WHY WE LOVE JEAN ARTHUR
The AFS Essential Cinema series Half Angel: The Essential Cinema of Jean Arthur runs from August 1- 31 at the AFS Cinema.
In preparation for our upcoming Essential Cinema series at the AFS Cinema, Half Angel: The Essential Cinema of Jean Arthur, we’ve compiled a list of a few things we love about Jean Arthur so that you can fall in love with her as well. An incredibly charming presence despite her notorious stage fright, Jean Arthur was a complex Hollywood star whose acting still resonates with us today.
FROM GLADYS TO JOAN
Originally named Gladys Greene, Jean Arthur was pressed by Hollywood to choose a stage name. She drew inspiration from two idols: Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) and King Arthur (The New York Times).
SHE NEVER GAVE UP
Landing fresh on the scene with a one-year contract from Fox Film Studios, Jean Arthur was remodeled and advertised as a flapper to interest the new Jazz Age audiences. However, her early performances in silent films fell flat. She states that she “was acting like a mechanical doll personality” in order to fit a mold. She was left feeling disheartened and wanting to leave the film industry altogether, but stayed due to her contract. She ended up taking roles in comedy shorts for the remaining time, where she developed the comedic timing that would later serve her screwball comedy career.
20 WESTERNS IN 2 YEARS
After her disappointing performances with Fox Film Studios, Arthur ended up impressing the owner of the B-western studio Action Pictures, Lester F. Scott Jr. He decided to take a chance on her, so she was cast in over twenty westerns in a two-year period, only receiving a measly $25 per picture. To top it all off, the westerns were shot on location in the hot California desert.
HALF ANGEL, HALF HORSE
Highly self-conscious, Jean knew exactly which camera angles would flatter her the best, and she worked hard to make sure they were featured. At one point, “director Frank Capra recalled producer Harry Cohn’s description of Jean Arthur’s imbalanced profile: ‘half of it’s angel, and the other half horse.’”
SHE KNEW HER WORTH
Well-known for her anxious yet steadfast personality, Arthur went against the typical Hollywood grain once she began landing lead roles. Due to this, she was often suspended by Columbia Pictures for rejecting roles because, according to her, she “just couldn’t act in a bad picture” (The New York Times). Talk about headstrong.
A NEW TYPE OF LEADING LADY
Arthur’s strong personality brought her more than just studio troubles – it also attracted roles that reflected a new type of character—a more independent, modern woman. In the “man’s world” of the 1930s, she could hold her own and then some. This would prove to be one of her greatest assets.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Once retired from her acting career, she began teaching at a few different universities. While at Vassar, she had a promising young pupil named Meryl Streep, whom she predicted would go far. Many thanks, Jean.
These are just a few of the countless things to love about Jean Arthur. She was a powerful actress, all the more impressive considering she was effortlessly masking her anxiety, stress and self-consciousness. In this sense, she was just downright relatable and in a lot of cases that is what made her acting all the more genuine.
Her distaste for the limelight and commitment to a private life may account for why Jean Arthur lacks the notoriety of some of her contemporaries, but her performances will endure long after her fame has faded. Trust us when we say you don’t want to miss this powerhouse of a woman in some of her most endearing roles at our upcoming series, Half Angel: The Essential Cinema of Jean Arthur.