June Haver (search), the sunny blond star of 1940s musicals who was promoted as the next Betty Grable (search) but gave up her career to briefly enter a convent, has died. She was 79.

Haver, who was married for years to actor Fred MacMurray (search), died of respiratory failure Monday at her home, her family said.

A role in Twentieth Century Fox's "Home in Indiana (search)" in 1944 brought her to the attention of studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, who envisioned the wholesome, vivacious actress following in Grable's footsteps as Hollywood's next blonde pinup girl.

Dubbed the "pocket Grable," she costarred with Grable herself in "The Dolly Sisters (search)" before going on to appear in a series of other frothy musicals that appealed to wartime audiences. They included "Three Little Girls in Blue (search)," "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (search)" and "Oh, You Beautiful Doll (search)."

She also appeared with MacMurray, her future husband, in "Where Do We Go From Here?" (search) in 1945. And the studio loaned her to Warner Bros. for two of her most popular musicals, 1949's "Look for the Silver Lining (search)" (as Broadway star Marilyn Miller) and 1950's "The Daughter of Rosy O'Grady."

But Haver's chances of succeeding Grable diminished when Fox discovered another promising blonde, Marilyn Monroe, and Haver's personal life was becoming mired in turmoil.

A marriage to trumpet player Jimmy Zito fell apart after just six weeks. She reunited with a previous fiance, studio dentist John Duzik, but he died of complications of surgery.

Devastated, Haver turned to the Roman Catholic Church for solace, and in 1953 she stunned Hollywood by announcing she was spurning her $3,500-a-week contract to become a novice nun at the Sisters of Charity convent in Kansas. Her last film, "The Girl Next Door," was released that same year.

Just eight months later, Haver left the convent to return to Hollywood.

"I think I made the right decision to go into the convent and try it out," she remarked in 1987. "And I made the right decision to leave."

Soon after leaving, she bumped into MacMurray, recently widowed, at a party and they wed six months later. She largely retired from performing at that time.

"I had been making movies for 10 years, and I think I got it all out of my system," she explained. "I made 14 musicals, which is a lot of singing and dancing. I wanted to be a wife and mother."

Their marriage endured until MacMurray's death in 1991.

Haver, who was born June Stovenour, grew up in Illinois and Ohio, singing on radio as a child and appearing in local stage productions. She was still in her teens when she signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox and made her film debut in 1943 as a hatcheck girl in "The Gang's All Here."

Haver is survived by daughters Kate and Laurie MacMurray; stepson Robert MacMurray; stepdaughter Susan Pool; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.