Hutton was born Elizabeth June Thornburg in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was the daughter of a railroad foreman, Percy E. Thornburg (1896–1937) and his wife, Mabel Lum (1901–1967). While she was very young, her father abandoned the family for another woman. They did not hear of him again until they received a telegram in 1937, informing them of his suicide. Along with her older sister Marion, Betty was raised by her alcoholic mother, who took the surname Hutton and was later billed as the actress Sissy Jones.
The three started singing in the family's speakeasy when Betty was 3 years old. Troubles with the police kept the family on the move. They eventually landed in Detroit, where she attended Foch Intermediate School.
On one occasion, when Betty, preceded by a police escort, arrived at the premiere of Let's Dance (1950), her mother, arriving with her, quipped, "At least this time the police are in front of us!" Hutton sang in several local bands as a teenager, and at one point visited New York City hoping to perform on Broadway, where she was rejected.
A few years later, she was scouted by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez, who gave Hutton her entry into the entertainment business. In 1939, she appeared in several musical shorts for Warner Bros., and appeared in a supporting role on Broadway in Panama Hattie (starring Ethel Merman, who demanded on opening night that Hutton's musical numbers be cut from the show) and Two for the Show, both produced by Buddy DeSylva.Inspired by a commenter at Althouse.
This week the Wombat has returned, along with "Late NIght With Rule 5 Sunday: Nurse! Nurse!" (gic).