Born Jill Arlyn Oppenheim, Jill St. John is an American actor who is known for her role of ‘Tiffany Case’ in the ‘James Bond’ movie ‘Diamonds Are Forever.’ She was the first American “Bond girl” and was seen as a mischievous, bold red-head in most of her films. Born and raised in California, she was part of radio, stage, and TV shows as a child artist. At 16, she was signed by ‘Universal Pictures.’ She made her full-fledged film debut with ‘Summer Love.’ After working in various movies and TV series, she earned the role of ‘Peggy John’ in the film ‘Come Blow Your Horn,’ which earned her a ‘Golden Globe’ nomination for the ‘Best Actress.’ In her long career, spanning decades, she has worked in a variety of genres, such as romantic comedies, spy thrillers, and adventure movies. She has appeared opposite well-known names such as Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, and Robert Wagner. Apart from acting, she has many other interests, such as orchid growing, horseback riding, and skiing. She has also written a cookbook. She has been married and divorced thrice earlier and is now married to Robert Wagner.
Childhood & Early Life
St. John was born on August 19, 1940, in Los Angeles, California, to Betty Lou (née Goldberg) and restaurant owner Edward Oppenheim. She was the only child of her parents and was Jewish by faith. In 1953, her mother changed her last name to “St. John.”
She learnt ballet at the ‘Children’s Ballet Company’ (along with Natalie Wood and Stephanie Powers). At 5, she appeared as a regular on local radio shows such as ‘One Man’s Family.’
St. John made her TV debut with the 1949 ‘ABC’ series ‘Sandy Dreams.’ She then appeared as ‘Missie Cratchit’ in the TV movie ‘The Christmas Carol’ (December 1949). At 11, she was part of the stage production ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’
She studied at the ‘Hollywood Professional School’ and graduated in 1955. She joined the ‘University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) but quit after being signed by ‘Universal Pictures.’ During her school years, she made guest appearances in ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,’ ‘Sky King,’ and ‘Cavalcade of America.’
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After signing a 7-year contract with ‘Universal Pictures’ in 1957, St. John (initially) appeared as a guest on some TV shows. Her big-screen debut was in the musical romantic comedy ‘Summer Love’ (1958). This was followed by a daughter’s role in the 1959 Clifton Webb comedies ‘The Remarkable Mr. Pennymaker’ and ‘Holiday for Lovers.’
St. John played the lead in the 1960 movie ‘The Lost World.’ After appearing in a supporting role in the romantic film ‘The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone’ (1961), which also starred Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, she played an important part alongside Frank Sinatra in ‘Come Blow Your Horn’ (1963). Her performance in the latter fetched her a ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for the ‘Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.’
During the 1960s, she worked in a number of movies, such as the farce ‘Who’s Minding the Store’ (1963), the romantic comedy ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?’ (1963), the marriage comedy ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ (1964), the spy satire ‘The Liquidator’ (1965), and the drama ‘The Oscar’ (1966). She made guest appearances on TV shows such as ‘Burke’s Law,’ ‘The Rogues,’ and ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,’ She also appeared in a few episodes of ‘Batman’ (1966–1968) and ‘The Big Valley’ (1965–1969).
She appeared in the TV movie ‘Fame is the Name of the Game’ (1966) and with Bob Hope in the comedy ‘Eight on the Run’ (1967). She worked with Robert Wagner in the TV mystery/adventure movie ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’ and the sports drama ‘Banning,’ both in 1967.
Two of her other notable movies of the 1960s were ‘The King’s Pirate’ (1967) and the neo-noir crime thriller ‘Tony Rome’ (1967). The latter also starred Frank Sinatra. Two of her best TV films were the thriller ‘The Spy Killer’ (1969) and its sequel, ‘Foreign Exchange’ (1970).
St. John became famous with the role of ‘Tiffany Case’ opposite Sean Connery in the ‘James Bond’ movie ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971). She was the first American to play a “Bond Girl.” This was followed by the thriller ‘Sitting Target’ (1972) and the western TV comedy ‘Saga of Sonora’ (1973). She essayed the role of a reporter in ‘Brenda Starr’ (1976) and guest-starred in ‘Hart to Hart,’ ‘The Love Boat,’ ‘Fantasy Island,’ and ‘Magnum, P.I.’
St. John played the challenging role of an evil prison warden in the film ‘The Concrete Jungle’ (1982). She then played ‘Deanna Kinkaid’ in the ‘CBS’ soap ‘Emerald Point N.A.S.’ (1983–1984).
During the later years of her career, she appeared with her husband, Robert Wagner, in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (1989), ‘Something to Believe in’ (1998), and ‘The Calling’ (2002). They appeared in an episode of ‘Seinfield’ named ‘The Yada Yada.’ They toured around with the play ‘Love Letters.’ In 2014, she played ‘Mrs. Claus,’ opposite Wagner’s ‘Santa Clause,’ in the TV movie ‘Northpole.’
In the 1980s, she began writing a culinary column for the magazine ‘USA Weekend.’ She also appeared as a cookery expert on ‘Good Morning America,’ and in 1987, published ‘The Jill St. John Cookbook.’ She also ran a business of handmade sweaters named ‘Smith-St. John Ltd.’
Family & Personal Life
In 1957, St. John eloped with Neil Dubin, a millionaire businessman, to Las Vegas. They got married in May 1957. However, they divorced in 1958.
On March 24, 1960, she married Lance Reventlow, racing driver and son of ‘Woolworth’-heiress Barbara Hutton. However, their marriage ended in 1963.
She married singer Jack Jones on October 14, 1967. They got divorced in 1969.
Throughout the next decade, she dated several high-profile men, such as Frank Sinatra, Jack Nicholson, and Henry Kissinger. She was in a relationship with Robert Wagner since 1982, before marrying him on May 26, 1990.
She has two stepdaughters, Katie and Courtney, from Wagner’s previous marriages to Marion Marshall and Natalie Wood, respectively. She is also the defacto stepmother of Natasha Gregson, daughter of Richard Gregson and Natalie Wood, Wagner’s first wife.