by Henry & Bobbie Shaffner
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His celebrity was well-established when Van Johnson died, at age 92, in December 2008, and millions of women across the country went into mourning – not alone for Van himself, but for that Golden Era of Hollywood that he so handsomely and wondrously represented
One of his grieving fans exclaimed, "Van liked to think of himself as a ‘Swede.’ Oh, how much of a FAN I was of the great VAN JOHNSON! He helped me through my rough times, as a young teenager, just by being there on the ‘silver screen.’ Amazing, isn’t it, that someone you have never actually met, can have the effect of almost saving your life, just by his virtual ‘presence’ and charismatic persona on a movie screen. Van really did hypnotize a generation of girls who grew up in the war years, the WWII years of ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Van symbolized the boys/men of those years more than almost any other Star. I am so grateful to have ‘known’ him! Bless Him, always."
Much like other notable figures of Swedish descent, Greta Garbo and Charles A. Lindbergh, to name two, he liked to go off by himself, for periods of time and worry about things. But, at the same time he could think of himself as the luckiest person in the world. Here he was at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the most adored male in the U.S., according to Life Magazine, a hugely popular movie star, doing what he had always dreamed about doing – working to be a great actor.
Having been raised, in his early years by his Grandmother, Augusta, after his Mother separated from his Dad, Van had learned an appreciation for thrift and neatness. (That's an 11-year-old Van in the photo on the right).
This stood him in good stead when he came to Hollywood, but his charm over women, superceded everything. In his first big picture, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," about The Doolittle raid in March 1942, it was said he played the part of Lieut. Ted Lawson with "unusual heart and simplicity." His surge in popularity, from that point on was unprecedented. He was a sensation.
Six foot two, with eyes of blue, red hair, and an open athletic-look about him, Van Johnson went on reminding almost everybody of their son, or kid brother, or the boy next door. Even Greta Garbo, 16 years older, made a play for him. After his Hollywood years, he and Greta used to meet for lunch in New York City. In his many wonderful films such as "State of The Union," "Three Guys Named Mike," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "Miracle In The Rain," to name a few, Van stays so true to character that it is not surprising the Van Johnson Craze developed beyond the War years, and beyond his wildest dreams.
On August 25, 2010, on what would have been his 94th birthday, Newport, Rhode Island honored its favorite son with a ‘Van Johnson Day’. To read the proclamation, Click Here.
His bashful, American charm is still working for him as there is now a campaign on designed to get a US Postal Stamp in his honor.
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