June Preston, a beloved child actress of the 1930s and ’40s, has died at 93. Before becoming a well-known opera singer, she appeared in films directed by Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch, and Raoul Walsh.
The celebrity death occurred on Wednesday at a nursing home in Montclair, New Jersey. She had battled dementia, according to her daughter, Sabrina Pires.
Born on Dec. 29, 1928, Preston first got noticed on the RKO studio lot when she was just 3-years-old. She signed a seven-year contract with the studio.
She got her start in 1934 when she appeared as the daughter of Hilda Vaughn’s Mrs. Blewett in RKO’s Anne of Green Gables. She appeared in several other films that same year, including Capra’s It Happened One Night. The film would win five Oscars, including best picture.
Simultaneously, she trained at the Meglin Dance Studio in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. She proved to be a force to be reckoned with as she sang, danced, and acted in short films like Our Gang Follies of 1938 and performed on radio shows.
When she was 9-years-old, she re-signed at RKO but was loaned out often to other studios. During this time, she worked with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Maytime in 1937 at MGM. She also worked with Dick Powell, and Ellen Drew in the 1940 classic Christmas in July. Then, she starred alongside James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in the 1941 filmThe Strawberry Blonde.
Meanwhile, she held merchandising contracts for “June Preston Frocks” and other clothing items such as undergarments, swimsuits, snowsuits, coats, shoes, purses, hats, gloves, and handkerchiefs. In addition, she also had her line of dolls and toys.
June Preston: A True Triple Threat
Her final feature was in 1943 when she played Ann Rutherford’s daughter in Happy Land. Maestro Gustav Stern, a German conductor, and vocal coach, later discovered her singing talent when she was 16.
Amid juggling an acting career, she graduated from West Seattle High School in 1947. Soon after, she began touring with various operas. Then, in 1952, she debuted with a Metropolitan Opera company in the leading role of Mimi in La Boheme at just 24.
Throughout the 50s and 60, Preston performed in the world’s most renowned opera houses and with symphony orchestras. Commentators gave her the nickname “Golden Voice” as she was a soprano with a five-octave range.
In 1963 Preston met her future husband Saul Höuben, a Belgian concert violinist, while on tour. She later retired from touring to raise their daughter.
Preston was inducted into the West Seattle High School Hall of Fame in 1996 and received a note of congratulations from George and Barbara Bush. She is survived by her son-in-law, John, and her sister, Lita. A private ceremony will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood.