumed her opera singing, where her career thrived.

She sang in Carnegie Hall and in 1962, replaced Julie Andrews in the Broadway version of “Camelot.” Grayson toured with the stage show, breaking box office records and winning strong reviews for well over a year.

Grayson was married and divorced twice, the first time to actor John Shelton and second to actor/singer Johnnie Johnston, with whom she had a daughter.

Grayson is survived by her daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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