Betty Hutton moves to the head of the class |
By Barbara Polichetti | Providence Journal
May 19, 1986
She once said all the good feelings inside her died the minute the applause stopped. But 1940s film star Betty Hutton was still laughing Sunday—long after the cheers from her fellow Salve Regina College graduates had faded.
“That’s me, that’s me,” she said, pointing to the “Betty June Hutton” inscribed in calligraphy on the blue-bound Master of Arts diploma. “This is mine, I earned it.” For Hutton, 65, the diploma is the latest in a string of hard-won victories that began more than 10 years ago when she began fighting the drug addiction and depression that drove her to attempt suicide.
Still retaining some of her movie-star style with silvery blonde curls spilling out from beneath her black mortarboard, Hutton stood out in the crowd of waiting master’s recipients. Visibly nervous as the listened for her name to be called, she sat in the front row occasionally clutching the hand of one of her professors. The tension melted, however, as she walked up to the dais. And at center stage, a beaming Ms. Hutton opened her arms, blew one smooth, small kiss and bowed to her wildly applauding classmates.
Grasping the diploma with both hands, she kept her left hand clenched around a stand of green ceramic rosary beads. Before descending to take her seat, she lifted the diploma heavenward and raised her eyes in a silent gesture of thanks. She later explained that the rosary beads were given to her by the Rev. Peter J. Maguire, the priest she credits with helping her find God and her own life.
Maguire met Hutton in 1974 when she was hospitalized for depression. With his support, she converted to Catholicism, overcame her drug addiction and fought back against the loneliness that drove her to perform as a child and continued to haunt her even when she was Hollywood’s sought-after “blonde bombshell.”
Hutton has spent recent years serving as a drama professor at Salve Regina and occasionally traveling across the country to tell the story of her salvation. Two years ago, Salve Regina awarded her an honorary doctorate, but Sunday’s degree was different. “Oh, did I work for this,” said Hutton, who received all A’s in courses that ranged from philosophy to computer science. “I worked more than full-time. I had tutors and sometimes I worked around the clock.”
Miss Hutton basked in the congratulations of the friends and students who clustered around to escort her to her car after the ceremony. “How’d I do?” she queried, widening her green eyes. “I was so nervous I didn’t sleep at all last night.” After slipping out of the heavy black faculty robe that covered her navy blue dress and four-strand pearl choker, Hutton bantered with the drama students who credit her with teaching them “everything” from dancing to double takes. “I almost expected you to launch into a number from ‘Under the Big Top,’” one student kidded, referring to the striped tent that shaded the commencement exercises. “Did you hear them all cheering for you, Betty?” she added. “When you’re hot, you’re hot.”
Asked if this was one time it wouldn’t matter when the cheering stopped, Miss Hutton didn’t hesitate. “This is mine,” she said. “I’ve walked down a lot of aisles in my life and they never worked—this one will.”