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Jean Arthur Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trade Mark (5) | Trivia (27) | Personal Quotes (21) | Salary (3)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 17 October 1900Plattsburgh, New York, USA
Date of Death 19 June 1991Carmel, California, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NameGladys Georgianna Greene
Height 5' 3" (1.6 m)

Mini Bio (1)

This marvelous screen comedienne's best asset was only muffled during her seven years' stint in silent films. That asset? It was, of course, her squeaky, frog-like voice, which silent-era cinema audiences had simply no way of perceiving, much less appreciating. Jean Arthur, born Gladys Georgianna Greene in upstate New York, 20 miles south of the Canadian border, has had her year of birth cited variously as 1900, 1905 and 1908. Her place of birth has often been cited as New York City! (Herein we shall rely for those particulars on Miss Arthur's obituary as given in the authoritative and reliable New York Times. The date and place indicated above shall be deemed correct.) Following her screen debut in a bit part in John Ford's Cameo Kirby (1923), she spent several years playing unremarkable roles as ingénue or leading lady in comedy shorts and cheapie westerns. With the arrival of sound she was able to appear in films whose quality was but slightly improved over that of her past silents. She had to contend, for example, with the consummately evil likes of Dr. Fu Manchu (played by future "Charlie Chan" Warner Oland). Her career bloomed with her appearance in Ford's The Whole Town's Talking (1935), in which she played opposite Edward G. Robinson, the latter in a dual role as a notorious gangster and his lookalike, a befuddled, well-meaning clerk. Here is where her wholesomeness and flair for farcical comedy began making themselves plain. The turning point in her career came when she was chosen by Frank Capra to star with Gary Cooper in the classic social comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Here she rescues the hero - thus herself becoming heroine! - from rapacious human vultures who are scheming to separate him from his wealth. In Capra's masterpiece Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), she again rescues a besieged hero (James Stewart), protecting him from a band of manipulative and cynical politicians and their cronies and again she ends up as a heroine of sorts. For her performance in George Stevens' The More the Merrier (1943), in which she starred with Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn, she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, but the award went to Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette (1943) (Coburn, incidentally, won for Best Supporting Actor). Her career began waning toward the end of the 1940s. She starred with Marlene Dietrich and John Lund in Billy Wilder's fluff about post-World War II Berlin, A Foreign Affair (1948). Thereafter, the actress would return to the screen but once, again for George Stevens but not in comedy. She starred with Alan Ladd and Van Heflin in Stevens' western Shane (1953), playing the wife of a besieged settler (Heflin) who accepts help from a nomadic gunman (Ladd) in the settler's effort to protect his farm. It was her silver-screen swansong. She would provide one more opportunity for a mass audience to appreciate her craft. In 1966 she starred as a witty and sophisticated lawyer, Patricia Marshall, a widow, in the TV series The Jean Arthur Show (1966). Her time was apparently past, however; the show ran for only 11 weeks.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bill Takacs

Spouse (2)

Frank Ross (11 June 1932 - 14 March 1949) (divorced)
Julian Aster Ancker (1928 - 1928) (annulled)

Trade Mark (5)

High-pitched, sometimes whiny sounding voice
Light blonde hair
Distinctive unconventional looks
Always played willful, uncompromising women
She was often cast as independent "career women" when many actress were restricted to playing housewives, damsel in distress or femme fatales

Trivia (27)

Ashes scattered off of Point Lobos, California, USA.
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.
Department of Strange Coincidences: Jean Arthur's former spouse, producer Frank Ross, next married the actress Joan Caulfield. On the very day following Caulfield's death on 18 June 1991, Arthur died.
Marriage to Julian Anker was annulled after 1 day.
After retiring from films she taught drama at Vassar and North Carolina School of the Arts from the late 1960s to 1973.
Was a leading contender for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
As her star began to decline, she was replaced by Rita Hayworth as Columbia Pictures' top female star. Coincidentally, the two stars share the same birthday (October 17).
Turned down the role of the lady missionary in Lost Horizon (1973), the unsuccessful musical remake of the 1937 classic of the same name.
Director George Stevens famously called her "one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen" while Frank Capra credited her as "my favorite actress".
On the completion of her Columbia contract in 1944, she reportedly ran through the studio's streets, shouting "I'm free, I'm free!".
As a result of being in the doghouse with studio boss Harry Cohn, her fee for starring in The Talk of the Town (1942) was only $50,000 while her male co-stars (Ronald Colman, Cary Grant) received upwards of $100,000 each.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. pg. 30-31. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
Biography in: "American National Biography". Supplement 1, pp. 15-16. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Allegedly took her stage name from two of her greatest heroes: Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) and King Arthur.
Quit movies at the height of her career in 1944, following an Oscar nomination and while still Columbia Pictures' top female box-office attraction. She appeared in only two more films, for Oscar-winning directors Billy Wilder (A Foreign Affair (1948)) and George Stevens (Shane (1953)). According to John Oller's biography "Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew" (1997), Arthur was a shy person who came to loathe making movies, having developed a kind of stage fright (something not uncommon in even great and accomplished actors; Laurence Olivier said he developed stage fright in 1964, while playing in "Othello," after 40 years on stage) that made acting in movies agony for her. After she quit movies, she tried to make a go at a stage career, being part of the original cast of "Born Yesterday," but she dropped out during previews and was replaced by Judy Holliday. She later gave television a crack in the mid-'60s, but the The Jean Arthur Show (1966) was canceled after half a season.
At the Yale Law School Film Society weekend with Frank Capra in 1972, she attended a small afternoon symposium on Saturday, February 5, at Capra's invitation. He urged her to stay for the screening that night, and assured her the audience would be delighted and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. She declined because, she said, she had to go home and feed her cats.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 3, 1991-1993, pages 29-31. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001.
Gary Cooper was her favorite leading man.
Even though Jean and James Stewart never bonded off-screen, Jimmy called Jean "the finest actress I ever worked with. No one had her humor, her timing".
She was teaching at Vassar at the same time that Meryl Streep was studying there in her junior year. Upon seeing the young drama major rehearsing August Strindberg's play "Miss Julie", Arthur remarked it was "just like watching a movie star".
Turned down Donna Reed's role in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) because she didn't want to work with James Stewart again.
Profiled in book, "Funny Ladies", by Stephen M. Silverman. [1999]
Rita Hayworth said Arthur didn't speak to her when they worked together on Only Angels Have Wings (1939), a snubbing Arthur later said she would regret.
She taught drama at Vassar from 1968 till 1973.
Arthur's family regarded the Washington Heights Section of Manhattan as home.
Appeared in three Frank Capra movies: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
For years, during her lifetime, her date of birth listed in the World Almanac was 1905.

Personal Quotes (21)

It's a strenuous job every day of your life to live up to the way you look on the screen.
I guess I became an actress because I didn't want to be myself.
I am not an adult, that's my explanation of myself. Except when I am working on a set, I have all the inhibitions and shyness of the bashful, backward child . . . unless I have something very much in common with a person, I am lost. I am swallowed up in my own silence.
The fact that I did not marry George Bernard Shaw is the only real disappointment I've had.
[on Hollywood] I hated the place - not the work, but the lack of privacy, those terrible prying fan magazine writers and all the surrounding exploitation.
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.
(on doing interviews) Quite frankly, I'd rather have my throat slit.
I bumped into every kind of disappointment, and was frustrated at every turn. Roles promised me were given to other players, pictures that offered me a chance were shelved, no one was particularly interested in me, and I had not developed a strength of personality to make anyone believe I had special talents. I wanted so desperately to succeed that I drove myself relentlessly, taking no time off for pleasures, or for friendships - yet aiming at the stars, I was still floundering.
First I played ingénues and western heroines; then I played western heroines and ingénues. That diet of roles became as monotonous as a diet of spinach. The studio wouldn't trust me with any other kind of role, because I had no experience in any other kind. And I didn't see how I was ever going to acquire any other experience if I couldn't get any other kind of role. It was a vicious circle.
It's hardly fair for women to do the same things at the same hours every day of their lives, while men have new experiences, meet new people every day. I felt that way as a little girl, with two older brothers around the house. It seemed to me that they led adventurous lives, compared with mine. I felt cheated and frustrated. I became a tomboy in self-defense. I decided that I was going to do things that were exciting, or at least interesting.
[speaking in in the 1930s] I've never had a single close intimate girlfriend in all my life. I never had a chum to whom I could confide my secrets. I suppose that accounts for the fact that now it is so painfully difficult for me to open my heart and confide in people who are, so often, almost strangers. You have to learn so very young to open your heart.
[on her early acting days] My very "naturalness" was my undoing. I had to learn that to appear natural on the screen requires a vast amount of training, that is the test of an actor's art. It would be more spectacular if I could say that out of the hurt and humiliation of that failure was born a determination to success, to prove I had the makings of an actress. But it wouldn't be true. That urge came later.
[on her first marriage, which only lasted a day] Julian [Julian Anckner] looked a lot like Abraham Lincoln, and that's probably why I fell in love with him. One day we were out driving and he suddenly said, "Hey, why don't we get married?" So we lied about our ages and got married in a sheriff's office. You should have heard our families' reactions - all sorts of screaming and shouting and carrying on about suicide. Well, neither Julian nor I had enough income to make it possible for us to live together, so our marriage lasted one day.
[on making Only Angels Have Wings (1939)] I loved sinking my head into Cary Grant's chest.
[1977 comment on Gary Cooper] I loved working with Gary Cooper. Gary was my favorite. He was so terrific-looking, and so easy to work with.
[on director George Stevens] George Stevens started out as a cameraman with Laurel and Hardy, and he learned so many wonderful tricks, like having us walk forward while looking backward and then bumping into something. George was a darling man, so great with comedy. It's too bad he got serious.
[In 1940] Those two and a half years on Broadway were the happiest years of my life. I loved the stage. I think every girl who wants to become an actress should put in some years on the stage.
[About her first marriage] There was nothing tragic about it - it was a case of willfulness.
I wanted to become a really accomplished actress, but I didn't know how to act, and had no chance to learn. In those days the studios didn't have coaches or drama schools and it was almost impossible to get on the sets to watch the older players. I finally decided there was only one thing to do: go back to New York and try to get into some plays there.
[About her early career] I was all right in long shots, but when it came to close-ups, sustained emotion was beyond me. I knew nothing about acting and often wondered why I had not continued with my plan to become a teacher of modern languages.
[While she was a model] Someone in the studio noticed me sitting in the background. They asked me whether I would pose for girls' hats, and with some diffidence I consented. My first posing was terribly self-conscious. The photographer liked my type, and employed me steadily that summer. I got $5 an hour and sometimes had five or six sittings in a day.

Salary (3)

Horse Shoes (1927) $700
The Talk of the Town (1942) $50,000
The More the Merrier (1943) $2,500 /week

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