Gloria DeHaven, a pert actress who debuted at 11 in Charlie Chaplin’s silent-movie masterpiece “Modern Times,” sang and danced her way through musicals starring Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and bestowed on Frank Sinatra his first onscreen kiss, died July 30 in Las Vegas. She was 91.
The cause was complications from a stroke, said a daughter, Faith Fincher-Finkelstein. Ms. DeHaven had moved to Las Vegas in 2003 after years in Beverly Hills, Calif., and New York.
Ms. DeHaven was the daughter of vaudevillians and enjoyed a long career propelled by her warm singing voice and fetching looks. Her forte was romantic musical comedy — Technicolor fare in which her golden red hair glistened for the camera — but she seldom had dazzling solo showcase numbers that might have boosted her to higher echelons of stardom.
She remained a solid journeyman performer who held her own opposite charismatic entertainers such as Judy Garland, Van Johnson, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Donald O’Connor and Lucille Ball.
Ms. DeHaven was still in her teens when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hollywood’s most prestigious studio, began grooming her for featured roles in lavishly produced musicals such as “Thousands Cheer” starring Kelly and “Best Foot Forward” (both 1943) with Ball and June Allyson.
She subsequently worked on MGM pictures such as “Two Girls and a Sailor” with Johnson and Allyson and “Broadway Rhythm” (both 1944) with George Murphy, and she bussed Sinatra that year in “Step Lively,” loosely based on the Marx Brothers romp “Room Service.” Ms. DeHaven was relegated to secondary roles in finer MGM fare, including “Summer Stock” (1950), in which she played Garland’s stage-struck sister.
Ms. DeHaven earned higher billing at rival studios — 20th Century Fox and Universal International — but in increasingly undistinguished pictures, among them “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (1949) with O’Connor, “I’ll Get By” (1950) with June Haver and William Lundigan, “Down Among the Sheltering Palms” (1953) with Lundigan and Mitzi Gaynor, and “So This Is Paris” (1954), the last a misguided attempt to plant Tony Curtis in a musical.
Ms. DeHaven’s career dwindled as the musical faded in popularity. She transitioned to stage and television work, proving adaptable to dramatic anthology shows (“Robert Montgomery Presents”), westerns (“The Rifleman,” “Wagon Train”) and series including “Quincy M.E.,” “Fantasy Island,” “B.J. and the Bear” and “Murder, She Wrote.”
Ms. DeHaven played a rotten-to-the-core schemer in the soap opera “As the World Turns” in the late 1960s and years later popped up as a trailer-park denizen in another soap, “Ryan’s Hope.” She gamely sent up the genre on the Norman Lear-produced “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” (1976-77) as a bisexual CB radio aficionado named Annie “Tippytoes” Wylie.
Her final movie role was as Jack Lemmon’s love interest in “Out to Sea” (1997), a tepid cruise ship comedy co-starring Walter Matthau.
“If you don’t stretch yourself in this business, you’re dead,” Ms. DeHaven told the Los Angeles Times in 1984. She quipped of her sheer endurance in an unforgiving profession such as show business, “As Ingrid Bergman once said, ‘There are only two things you need in life to be successful: good health and a bad memory.’ ”
Gloria Mildred DeHaven was born in Los Angeles on July 23, 1925, the youngest of three children of Carter DeHaven and the former Flora Parker.
Her parents divorced, and she was raised by her mother, whom she portrayed in the 1950 MGM musical “Three Little Words.” In that biopic of Tin Pan Alley songwriters Bert Kalmar (Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Skelton), Ms. DeHaven sang the standard “Who’s Sorry Now?”
Ms. DeHaven’s father was working as an assistant director on “Modern Times” (1936), Chaplin’s final silent comedy feature film, when she made an auspicious visit to the set one day. Chaplin unexpectedly needed two girls to play the young, waterfront urchin sisters of star Paulette Goddard.
“All we had to do was wear tattered clothes, eat bananas and do big takes,” Ms. DeHaven later told the Toronto Star. “I thought, ‘If this is show business, count me in!’ ”
In her teens, she sang with the Bob Crosby and Jan Savitt big bands before signing an MGM contract. Her nonmusical MGM films included “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1945), an entry in the popular William Powell-Myrna Loy detective series, and “The Doctor and the Girl” (1949) as the desperate sister of physician Glenn Ford.
Her marriages to actor John Payne, Martin Kimmell and Richard Fincher — whom she twice wed — ended in divorce.
Survivors include two children from her first husband, Kathleen Payne of Marina del Rey, Calif., and Tom Payne of Daly City, Calif.; two children from her third husband, Faith Fincher-Finkelstein of Summerlin, Nev., and Harry Fincher of North Las Vegas; and three grandchildren. Her brother, Carter DeHaven Jr., a noted figure in film production, died in 1979.
In addition to her television work, she appeared in the short-lived Broadway musical “Seventh Heaven” (1955) opposite Ricardo Montalbán, and long toured in a nightclub act, at times sharing a bill with Sammy Davis Jr.
She once quipped that she had “two chances not to be in this business: slim and none. I was born in a stage trunk and that’s all I really knew.”