Betty Hutton 1921-2007
With her super-amped comic energy, musical chops and everygal persona, Betty Hutton was Jack Black's spiritual foremother. There aren't that many great clips of her on YouTube so I had to settle for the one above, a not particularly interesting novelty number from some movie or other that nevertheless offers a typical example of her this-one-goes-to-eleven approach to performing. If it were available I would have posted my favorite of her musical numbers, "I'm Doing it for Defense" from the World War II revue Star Spangled Rhythm, in which she sings about how for the sake of morale she parties with as many troops as possible before they ship out. If memory serves (and I believe it does) there's a shot of her belting out the tune in a G.I.-filled jeep that then speeds through a tunnel.
The bittersweet flipside to that number is of course the Preston Sturges masterpiece The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, wherein her boy-crazy Trudy Kockenlocker (!) gets knocked up by an anonymous soldier after a shipping-out party. In that relentless comedy machine of a movie she has moments of quiet vulnerability that make you genuinely care about her. When she put down the semaphore flags, so to speak, she could also reach an audience by doing very little.
As popular as anybody in the 1940s, she was discovered in the early '70s living in spare obscurity as an employee of a Rhode Island church rectory. She bounced back in her later years, performing occasionally, teaching, earning a Masters degree and making public appearances. She was talented and funny and seemed like "real people." Rest in peace, Betty.