Monday, October 17, 2011

Jean Arthur

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.

Remember to scroll down to the bottom of the page and mute the music so you can hear the videos.

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.


Miss Fierce said...

here, here! easily one of my favourite actresses of all time. thanks for this lovely tribute to a lovely lady.

Caftan Woman said...

Something I've noticed observing my dad, then my husband and my son watching classic movies. They're all hubba-hubba men when it comes to some favourite gals (Susie Hayward, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth), but when it comes to Jean Arthur it's a quiet and respectful appreciation.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Along those line, CW, this from Charles Champlin in a tribute printed in Los Angeles Times around the time of her death:

"To at least one teen-ager in a small town (though I'm sure we were a multitude), Jean Arthur suggested strongly that the ideal woman could be--ought to be--judged by her spirit as well as her beauty.

It wasn't quite enough to look great on pedestals or magazine covers (both rather remote locations if you thought about it). The notion of the woman as a friend and confidante, as well as someone you courted and were nuts about, someone whose true beauty was internal rather than external, became a full-blown possibility as we watched Jean Arthur."

Read entire article here:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

And here's the devotion of another young man, singer/musician Robbie Fulks in his lyrics to his song "Jean Arthur":

Miss P. said...

These Jean Arthur movies had been on YouTube a few months ago. Sadly they all have been deleted now:

The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Danger Lights (1930)
Whirlpool (1934)
The Whole Town's Talking (1935)
Party Wire (1935)
Public Hero No. 1 (1935)
Diamond Jim (1935)

As far as I know, they all still aren't to get legally. So if the companies, who own the rights, don't publish them anyway: why did they insist on that deletions?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I do know that "Danger Lights" is in the public domain and can be seen on The Internet Archive site. What gets left on YouTube and what gets taken off is a bit of a mystery to me, but since some of her lesser known films have recently been released on DVD, I hope that some of these others might be available sometime as well. It's tough to be a fan of the rare stuff.

Miss P. said...

We need those films. Miss Arthur was a great progressive. I appreciate she repeatedly rejected parts that weren't morally correct.

In these days of the occupy Wall St. movement, the revolt of the Great Depression is the right stuff, to have it a little romantic at times, while bearing tough realities. Obama is quite like FDR -- fairly much in the same situation.

It's all about justice and righteousness.

Your political bird correspondent--
Miss P.

Caftan Woman said...

The Champlin piece made me tear up, and Robbie Fulks has a new fan.

ClassicBecky said...

I really like your tribute to Jean Arthur, an actress who should be better known by a wider audience today. I loved her best when she played the somewhat cynical character who learns to be innocent again. She always shined in parts like that. Wonderful actress, and you are right, it is difficult to categorize her. That made her so special!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Becky. I think Jean Arthur is on the verge of being rediscovered by a wider, younger audience. On the YouTube page where the first video is found, there are several pages of comments that I find so touching. Whenever you do find someone who is familiar with her work, their reaction is invariably one of being deeply moved and astonished at being so. I think if TCM would show more of the lesser knowns, that would help.

Yvette said...

Yes, a wonderful tribute to a one of a kind lady who should, I think, have been a much bigger star. Her speaking voice alone should have guaranteed it.

But maybe that's not what she wanted.

She was unique.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Unique is right. Isn't it funny, though, that her speaking voice is what is most memorable to her fans, and yet she made several silent films which seemed to do very little to advance her career. We've heard stories about silent movie actors whose careers were killed by sound films. In her case, it was just the opposite. Sound gave her distinction.

Anonymous said...

Yvette, she was a big star until the early 40s. But then her style was out. The 30s were very critical and Jean's intellectual charm fit very well. The 40s were different then -- more about the superficial sex-appeal. Marlene Dietrich was all for it and adjusted easily; Jean was totally against it, she stuck to her convictions.

She struggled a lot during the 40s -- privately and in business. Yet, she wanted to go on as star. But they criticized her for sticking to the 30s' mentality. She was actually punished or that. SHANE was the point were she finally gave up: Paramount wanted to use her for more supporting parts like that, but she didn't wanna be a supporting actress. Indeed she still was fresh and pretty enough to play leading roles, but they didn't appreciate her style anymore.

After SHANE she sporadically tried on TV and stage, but on the whole it didn't work out anymore. They expected her to adjust and that's not the way you treat a star!

Yvette said...

sweetandhot: Thanks for the update on Jean's career. Interesting stuff. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

But as you say, she stuck to her convictions.

She was something special, though.
Too bad Hollywood was blind.

SailorsGal said...

I just wanted to thank you for featuring my Jean Arthur video. I'm glad there are others out there that share my love for classic movies. You have a great blog here! :) Nikki

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Nikki, your video on Jean Arthur is extraordinary. I've watched it many times and I still find it deeply moving.

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