Jean Arthur (born Gladys Georgianna Greene; October 17, 1900 June 19, 1991) was an American film actress who began her career in silent films, but is best known for her comedic roles during The Golden Age of Hollywood. She starred in many films; most famously as Frank Capras favorite wise-cracking, witty, down-to-earth women in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
Moving from various studios (Fox, Paramount) in the twenties and early thirties, Jean found a home at Columbia Studios. Unfortunately, Columbia was headed by the notorious penny-pincher and all-around Scrooge Harry Cohn, who repeatedly angered Arthur with lousy roles and needless suspensions—and, she implied to writer and film historian Joseph McBride, included her among the list of actresses he would routinely sexually harass. But during this time, she made her best films, and claimed the throne as the comedic leading-lady. While she never won an Academy Award, she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in The More the Merrier.
Arthur was considered a recluse and rarely did interviews. She was naturally shy and never found the appeal of Hollywood fame. Asked if she would like to have an interview, Arthur replied, "Quite frankly, I'd rather have my throat slit." She also suffered from immense stage fright, making her seem aloof or cold; however, her screen presence said the opposite: warm, outgoing, and inviting.
After filming George Stevens' Shane, she retired from the silver screen and went on Broadway; however, her insecurity would often get the best of her.
Her last days were spent in her home in Carmel, California. She died at the ripe age of 90.
Select Jean Arthur films:
- Seven Chances (1925) - An extremely small, pre-stardom role where Arthur plays an engaged girl who rejects Buster Keaton's advances.
- If You Could Only Cook (1935) - A Screwball Comedy where Herbert Marshall is a millionaire who pretends to be a butler to Arthur's cook to help her get a job.
- Public Hero Number 1 (1935) - Arthur is a gangster's sister, and Chester Morris is the infiltrating cop trying to stop him.
- The Whole Town's Talking (1935) - Edward G. Robinson plays dual roles as a gangster, and the innocent clerk who looks like him. This film is considered Jean's Star-Making Role.
- The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) - Paula Bradford tries to get her husband Brad (William Powell) back by getting him involved with a murder.
- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) - Gary Cooper as Mr. Deeds, and Babe Bennett is the reporter who falls in love with him.
- Easy Living (1937) - A woman down on her luck finds a fur coat and Hilarity Ensues. Ray Milland co-stars.
- History Is Made at Night (1937) - A woman's evil husband tries to stop her from divorcing and finding love with a headwaiter. Charles Boyer co-stars.
- You Can't Take It with You (1938) - A young woman's wacky family ruins her chances with her rich boyfriend, Jimmy Stewart. Also co-starring Lionel Barrymore and Ann Miller.
- Only Angels Have Wings (1939) - An adventure story about pilots in South America. An adventuress falls for daring pilot Cary Grant. An early appearance of Rita Hayworth.
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - An assistant to newly made congressman, Jimmy Stewart, knows more about the law then he does. Also includes Claude Rains.
- Too Many Husbands (1940) - A woman finds out her dead husband is alive and well, but she's remarried since. With Fred MacMurray and Melvyn Douglas.
- The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) - A working woman tries to get her department store to unionize with the owner right under her nose.
- Talk of the Town (1942) - A fugitive hides at a woman's house with a judge lodging there. Co-starring Cary Grant and Ronald Colman.
- The More the Merrier (1943) - A young woman takes in an old man during a housing shortage, and his antics cause havoc. Co-starring Joel McCrea.
- A Foreign Affair (1948) - A congresswoman falls in love with a Captain, who turns out to be a cad. Also co-stars Marlene Dietrich.
- Shane (1953) - Co-starring Alan Ladd
Tropes related to Arthur's film roles:
- Cute, but Cacophonic: Not exactly, but one of her chief assets was her squeaky, frog-like voice, which contrasted charmingly with her beauty.
- The Cutie: Practically all of the roles in her career. Even when she was a Ms. Fanservice, no one was convinced.
- Dawson Casting: She generally played women in their twenties while actually being in her mid-to-late thirties/forties.
- Deadpan Snarker: Her characters were wise-cracking and witty.
- Dumb Blonde: Averted. Always played the smart-aleck type of girl who mostly hangs out with the boys.
- Dye Hard: She dyed her natural brunette to blonde to avoid looking like an actress on the studio's lot and stuck with it.
- Older Than They Look: Born in 1900, she was in her late-thirties, early-forties when she played her most famous roles, but could easily pass for her mid-twenties. She was fifty when she played the young mother in Shane
- One of the Boys: Her most famous roles show her as this.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Most of her roles are women finding honest, good guys.
- Those Two Actors: With Jimmy Stewart, Joel McCrea, and Cary Grant.
- Women Are Wiser: In films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, she plays woman-of-the-world types, trying to teach these bumbling men how the real world works.