What I Love About Jean Arthur

Jean Arthur, the Nonconformist | The Current | The Criterion Collection
Blonde or Brunette- it doesn’t matter, she’s fab! (The Talk of the Town)

The first time I ever saw Jean Arthur on screen was with Cary Grant in Only Angels Have Wings (1939). While my eyes were naturally on Cary, my ears turned to Jean.  Automatically, I was drawn in by her voice: I’d never head a voice quite like that. It wasn’t breathy, husky, squeaky, it had a distinct characteristic, that to this day I still can’t point my finger on.

Naturally, with all actors I take a liking to I set out to learn as much as I could about her, but it turns out Jean Arthur was an extremely elusive actress. She was an actress who was so private and guarded, she admitted she’d rather slit her own throat than talk to an interviewer.

With the lack of info about her, the best way to learn about Jean is to watch her films, and amazingly enough Jean had a period of time in her career in which she was so successful, but chose to end it on her own accord. Many of her silent films are unavailable, or difficult to track down, but I’d reckon from about 1936-1943 Jean dominated the silver screen with a great array of films- mainly her screwball comedies. My personal favorite is 1943’s The More the Merrier. Although it was not the first film of her’s I saw, it was the one that made me adore Jean wholly as an performer.

YouTube | Jean arthur, Old hollywood movies, Simple living
I’ve kind of always wanted to do this! (from Easy Living)

On the whole, Jean Arthur is a rare actress in which I see myself reflected. Sure, I adore many actors and actresses from the silver screen, but mainly for the fact they are unlike me, or I wish I could be them, or be around them. However, with Jean its different; perhaps if I were an actress in the golden age, I would have found myself in similar situations as Jean did. Jean didn’t like being bound by a contract and often was put on suspension for refusing parts she knew were unsuitable for her. I could absolutely picture myself doing the same thing; in life I’m an extremely particular person, and I sense that too about Jean.

In any Jean Arthur film you watch you always notice that any romance plot is secondary to film. You get that sense of her characters would be just as happy in life with or without a boyfriend. She’s the tough, yet, smart working woman and you believe it: whether she be a newspaper woman, a secretary, or a teacher she always has that sense of independence with romance always on the back burner in life. Of course, it’s always really sweet when she does end up with the leading man, because you as the viewer just know it’s the perfect ending.

The More the Merrier' review by Kevin Jones • Letterboxd
The sexiest kiss scene ever.. bar none (The More the Merrier)

I’ve read many sources that claim Jean would be so nervous before filming began she would vomit in the dressing room, walk on set, cameras would roll and everything would be fine. Having the right leading man beside her always seemed to help matters, as Jean was particularly fond of Cary Grant (great choice), Gary Cooper (her all time favorite!), and Joel McCrea. I personally think she was brilliant alongside Ray Milland in Easy Living (1937) as well, and if she was nervous it didn’t show. I saw similar results with 1936’s The Ex-Mrs Bradford, with William Powell, and it’s incredible how at ease she could be.

Other leading men were always quick to compliment her; James Stewart said she was the finest actress he ever worked with, praising her humor and timing (evidence points Jean may not have loved working with him, she did turn down Its a Wonderful Life), while Edward G Robinson said Jean had a stage personality without the ego.

Forget you? Not while I live...not if I die | Jean arthur, Gary cooper,  Movie couples
Jean and Mr Gary Cooper- Her leading man of choice (Mr. Deeds goes to Town)

To me personally, one of the most striking elements of Jean Arthur is reading she admitted she never had a best friend (she actually perferred dogs to people.. don’t blame her) and that is something I completely empathize with. Jean went on to say it’s so hard to open your heart when your older (compared to when you’re younger) and I’m sad to say it’s so true. It’s difficult to open up to people as an adult as when we are older, we are more judgmental than when we were kids. Maybe that’s what made her so nervous before she went on, so nervous around the other actors, the crew, believing they didn’t like her. If only Jean knew how admired she was an actress, maybe it would have eased her nerves.

Kitschy Kitschy Coo | 2010 | December | Jean arthur, Classic movies,  Classic movie stars
Jean: she LOVED dogs!

Overall, Jean Arthur is one of the most three dimensional leading ladies the silver screen has ever seen. Despite the fact she rarely let people in, through her screen portrayals somehow it’s enough to say we “know her”. Every time you watch Jean Arthur on screen you can discover a new facet about her and that along with her charm certainly is what keeps me watching her on screen. Jean’s mystique coupled with her unexplainable attractive voice is what will forever make her remembered. 

THIS was written for The Wonderful World of Cinema’s 120 Screwball Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon Check out the other entries for more Jean!

10 thoughts on “What I Love About Jean Arthur

  1. I smiled while reading your beautiful tribute to Jean! Your admiration for this actress and this woman shines through your article. I especially liked the part where you say that you can identify to Jean because I precisely wrote in my tribute (which will be published tomorrow) that Jean is the kind of person some people can identify with. So you kind of confirm my sayings! If you want to know more about Jean’s life, I recommend the book Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew. Thank you so much for taking part in my blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The 120 “Screwball” Years of Jean Arthur blogathon Is Here! – The Wonderful World of Cinema

  3. Pingback: Many Thanks to the Participants of the 120 “Screwball” Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon! – The Wonderful World of Cinema

  4. Michaela

    What a lovely tribute! I found myself nodding all the way through your post because it’s exactly how I feel about Jean, too. It’s such a shame that she left Hollywood and that she had a difficult personal life, but I’m so grateful for the magical performances she left us with. She was definitely one of a kind!

    Like

  5. What a lovely tribute! This blogathon made me admire Jean Arthur even more, and your post was so beautiful and for sure written from the bottom of your heart. Like you and Jean, I believe I’d be picky if I was a good Old Hollywood actress and wouldn’t accept any role.
    Cheers!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s