RIP Betty Lynn (1926-2021)

Betty Lynn was always so bubbly, youthful, and innocent that she was right at home in films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. She was relatable and often played girls fighting against someone else’s expectations of them. She wasn’t the boring ingenue seen in many films, she was an actual character. Lynn came from a show business family and worked on Broadway and in USO shows before she was signed by 20th Century Fox. She was roughly 21 when she started making movies, but she looked even younger, like a teenager. This, therefore, led her to being cast as teenagers and juveniles rather than more mature leading ladies. Her first roles were two small supporting roles in two entertaining flicks, Sitting Pretty (1948) and Apartment for Peggy (1948). It wasn’t until her next film, made at Warner Bros. rather than Fox, that she was able to stand-out as a personality. The film was June Bride (1948), a vehicle for both Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery, but much of the plot revolved around Lynn, who becomes the titular bride by the end of the movie. At first, the supposed bride is supposed to be her beauty queen sister (Barbara Bates). Lynn gets to play off of Davis and Montgomery more than the other cast members as she has memorable scenes, such as where she tells Davis that she’s chic (but pronounces it as “chick”) and schemes with Robert Montgomery to become the bride by the end.

Lynn’s memorable turn as “Boo” in June Bride led to larger roles in films. She played Loretta Young’s college-age daughter in Mother Is a Freshman (1949), who ends up getting jealous of her mother’s relationship with professor Van Johnson, who she has a crush on. She also played Fred MacMurray and Maureen O’Hara’s teenage daughter in Father Was a Fullback (1949) who causes quite a scandal when the hermit writes a fictional account about being a teenage bubble dancer. In the film, Lynn got to work with a young Natalie Wood, as her sister, in most of her scenes. Lynn had a smaller role in the classic Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) but is still a recognizable presence as a student who dances with strait-laced Clifton Webb at the high school dance. Lynn’s next two roles were in two underrated films, but they offered her two great roles on par with Boo. The first was Take Care of My Little Girl (1951) where Lynn plays a member of a sorority who has since grown fed up with the snobby society and often wisecracks from the sidelines. Her character was refreshing for the movie because she’s a character that thinks for herself and doesn’t need the approval of others. This was like Lynn’s other great role in Payment on Demand (1951) where she’s the daughter of Bette Davis and Barry Sullivan. Davis, after a modest upbringing, has become a snobby member of the upper class and wants Lynn to be the same, but Lynn flatly refuses her mother and, in the end, makes Davis come around to her way of thinking (saving her parents’ marriage in the process).

After these two great roles, Lynn moved between TV and film, but her work in films were not what she deserved after those stand-out performances she gave. It would have been nice to see her in a leading role occasionally, but instead, she was diminished to lesser roles than when she started out, sometimes even going uncredited. She is uncredited, though funny, as Robert Taylor’s rejected suitor at the beginning of Many Rivers to Cross (1955), got to be a honeymooner with a young George Chakiris (lucky!) in Meet in Me in Las Vegas (1956), and was Dean Stockwell’s fiancée who only showed up for one scene (though it was a good one) in Gun for a Coward (1957). Something better, however, was on the horizon.

At the beginning of the ‘60s, Lynn became a reoccurring character on the highly popular series, The Andy Griffith Show. Lynn was the romantic interest of the hilarious Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts. Lynn’s character was aptly named Thelma Lou, and appeared in some famous episodes, notably the classic “Barney’s First Car”. When Knotts left the show, however, so did Lynn’s character. Fans were also upset when it was revealed that Thelma Lou married someone else rather than Barney, a mistake that was fixed in the TV movie Return to Mayberry (1986). Thelma Lou ended up being Betty Lynn’s best remembered role, though Lynn continued to work sporadically on TV. Lynn stopped her film career in the late ‘50s, retaining her image as an innocent, wide-eyed young woman of the screen. Instead of trying to keep her film career going, Lynn retired with dignity and moved to a small town, though she continued to make public appearances. She died two days ago at 95 years old, though in our minds she’ll always be 21.


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