A big movie star was born in Battle Creek on this date, February 26th, 1921.  Her name was Elizabeth June Thornburg, but the world would soon know her as Betty Hutton. Some accounts have her residence listed at 24 Stone Street.  Her estate web page lists is at 12 Stone Avenue.

12 Stone Avenue-Betty Hutton home in Battle Creek-Willard Library Archive
12 Stone Avenue-Betty Hutton home in Battle Creek-Willard Library Archive

When Betty was just two year old, her father, a railroad foreman, left the family.  He ended up committing suicide 16 years later.

Betty didn’t live in Battle Creek for long.  She was raised by an alcoholic single mother, along with a sister.  The girls were singing in the family’s speakeasy when the girls were just toddlers.  Betty said in an interview a few years before her death that at age three, she spontaneously broke into song to distract a drunken man threatening to beat up her mother at the “Blind Pig” she ran during Prohibition.   That lifestyle kept them on the move from town to town and landed them in Detroit for a time.   They were constantly trying to stay a step ahead of the police.

Betty’s mom had her singing around Detroit for several years, and after a second trip to New York, her career took off in 1940.  She starred on Broadway, movies, and TV.  Her biggest success came with the MGM musical Annie Get Your Gun (1950), for which she replaced Judy Garland in the lead role.  But years later, Hutton said it “was the heartbreak of my life.”  She said the cast and crew were “terrible” to her.  MGM did not even invite her to Opening Night in New York.

Her career and life spiraled.  She was addicted to drugs, penniless and homeless.  By chance, in the early 1970’s she met Father Peter McGuire. He guided and counseled her for five years, saving her life.  Father McGuire, regarded as pretty much a saint by all who knew him, ended up being the father that Betty Hutton never knew, the one who deserted her at the age of two in Battle Creek.  She turned her life around, earned a degree, and taught at Boston’s Emerson College.  Once Fr. McGuire died in 1997, she retired and lived quietly in Palm Springs until she passed away on March 11, 2007, at the age of 86.

Check out the really great pictures at the Betty Hutton Estate web page. 

More From WBCKFM