Jean Arthur – MovieActors.com
Arthur in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.
About Jean Arthur (1900 – 1991)
Jean Arthur was born on October 17, 1900, in Plattsburgh, New York. Jean's birth name is Gladys Georgianna Greene. While her New York Times obituary says 1900, Jean has listed her birthdate as being 1900, 1905 and 1908.
Her parents were Johanna Augsuta Nelson, and Hubert Sidney Greene; a photographer who had his own photgraphy free-lance business. Her mother's parents came from Norway as immigrants. Jean had three, much older brothers: Donald, Robert, and Albert.
Jean has said in interviews, that she had a normadic childhood, as her family moved a lot, following her Dad's work opportunities. The family lived off and on in Westbrook, Maine, when her father worked for Lamson Studios in Portland, Maine. Other places the family lived were Florida, New York, and finally settling in the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan, New York City, New York, for her high school years at George Washington High School.
During 1915, her father and all of her brothers enlisted in the army to go and fight in WW1. Her brother Albert died of his injuries he suffered in a battle.
Jean Arthur wasn't able to go onto higher education right away, but her desire to do so was a later dream she accomplished. Jean became a successful advertising model, which led to a studio test and contract with Fox Film Studios for her silent movie career.
Jean Arthur wore her natural brunette hair color throughout the silent film portion of her career, then began bleaching her hair blonde shortly after she started making talkies. When the studios asked her to change her name, she picked two characters she admired; Joan of Arc and King Arthur.
Her early films were playing the standard ingénue roles or leading characters in comedy shorts. The hardest films Jean did were the B western films for Action Pictures, shot on location in the California desert with rugged conditions and real, mean cowboys; not exactly setting her career on fire. She definitely paid her dues early in her career.
Jean Arthur's screen debut was in a bit part in CAMEO KIRBY; (1923). She had no training as an actress, and the studio at this point in time didn't offer acting coaches. She was competing with experienced actors from Broadway for choice roles.
In a 1928 comment about her career, reported in Robert Osbornes' 1997 book, DEDICATION AT 17 FILM SALUTE TO JEAN ARTHUR, Jean Arthur said, "It would have been better business if I cried in front of the producers. It isn't a bad idea to get angry and chew up the scenery."
"I've had to learn to be a different person since I've been out here. Anybody that sticks it out in Hollywood for four years is bound to change in self-defense. Oh, I'm hard-boiled now. I don't expect anything. But it took me a long time to get over hoping, and believing, people's promises. That's the worst of this business, everyone is such a good promisor."
In 1929, Jean was cast alongside Clara Bow, in the film, THE SATURDAY NIGHT KID, and Jean nearly stole the show, as many claim that Jean got the "better part." Bow was a source of encouragement to Jean, perhaps giving her some confidence.
Finally, in 1931, when her contract with Paramount had expired, Jean went to New York, and was able to get her acting chops in line and boost her confidence level in her craft. She received great reviews in many plays, because directors saw her potential and were used to working with young actors. Her coup of victory was being cast as the leading lady in the Broadway production of THE CURTAIN RISES, that ran from October to December, 1933.
Robert Osborne quoted Jean Arthur in his 1997 book mentioned above, as saying, "I don't think Hollywood is the place to be yourself. The individual ought to find herself before coming to Hollywood. On the stage I found myself to be in a different world. The individual counted. The director encouraged me and I learned how to be myself. I learned to face audiences and to forget them. To see the footlights and not to see them; to gauge the reactions of hundreds of people, and yet to throw myself so completely into a role that I was oblivious to their reaction."
Three years after going to work on Broadway, Jean returned to Hollywood, armed with experience, success and a much enhanced resume. She was offered lack-luster contracts that she turned down. To soften her resolve to hold out for what she wanted, an executive from Columbia Pictures personally offered her a carrot; a lead role in the 1934 film, WHIRLPOOL.
Jean took the carrot and accepted the role. While filming, Jean was offered and accepted a five year contract with Columbia Pictures that would give her financial stability and the funds to help support her parents. She was not happy about stopping her booming Broadway career, but as the old saying goes, "A bird in hand is better than two in the bush."
Jean's star started to rise with her role in the 1935 comedy, THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING, opposite of Edward G. Robinson. She plays a different kind of woman; a hardened female with a heart of gold. This characteristic turned her role into a heroine who does the right thing in the end. The audience loved the new Jean Author, and so did other industry folks. Her new type-cast role was a vast improvement; something she could live with.
Her big break-through role in her career was being chosen by director Frank Capra to be the lead actress in the 1936 comedy film, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, opposite Gary Cooper. Capra saw her potential, and wanted to work with her.
In James Harvey's opinion, "No one was more closely identified with the screwball comedy than Jean Arthur. So much was she part of it, so much was her star personality defined by it, that the screwball style itself seems almost unimaginable without her."
Jean made her audience laugh and forget their troubles. In 1937, she co-starred with Ray Milland, in the screwball comedy, EASY LIVING.
In 1938, Jean was chosen to star in another screwball comedy, Frank Capra's film, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, opposite James Stewart. Director Capra was willing to work with her and draw out her best performance, teaching her more about acting.
In 1939, Jean co-starred in Director Frank Capra's Oscar winning hit, MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, opposite James Stewart and Lionel Barrymore.
In 1942, Jean co-starred with Cary Grant and Ronald Colman, in the crowd-pleasing film, THE TALK OF THE TOWN. Because of her refusal to be in poorly written films, Columbia punished her by giving her half the salary of her fellow male performers in this film.
"I just couldn't act in a bad picture," she once said. Jean had a gift of discernment to see the difference between a great script and a poorly conceived one. Being a perfectionist, and knowing that an actress is only as good as her last picture in Hollywood, it is understandable why she would boldly refuse the higher-ups. "If people don't like your work, all the still pictures in the world can't help you and nothing written about you, even oceans of it, will make you popular."
Her insistance on great scripts paid off. In 1943, Jean Arthur was nominated (Best Actress) for her performance in THE MORE THE MERRIER.
Director George Stevens famously called Jean Arthur "One of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen."
Jean completed her contract with Columbia, in 1944, and she greatly rejoiced. She reportedly ran through the studio's streets shouting "I'm free, I'm free!"
Jean was in a few more good films in the forties, and a few in the 1950s'. However, she also started taking courses in various colleges, studying Libral Arts subjects; not forgetting her dream of having a higher education. "All my life," she said, "I've wanted to make enough money so I could stop and be a student for a while. The only real reason for living is doing what you want to do, or trying to, anyway."
Perhaps her divorce from Frank Ross in 1949 started an emotional issue that had first briefly appeared in 1945; debilitating stage fright. She had to quit the play, BORN YESTERDAY, before it reached Broadway. In 1950, she returned to the Broadway stage, playing the title role of Peter Pan, and got rave reviews with no problems. It didn't last though. Jean developed paralysing stage fright that got worse as she aged. It got to a point that she had to quit the stage, and film making as well.
She went to see the Dr. Eric Fromm for psychoanalysis treatment and answers. Jean found out that she had gone into acting to escape aspects of herself that she couldn't live with. She got some peace from the treatment. In 1972, she shared on what she learned, "I guess I became an actress because I didn't want to be myself."
She dabbled in television, appearing in an episode of Gunsmoke, and even briefly hosted her own TV show in 1966, which was canceled after only 11 shows. The scripts were far-fetched, and not up to her standards.
After retiring from films and television, Jean found an occupation that she could handle readily, used her gift of discernment and willingness to pass on what she has learned as an actress without hesitation by teaching drama at both Vassar College and at the North Carolina School of the Arts; (late 1960s to 1973). She taught until age 73!
While at Vassar, young actress Meryl Strep was one of her students. After watching her in a Vassar play, Jean discerned and recognized her talent and potential, stating that it was like watching a real movie star.
In 1975, Jane was coaxed back to the stage yet again, to star in a show that was specifically written for her, FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER. She bravely survived the opening shows in the Cleveland Playhouse, with great performances, but when the show hit the road in a tour, it was too much for her, and her old stage fright came back. She quit, and Jane Alaxander took her place in the run of the play during the tour and on Broadway.
Jean was unlucky at love relationships. She was married very young to Julien Anker for one day, after they lied about their ages. This marriage was annulled by their upset families. She tried marriage again, and married producer/actor Frank Ross on June 11th, 1932. They divorced on March 14th, 1949. Though they had no children, Jean probably had nieces and nephews.
She lived her last years in Carmel, among her friends and animals, enjoying the views of the sea she had. She was pleased with the way her life had gone, and had peace at last in her heart.
Jean Arthur passed away from heart failure on June 19, 1991, in Carmel, California at the Carmel Convalescent Hospital. She was 90 years old, if her 1900 birthdate is correct. Her ashes were scattered in her favorite places.
Jean Arthur's notable movie credits include...
A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948)
THE IMPATIENT YEARS (1944)
A LADY TAKES A CHANCE (1943)
THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943)
THE TALK OF THE TOWN (1942)
THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (1941)
ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939)
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938)
EASY LIVING (1937)
THE PLAINSMAN (1937)
MORE THAN A SECRETARY (1936)
ADVENTURE IN MANHATTAN (1936)
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936)
THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936)
THE PUBLIC MENACE (935)
PUBLIC HERO #1 (1935)
DIAMOND JIM (1935)
THE DEFENSE RESTS (1934)
MOST PRECIOUS THING IN LIFE (1934)
EASY COME, EASY GO (1928)
THE BROKEN GATE (1927)
SEVEN CHANCES (1925)
FAST AND FEARLESS (1924)
CAMEO KIRBY (1923)
Jean Arthur in SHANE.
Jean Arthur in EASY LIVING (1937).
Jean Arthur in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.
Jean Arthur in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU.
Jean Arthur in MORE THE MERRIER.