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Jean Arthur Overview:

Legendary actress, Jean Arthur, was born Gladys Georgianna Greene on Oct 17, 1900 in Plattsburgh, NY. Arthur appeared in over 95 film and TV roles. Her best known films include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take It with You, Shane, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Whole Town's Talking, Easy Living, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Talk of the Town, A Foreign Affair and A Lady Takes a Chance. Arthur also had a short-lived TV show in 1966 (12 episodes), The Jean Arthur Show, in which she played an attorney. Arthur died at the age of 90 on Jun 19, 1991 in Carmel, CA and was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea off Point Lobos CA.

Early Life

Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17th, 1990 in the small town of Plattsburgh, New York. Because of Arthur's intense need for privacy, the facts about her early life are scarce. She was the youngest daughter to Hubert Greene and Johanna Nelson and her three older brothers include Donald, Robert, and Albert. During adolescent and early teen years, Arthur lived a nomadic lifestyle, living up and down the east coast from Florida to Maine, where her father worked as a photographer in Portland. In 1915 the family moved to Washington Heights located on upper Manhattan, which become more or less her stable residence for the rest of her teen years. Soon, Arthur would be forced to drop of school due her tense familial situation and began working as stenographer. She also began working as a model and was photographed by famed artists such as Alfred Cheney Johnston. This would be the beginning of her show business career.

Early film Career

By the early 1920's , Arthur's modeling career caught the attention of Fox Films Studios. She was asked to do a screen test and soon headed west after signing a one-year contract. In 1923 she made her film debut in the John Ford film Cameo Kirby. The formative years of her film career are marked by a steady diet of extra work and supporting roles. She was often relegated to the role of ingenues and western heroines. Although she was initially signed to play the leading role in the fantasy film The Temple of Venus, she was fired less than a week into shooting due the director's lack of confidence in her acting abilities. Although tempted to leave Hollywood after the incident, Arthur remained in California to fulfill the remainder of her contract. Under Fox, she continued to be relegated to minor roles. After her contract with Fox expired in 1924, Arthur was signed to Action Pictures by Lester F. Scott Jr. The small studio was in the business of making B-Westerns at a fast pace.  During her two year run at Action Studios, she appeared as the leading lady in over 15 low budget westerns including Bringin' Home The Bacon, Traveling Fast, Tearin' Loose, Double Daring and Lightening Bill. During this time Arthur also appeared in few independent films while working freelance. In 1925 she demonstrated her comedy chops with a minor role in the Buster Keaston film Seven Chances.

After leaving Action Pictures in 1927, Arthur continued to work as a freelance actress in Hollywood. She was cast in as Lette Crane, a small town girl with Broadway dreams in the comedy Husband Hunters. She followed that up with a supporting role in the James C. McKay film The Broken Gate. For her next film Arthur would play Miss Baker in the critically and commercially successful comedy Horse Shoes. Thanks to the success of that film Arthur was cast as a lead player in the Richard Wallace comedy The Poor Nut. Although the film gave Arthur more exposure to audiences, she received mixed to negative reviews. In 1928 Arthur once again played a supporting player in the Famous Players-Lasky film Warming Up. The film was hit and Arthur was well reviewed. She then signed a contract with the studios that would soon call itself Paramount.

Talkies and The Stage

Although initially reluctant to participate in the dominating trend of talking pictures, Arthur soon realized sound pictures were here to stay. Soon, she started taking vocal lesson to sound more pleasing on the films microphones. She made her talking picture debut in 1929's The Canary Murder Case. Although the film was successful, Arthur was unimpressed with her performance and vowed for better next time. Despite her own feelings of acting skills, later that year she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. Her next talkie was the big budget production of The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, for which she received positive notices. She was then cast opposite Clara Bow in the comedy The Saturday Night Kid. Considered to have the better part of the films two leading ladies, Arthur played the catty sister of the more straight-laced Bow. The film was success with critics praising Arthur as the highlight of the film. Despite this success, it would not take long before Arthur saw herself back in the pattern of listless ingenues and in 1931 when her contract expired, Paramount chose not to renew it. Out of a job in Tinsel Town, Arthur returned to Broadway.

Back in New York, Arthur starred in the 1932 off Broadway play Lysistrata. Later that year she made her Broadway debut in the Foreign Affairs. Despite the plays short run and mixed reviews, Arthur was praised by the critics for her performance. She had less luck with her next play, The Man Who Reclaimed His Dead. Despite the plays lack of success, Arthur began a confidence in her work continued to grow and the next year, she was leading lady of her own show in The Curtain Rises. After the play closed, Arthur decided to give Hollywood another try and headed back west.

Columbia and Stardom

Upon returning to Hollywood, Arthur was offered a five-year contract at Columbia pictures. Her first film for the company was the comedy Whirlpool. The next year she starred opposite Edward G. Robinson in the John Ford gangster comedy The Whole Town's Talking. The film was a hit and Arthur's popularity with audiences began to grow. She continued to star in series of moderately successful films, and began cementing her screen persona of a slightly cynical working class girl with a secret gentle heart. In 1936, Arthur's career took a turn for the better when she starred in the Frank Capra film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. In the film Arthur plays a journalist who falls for a rural man who has just inherited a fortune from his unknown uncle. The film was an incredible success, with Arthur officially becoming a star. Despite this star status, however, Arthur refused to play the Hollywood. She stayed away from social soirees, remained aloof in interviews, and in general, felt very uncomfortable with the level of fame she amassed.

Despite her contempt for the publicity, she pressed forward with her career. In 1937, she was put on loan to RKO studios to star opposite William Powell in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. The next year she appeared in two comedies The Plainsman and Easy Living. In 1938 Arthur reteamed with Capra for the yet another screwball comedy You Can'tTake it with You, opposite James Stewart. The film was an incredible success and would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar of 1938. Just one year later Arthur would team with Capra and Stewart again, this time for the picture Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the film Arthur plays a cynical secretary who teaches newly minted senator Mr. Smith (James Stewart) the wicked ways of Washington. The film would go on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards. That same year Arthur starred opposite Cary Grant in the Only Angels Have Wings. In 1940 Arthur starred opposite Fred MacMurray in Too Many Husbands. Two year later, Arthur starred opposite Cary Grant and Ronald Colman in the political comedy The Talk of the Town. Arthur continued making films for Columbia until 1944, when her contract expired. Legend has it after she was released from her contractual obligation, she ran thought he studio streets singing: "I'm free, I'm free!"

Later Career and Life

After leaving Columbia, Arthur basically retired from filmmaking and returned only twice on the big screen. The first was opposite the 1948 Billy Wilder romantic comedy A Foreign Affair, in which she played congresswomen investigating an ex-Nazi lounge singer. Her final came in the form of 1953's Shane, the only color film Arthur ever appeared in. Arthur also appeared on the stage after leaving Columbia, but it was with almost as a sporadic nature as her film career. Although she starred in off-Broadway and touring runs of the comedy Born Yesterday, debilitating stage fright caused her to leave the production before it made it's Broadway debut. In 1950 Arthur starred in the major hit with the Broadway show Peter Pan, with the 50 year old Arthur playing it's titular role.

By the mid-1950s Arthur went on a twelve year acting hiatus. When she did return to performing, it was on television for a guest spot o Gunsmoke. In 1966 she had her own television series, The Jean Arthur Show, but was canceled after only two episodes. She then went into teaching drama at Vassar College, where one of her students was future Hollywood star, Meryl Streep. She would act in a few more stage productions before finally retiring in the late 1970s. She remained in Carmel, California for the rest of life, living quietly and refusing any interviews. Jean Arthur died on June 19, 1991 of a heart attack in Carmel, California.  She was 90 years old.

(Source: available at Amazon Quinlan's Film Stars).


After retiring from films, Arthur taught drama at Vassar College and the North Carolina School of the Arts.



Although Arthur was nominated for one Oscar, she never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1943Best ActressThe More the Merrier (1943)Connie MilliganNominated

She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

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Jean Arthur Quotes:

Phoebe Titus: Are you asking me to marry you?
Peter Muncie: Around about. Is there still something you don't like about me?
Phoebe Titus: No, it's not that. If there wasn't something I didn't like about a man, I couldn't stand the sight of him.

Babe Bennett: Certainly I wrote those articles. I was going to get a raise, a month's vacation. But I stopped writing them when I found out what he was all about, when I realized how real he was. He could never fit in with our distorted viewpoint, because he's honest, and sincere, and good. If that man's crazy, Your Honor, the rest of us belong in straitjackets!

Jefferson Smith: Well, what do you expect me to do? An honorary stooge like me against the Taylors and Paines and machines and lies?
Clarissa Saunders: Your friend, Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man who ever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn't stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that, Jeff. You can't quit now. Not you. They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington. That kind just throw big shadows, that's all. You didn't just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world, a lot of it. Remember the first day you got here? Remember what you said about Mr. Lincoln? You said he was sitting up there, waiting for someone to come along. You were right. He was waiting for a man who could see his job and sail into it, that's what he was waiting for. A man who could tear into the Taylors and root them out into the open. I think he was waiting for you, Jeff. He knows you can do it, so do I.

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Jean Arthur Facts
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.

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.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 3, 1991-1993, pages 29-31. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001.

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