June Preston (born December 29, 1928) is an American Hollywood child star who went on to become one of the world's most famous opera stars of her time. Preston made her debut at the tender age of 24 with the Metropolitan Opera, "Stars of the Metropolitan Opera" tour in 1952 with the lead role of Mimi in La bohème, opposite Metropolitan star Jan Peerce as Adolfo.
Preston was born in Glendale, California. Aat age 4 she was spotted on the RKO film studio lot and landed her first role as Mrs. Blewett's Daughter in Anne of Green Gables, and went on to do many other movies including Christmas in July, Second Chorus, The Strawberry Blonde, Maytime, and guest starring in many Our Gang comedies and major merchandising lines of June Preston Frocks, dolls, paint sets, and more.
June Preston had paid a visit to the studio where an executive saw her and called for an immediate screen test, which resulted in a five-year contract at RKO, which was unique and unheard-of for a newcomer in Hollywood; then at age 9 she entered another contract with RKO for another 7 years. Her first film role was at age 4 as Mrs. Blewett's Daughter in the RKO Film Anne of Green Gables. Preston acted, sang, and danced. She quickly gained popularity and went on to work under contract with Universal Studios, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, MGM, Republic Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Columbia followed by various merchandising contracts such as the "June Preston Frocks" apparel lines and the famous "June Preston Doll". She was considered to be one of the "Big Pay Babes" in Hollywood alongside Shirley Temple and Virginia Weidler. She was known for her golden curls, cherub-like features and charismatic nature. Preston was considered[who?] "one of the most beautiful children ever seen in films."
After signing with RKO, she quickly achieved international fame and signed with Edward D. Schuwall Clothing Firm in New York, who started an apparel line bearing the name "June Preston Frock" RKO Film Star by JP Loomcraft, better known now as Fruit of the Loom and "Dixie Swirl" dresses. Some other manufacturers included were Edward Shuwall & Co., Blossom Infants Coat Co. Inc., H & S Sportswear, I. Schneierson & Son Co. and many more. Her apparel lines included frocks/dresses, coats, snowsuits, shoes, undergarments, beachwear, purses, hats, gloves, and handkerchiefs. In addition there were other merchandising contracts with her likeness and name such as the famous “June Preston Doll”, and movie star cut outs magazine, paper dolls, phonograph, paint set, and an assortment of toys and in 1944 the debut of the June Preston Fairytale dresses were very popular, which all combined sold millions worldwide.
June Preston and Shirley Temple were similar in style. Shirley Temple was one year older than June Preston and, even though they were contracted to separate film studios, they both were often billed together for singing and dancing appearances to publicity autograph events for their own apparel lines and other merchandise. Despite being friends in real life the two girls were often publicized from the very beginning as "Rivals" by the studios and trade publications, which made things difficult for June Preston professionally. It was known that Shirley Temple’s mother insisted that neither girl be present at the studio when the other was working on a film. At age 9 Preston signed another seven-year contract with RKO Film Studio; she continued in films until the mid 1940s.
- Anne of Green Gables (1934)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
- The Big Broadcasting of 1937 (1936)
- Thin Ice (1937)
- History Is Made at Night (1937)
- Maytime (1937)
- Valley of the Giants (1938)
- Second Fiddle (1939)
- You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
- Christmas in July (1940)
- Second Chorus (1940)
- Babes on Broadway (1941)
- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
- The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
- The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
- Born To Sing (1942)
- This Time For Keeps (1942)
- Happy Land (1943)
- Heaven Can Wait (1943)
- Song Of The Open Road Can Wait (1944)
- Our Gang comedies:
After her film career June Preston went on to become a world famous opera singer. She was always known to have interest in the classics early on, and at age 14 she was already memorizing opera scores while still in the movie industry. Upon leaving the movie industry Preston moved to Seattle with her parents and began studying with a vocal coach in their home. June Preston's producer/conductor was Gustavo Stern. Stern heard her vocalizing through a window as he was passing by her home and immediately knocked on the door and said she had tremendous talent and asked if he could have the honor to coach her. She was 16 at the time and he coached her for several years. Within this period, Preston performed with the Seattle Civic Light Opera Company with which Stern conducted several operettas featuring Preston, such as Camille in The Merry Widow and Marietta in Naughty Marietta.
At age 20, Preston was sponsored by Coca Cola and she began touring Central and South America performing in top Opera Houses such as the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires which has near-perfect acoustics, Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile, Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. As well as performing recitals for Kings, Presidents, and Diplomats. There were several US Embassy galas in honor of June Preston throughout Central and South America where she also performed as the featured guest. Preston was considered[who?] the "established favorite in the lyric theatres in Central and South America."
In 1952, at the tender age of 24, Preston debuted with The Metropolitan Opera. The tour was named "Stars of the Metropolitan Opera" and featured June Preston in the leading role of Mimì in La bohème opposite renowned Metropolitan star Jan Peerce as Rodolfo. Preston continued touring with the Met in leading roles opposite Jan Peerce, Salvatore Baccaloni, Nicola Moscona, Robert Weede performing in Tosca, La Traviata, Turandot, Madame Butterfly, Aida, Salome, Die Fledermaus, Der Rosenkavalier, La boheme. In Carmen, her extraordinary vocal range – from spinto soprano to contralto – she was able to play either Carmen or Mercédès.
Preston favored recitals above all, and was also particularly well known for her concert recitals ranging from Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms to Puccini and Strauss. Preston continued to perform throughout Central and South America until her return to the United States.
In 1960 Preston returned to the US and made her debut at the St. Louis Symphony Hall as a guest star under the baton of Leopold Stokowski as the feature singer for the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Other guest stars included Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein, Leslie Chabay and Jean Madeira. Preston continued under the baton of Leopold Stokowski with St. Louis Orchestra and New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra until her 1962 when she started her European recital and concert tour. Preston debut at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and thereafter touring throughout Europe performing in the most prestigious Opera Houses in Europe such as Palais Garnier, Teatro alla Scala, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, and many more. The majority of Preston's performances were overseas.
In 1963, upon Preston's return to the States, she continued to perform under the baton of Leopold Stokowski at Carnegie Hall and with the St. Louis Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra with high praises for her passionate performances. It was common that people were so taken by her concert performances that, at the finale, there was a long pause prior to applause because the audience was completely mesmerized.
|Violetta Valéry||La Traviata||Verdi|
|Berta||The Barber of Seville||Rossini|
|Octavian, Count Rofrano||Der Rosenkavalier||Hugo von Hofmannsthal|
|Adele||Die Fledermaus||Johann Strauss II|
|Camille||The Merry Widow||Franz Lehár|
|Countess Rosina Almaviva||The Marriage of Figaro||Mozart|
|Clara||Porgy and Bess||George Gershwin|
In 1962 while on her European tour, Preston met her future husband at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, where she was performing a solo recital with pianist Stranton Carter. Prior to the performance that evening, she arrived with her pianist for rehearsal but the page turner did not arrive. In her words, "A handsome man came up to her and offered to turn the pages." This man was the famous Belgian violinist Saul Hoüben who was rehearsing earlier that day for an upcoming performance of his own and "came to her rescue". Hoüben was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, who had been following his progress since he was a child and later presented him with an award for excellence in 1955. He was considered a child prodigy, performing his first concerto at age 4. Hoüben and Yehudi Menuhin were childhood friends when the Menuhins moved to Paris and Menuhin studied in Belgium. Hoüben and Menuhin studied together for several years and remained friends for years after.
When they had a child, Preston semi-retired. Preston said "she did not want to put her child through the demanding life that comes with constant touring." Preston wanted to take care of her child and be there for that child, because Preston remembered what it was like growing up in the industry and did not want her child to go through the hardship of being taken care by others instead of one's own parents.
Saul Hoüben died in 1982, aged 60. Menuhin was performing at the Hollywood Bowl and Preston and her daughter brought him the news there.
Preston performed various concert recitals for benefits and friends, but did not want to get back into the circuit and officially retired in 1990.
In 1989, Preston was inducted into the West Seattle High School Hall of Fame for her film and opera career.
In 1994, Preston came out of retirement for a farewell concert performance in Seattle where it all began. Her repertoire that evening included an aria "Lamento" written for her by her longtime friend Martin Kalmanoff.
Preston now lives with her daughter Sabrina and her husband. Preston says "she has no regrets, and would do it all over again exactly the same way."
June Preston RKO Star: June Preston RKO Star: Newspaper Articles and June Preston Frock newspaper ads