This is the 111th anniversary of the birth of Jean Arthur. The clips below might help to illustrate her unique quality of preoccupied self knowledge, comic pathos, and that ability, elusive-to-description, to be Everywoman and at the same time like nobody you ever knew. She brought depth and empathy to screwball comedy. She brought sly silliness to sober drama. Humanity was something she understood and conveyed easily, but crowds unnerved her and she preferred the silence of her own contemplation.
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In 1942, she visited Fred Allen’s radio show for a couple of comic skits, and this unabashed duet of “In My Merry Oldsmobile”.
Here in “A Lady Takes a Chance” (1943) she tried to cozy up to a resisting John Wayne. He should have done more comedy. Look at his antsy reaction to her having beer foam on her lip. It drives him nuts. She blithely prattles on, unaware how clownish she looks. She never played the clown. She played the social faux pas and the recovery from embarrassment. That was her spin. Notice at the end how she’s floundering in an agony of jealousy and frustration, and shouts “More beer!” to retaliate for his ignoring her.
She understood so much, instinctively, and yet explained very little. It required a light touch, and that was her genius.