Birthday: October 17, 1900
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Gladys Georgianna Greene
Born in: Plattsburgh, New York, U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Frank Ross Jr. (m. 1932; div. 1949), Julian Anker (m. 1928–28)
father: Hubert Sidney Greene
mother: Johanna Augusta Nelson
Died on: June 19, 1991
place of death: Carmel, California, U.S.
U.S. State: New Yorkers
Jean Arthur was an American actress counted amongst the topmost actresses of the 1930s and 1940s. Popularly referred to as "the quintessential comedic leading lady,” she was someone closely identified with the genre of screwball comedy. Among her highly popular films are ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘You Can't Take It With You’, and ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’, all directed by Frank Capra. The daughter of a photographer, she grew up with her elder brothers and was a tomboy in her younger days. She also travelled widely during her childhood and lived at several places in Florida, New York, and Manhattan. After working as a stenographer during the World War I, she proceeded to become a model. Over the course of her modeling career, she got noticed for her beauty and grace, which led her to an acting career. Her initial years as an actress were unremarkable, and it was only after the release of ‘Husband Hunters’ that she began to gain prominence. The advent of the talkies brought her the success she so desperately craved—her throaty, high-pitched voice which was perfectly suited for comedic performances brought her substantial roles. Over the years she earned a reputation of a major leading lady of screwball comedy. One of her distinctly non-comedic roles was in her last film, ‘Shane.’
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17, 1900, in Plattsburgh, New York, U.S. to Johanna Augusta Nelson and Hubert Sidney Greene. She had three older brothers. Her father worked at Lamson Studios in Portland, Maine, as a photographer.
She travelled extensively as a child and lived in Florida, New York, and Manhattan at different periods during her younger years. The family relocated to New York City in 1915. A student at that time, she dropped out of George Washington High School citing a "change in family circumstances". She was a tomboy as a teenager, interested in seeking out an adventurous life for herself.
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She began working as a stenographer during the World War I, an occupation she continued in the early 1920s as well. During this time she also began to do commercial modeling in New York City where she was noticed by the Fox Film Studios and offered a one-year contract.
She began her film career appearing in silent comedies in minor roles. During this time she adopted her stage name from two of her greatest heroes, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) and King Arthur. She struggled a lot in the beginning of her career and even received scathing reviews from critics.
She finally received some prominence after playing a gold digging chorus girl in ‘Husband Hunters’ in 1927. Her film, ‘Horse Shoes,’ released the same year, was both a commercial and critical success and her appearance in ‘The Poor Nut’ soon after exposed her to wider audiences.
With the growing popularity of the talkies in the late 1920s, Jean Arthur received the chance to showcase her best asset—her throaty, high-pitched squeaky voice—which was perfectly suited for the comedic roles she was used to playing. Even though she was initially not very enthusiastic about sound films, she soon began to enjoy greater success in her career.
The 1930s was a highly productive time for her. She played major roles in movies such as ‘The Past of Mary Holmes’ (1933), ‘The Whole Town's Talking’ (1935), and ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’ (1936) which were notable films from this era. ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’ was critically acclaimed and propelled her to international stardom. She also ventured into theater during this time.
Her string of successes continued throughout the late 1930s. Her film ‘You Can't Take It with You’ (1936) in which she starred along with Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, and Edward Arnold was a super hit and the highest-grossing picture of the year.
She began the 1940s on a high note. Two of her films: The Talk of the Town’ (1942) and ‘The More the Merrier’ (1943), released early on in the decade, were big hits. A reclusive person, she took up fewer movie roles over the following years and appeared as a homesteader's wife in the classic Western ‘Shane’ (1953) in what was one of her prominent non-comedic roles.
Following a long hiatus of more than a decade, she returned to show business for a short while. Eventually she began teaching drama, first at Vassar College and then at the North Carolina School of the Arts. The young Meryl Streep was one of her students at Vassar.
She played star reporter Louise "Babe" Bennett in the romantic comedy, ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’, starring opposite Gary Cooper. The New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review named the movie the "Best Picture of 1936,” establishing Arthur as a popular leading lady.
Her portrayal of Constance Milligan, who rents out her apartment to a millionaire and an army man, in the comedy ‘The More the Merrier,’ was much appreciated by audiences and critics alike. The movie, which makes fun of the housing shortage during World War II, was a huge hit.
Awards & Achievements
Jean Arthur was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in ‘The More the Merrier.’
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6333 Hollywood Blvd in recognition of her contribution to the motion picture industry.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jean Arthur’s first marriage was to photographer Julian Anker in 1928. It was annulled after just one day.
She married producer Frank Ross, Jr., in 1932. The couple divorced in 1949. They did not have any children.
She was a very reclusive person who preferred to guard her personal life from the media glare. She kept to herself and hated giving interviews. She lived a long life and died from heart failure on June 19, 1991, at the age of 90.