Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Monday Glamour Starter --- Gloria Jean

Quick --- can anyone name a Gloria Jean film they’ve seen other than Never Give A Sucker An Even Break? For that matter, how many people have even heard of Gloria Jean outside a select, aging group of hardened buffs? Notice I said "buffs", a term I’ve always hated, but those who call themselves "historians" have never bothered much with the Gloria Jeans of the business, and that’s too bad, because the Gloria Jeans are what the business has always been about. They’re the unsung reliables. The ones people liked to see and paid to see. Gloria’s misfortune lay in the fact that her movies reflected popular fads of the day --- jitterbug, high school (before it became a Blackboard Jungle), summer camp --- so many artifacts of popular culture that seem very remote now. Gloria didn’t get into any big pictures, other than the one with Fields, and what’s worse, most of her stuff was done for Universal, so it’s presently locked away in storage same as for the last forty years. Scott and Jan MacGillivray are historians --- yes, historians --- who decided to write a book --- no, the book --- on Gloria Jean, and it’s one of the best up-and-down the stardom ladder sagas I’ve ever read. Finally, someone takes an actress who’s been ignored too long and tells her story with insight and affection. Gloria participated through the whole thing. She’s eighty this year and lays it on the line about her star years and the ones that followed. For a while during the late thirties/early forties, it looked as though she’d be the next Deanna Durbin. Ten years later, she couldn’t get one-time show-biz pals to return her calls. Once the brightest light among Universal's musical teens, she wound up a receptionist for a laboratory that sold hair products. If you go to e-bay right now, you’ll find her auctions for stills and autographs. Gloria and her sister manage the sales. The MacGillivrays set up a website for Gloria as well. You can go THERE and e-mail her. Go HERE and you can get the book. I’d strongly recommend both.

Deanna Durbin couldn’t have been happy to see thirteen year old Gloria Jean coming through the Universal gates in 1939 to star in an "A" musical designed very much along Durbin formula lines, with Deanna’s own ace producer, Joe Pasternak, at the helm. The Under-Pup was indeed what the title suggested, a diminutive soprano nipping at Durbin’s heels, and a ready substitute should Deanna become recalcitrant. The older actress doesn’t seem altogether into the spirit of this otherwise happy celebration of Gloria’s contract signing. In fact, Deanna reminds me a little of Daffy that time his master brought the duckling home and decided it "could have the old duck’s room." There was little cause for worry, however, because Gloria was reassigned to the B unit soon enough, where teenage musicals were turned out like so many link sausages. Co-stars included the likes of Donald O’ Connor, Mel Torme, and Peggy Ryan. There were also players I couldn’t pick in a line-up, even though they were recognized in their day --- Ray Malone? Betty McCabe? Never heard of ‘em till I read this book, but they sang and danced right alongside Gloria. Universal "B" headliners also included Susanna (Phantom Of The Opera) Foster and Ann (Mildred Pierce) Blyth. Reading about these little musicals makes me want to see them --- but how? Maybe there’s occasional bootlegs on e-bay, but otherwise these things are nowhere. As far as I know, the last time anybody had any access to them was maybe the seventies, and I suspect they were largely off television even then. It’s frustrating when whole blocks of interesting movies simply disappear, but that seems to have been what happened here. I doubt if anyone at Universal today has ever heard of them, so you can imagine the
chances of a DVD release.

Much as I enjoyed reading the MacGillivray’s account of Gloria Jean’s early days at Universal, it’s those post-war struggle years that put the big transfix on me. I’ve always been a sucker for lowdown show biz at its cruelest stories, and this book has some doozies. Those Hollywood predators Gloria warded off during the fifties are like a tag-team of Stephen Boyd in The Oscar and George Peppard in The Carpetbaggers. No wonder she finally got out! Fans of Jerry Lewis will find the star living down to his reputation in Gloria’s riveting story of how he screwed her over on a hoped-for comeback in 1961’s The Ladies Man. The authors even put the finished movie under a microscope and revealed the scenes wherein Gloria is fleetingly visible --- that's Gloria walking toward a bathtub here in a blink and you’ll miss it moment from the show. Jerry had promised GJ a singing part and ended up making her a glorified extra. His (mis) treatment of Gloria and others are recounted in detail, providing one more justification for my ongoing disinterest in ever meeting the guy (would have been great shaking hands with Dean, though!). The sickly sweet smell of institutionalized Hollywood corruption is revealed in Gloria’s account of the four thousand dollar application fee that was paid for her star on the Walk Of Fame (it was a gift from co-workers upon her retirement from the lab), which was then deep-sixed and the money kept. Remember that the next time you tread those fabled boulevards. It was probably her strong family relationships that assured happy endings for Gloria. Throughout the book, she comes across as very sensible and grounded, something we seldom get here at the Glamour Starter, where desperation, despair, and old-age isolation often as not make up the third act for personalities featured. Nice to have one where it doesn’t. Certainly she's the
first we’ve profiled that you can e-mail today and likely receive a personal reply.

Bill Fields was a benign presence on the set of Never Give A Sucker An Even
Break, according to Gloria. The MacGillivrays give us the best and most detailed account of its filming that we could hope for, and the insights into Fields, both personally and professionally, are outstanding. This trade ad illustrates how Gloria was getting a studio boost almost the equal of Bill’s --- fact is he wanted to work with her again, characterizing GJ as the daughter he’d never had. Must have been lonely at times for The Great Man. This tea party is one hosted by GJ’s idol, Basil Rathbone (that’s cool, Gloria --- he’s mine too!). They’re on the set of The Black Cat (wish they’d invited Bela). Do you suppose that’s really tea in Brod Crawford’s cup? Probably so --- he doesn’t look too enthusiastic about it. The swimsuit poses began in earnest when Gloria turned eighteen in 1944. They never pushed the cheesecake stuff too hard at Universal, but here’s evidence they certainly could have. Hey, I’d take Gloria over a lot of what did get pasted on barrack walls during that war. She also had nice things to say about Groucho Marx, her Copacabana co-star (ad shown here). The MacGillivray book has a raft of stills from Gloria Jean’s personal collection, including a lot of really obscure appearances that were totally unknown until research for the book revealed their existence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe the little girl's line to her new duckling, spoken as she's taking it up to her room, is "You can sleep where my OLD duck used to sleep!"

Gulp. [Poor Daffy!]

The cartoon is Tashlin's NASTY QUACKS.

Thanks for the spread and update on Gloria Jean!

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I do not think of Gloria Jean (nor Butch 'n' Buddy) very often. Now that I've seen a pic of her during her "cheesecake" years, though, I may never think of her the same way again. She's quite the cutie.

It's funny, given Fields' widely quoted disparaging remarks about Deanna Durbin (he threatened to shoot her, as I recall, and if he didn't actually say that, he could have) that he took to Miss Jean. I am wondering if maybe that was his way of sticking it to Deanna.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you once again for such an entertaining and informative blog. I can quite honestly say that I had never heard of Gloria Jean before, but I will certainly try to learn more about her.

I have to say the Cheesecake Shot of her sitting in the chair is very sensual.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought she had done PROMOTIONS for the Redken co.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Tom Barrister said...

She was the receptionist at Redken for almost thirty years

4:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020