Once upon a hollywood time, talent scouts searched for pretty girls who could read lines, play comedy and sing ... opera. The girlish Deanna Durbin established the recipe in the late 1930s; Kathryn Grayson, who died Feb. 17 at 88 in Los Angeles, perfected it by adding a saucy sex appeal. For more than a decade, from Thousands Cheer in 1943 to The Vagabond King in 1956, she was the leading soprano at MGM and one of its top stars.
Legend has it that as a 12-year-old in St. Louis, Mo., Grayson, born Zelma Kathryn Hedrick, was discovered singing on the empty stage of the local opera house. Ripening into a petite, shapely teen with raven hair framing a Kabuki-pale face, she made her film debut as Mickey Rooney date bait in Andy Hardy's Private Secretary and was a star in Thousands Cheer, with Gene Kelly, and Anchors Aweigh, with Kelly and Frank Sinatra. She had the lead in MGM's 1951 remake of Show Boat and sealed her stardom with the role of Lilli the show-biz shrew, battling Howard Keel as her husband, in the film version of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.
Her operettic appeal fading in the rock 'n' roll era, she did Camelot on Broadway and played Las Vegas with Keel. From her Hollywood years, Grayson had left a pert afterglow: lovely to look at, delightful to hear.