Jean Arthur — Nasal — But Nice (1930) 🇺🇸

Jean Arthur — Nasal — but Nice (1930) |

June 30, 2023

I was sitting in the publicity office of Paramount, chuckling over the preamble to Jean Arthur's biography which some well-meaning individual had thrust into my hands.

by Edward Nagle

It read, "'My ambition,' Jean Arthur is not unwilling to say, 'is to own a farm with a big, rambling old house. I want a cow and at least one each of every other domestic animal.' She is that sort of person."

Mebbe, I reflected. But how fortunate that she doesn't photograph that way!

At this point the door opened and a pretty girl entered. She smiled in a friendly fashion, stood there a moment and walked out, leaving me to ponder on the general excellence of California's girlhood.

A moment later she again entered with a lady of the publicity department in tow, who introduced her as Jean Arthur.

While I apologized to Jean for not having recognized her, the publicity lady tiptoed out, shutting the door behind her. Somebody else closed the window from the outside. These little touches were calculated, I gather, to assure me that I might probe into Miss Arthur's soul in privacy and peace, and to impress upon me that her revelation of all was important, not to say sacred.

"Must I wax autobiographical?" Jean began. "The story of my life is so long and sad that I hate I to go into it."

There is something in what she says. Six years ago Jean came to Hollywood armed with a reputation of being one of the most beautiful artist's models in New York, a year's contract with Fox, and a letter from Winfield Sheehan about her latent talent.

"'Latent' is the word," laughed Jean; "and it became more and more apparent during that first year. When my contract with Fox expired, they kicked me out, and even at the time I couldn't blame them. I was terrible."

Followed a year of Westerns in which Jean did nothing hut pose between the camera and the cattle. Then a lead in an independent picture with Ralph Lewis. After that Jean became a featured player in independents, making about three a month. She was quite excellent in them, too, as you remember, unless you patronize the movie cathedrals to the exclusion of the little chapels. So excellent that Paramount sent for her, despite the fact that she photographed exactly like their Mary Brian.

Her first picture for Paramount. "Warming Up," brought her to the favorable notice of the reviewers, and her second, "Sins of the Fathers," in which her light shone brightly despite the presence of such incandescents as Emil Jannings, Ruth Chatterton, and Barry Norton at his best, won her a Paramount contract. Every picture she has made since then, except "Young Eagles," has carried her a little farther along the road to stardom.

The reviewers didn't care for anything about Young Eagles, nor did they spare Miss Arthur.

"Do most players mind what the critics say?" Jean wanted to know.

"Probably not," I told her. "At least they pretend that they don't."

"Well, I do terribly. After reading a review of Young Eagles, in the Los Angeles Times, I died for weeks."

"Cried, Miss Arthur?"

"No, died. You see, I had hoped that it would he another milestone in my career like 'The Saturday Night Kid' and 'Halfway to Heaven.' I worked so hard on it that it hurt awfully to have it flop."

But it wasn't her fault that it failed. Everybody at the studio knew that Young Eagles soured in the cutting room.

"I'm so afraid that I have to go back to playing gals," Jean continued, "and I don't want to play any more of them. I mean the incurable innocents upon whose virgin breast the bounding juvenile rests his manly head, in the fade-out. I want to characterize. I've got to characterize.

"Look at this face, " she said. A pleasure! "It's only a face!"

I started to protest.

"Oh, you needn't he gallant," she said, smiling. "I have no illusions about my beauty. That's why I realize I should have a meaty role into which I can sink my teeth. Mary Brian could go on playing romantic leads forever and ever, because she's so beautiful, but I can't. That's why I prefer to play heavies. Of course I shouldn't want to do heavies exclusively. I'd like to do a talkie version of 'So Big.'

Although fully aware of what she'd like to do, Jean cannot bring herself to storm the executives with suggestions. She wishes she could make her presence felt at the studio as Nancy Carroll does, but Jean is much too diffident.

Perhaps that's why she's so popular with the studio help. Toward the lesser workers she does not assume the exaggerated graciousness of a grand lady patronizing the hired hands, but rather a simple friendliness.

She prefers to play opposite actors like William Powell and Paul Lukas who, she says, inspire her to do her best work.

"I'm too old for players like Buddy Rogers. I prefer some one more —"

"Adult?" I baited.

"Mature," she finished. "Buddy is a sweet kid and all the fun in the world, but I'm not at my best playing opposite him. The most stimulating player with whom I've worked with is Clara Bow. She's electric. Her energy sustains you long after your own is exhausted. Generous, too. There can be no question of stealing a scene from Clara. She hands it over."

About a year ago, Jeans marriage to Julian Anker was annulled. The newspapers said that the union was broken up because Jean was worth more at the box office as a single girl.

Discretion is the duller part of valor, so I said, "Miss Arthur, your fans have been wondering about your marriage."

Her face clouded. "Tell them," she said, "it is my own private affair."

I realized that such a direct attack had been wrong, so I tried again, reasoning with her that it would be better for the fans to know the truth, rather than go on believing the far-fetched story the papers bad carried.

"There isn't much to tell," Jean said finally. "I made a mistake, a foolish, childish mistake, and realized it instantly. I thought it best to correct it before it muddled my mind with bitterness. Paramount had nothing to do with the annulment. I'd marry a man I truly loved this second, and count my career well lost. I don't know how that absurd story came to be printed. I wanted to deny it at the time, because I felt it made me seem so utterly characterless, but the office thought it best to let the thing blow over."

To change the subject, I asked Jean if it were true that she yearned toward the soil with bovine trimmings.

"What I really meant," she said, "was that I should like an estate, with no immediate neighbor, a nice colonial house with pewter and things, and a well-kept lawn around it."

"And a cow, Miss Arthur?"

"Well, I like animals when they're clean — sheep for instance, and yes, a nice clean cow."

Jean isn't domestic or literary, not even for publicity purposes. Her idea of a large evening is to collect the boy friend and dance and dance.

She hates bridge and teas and has no girl chums. She dotes on horseracing and New England landscapes.

Off the screen her voice does not seem nasal. She insists that the whiny tones were merely part of her characterization in The Saturday Night Kid, but as her voice recorded nasally in several other pictures, I'm going to put her down as nasal but nice, just to keep that title.

Summing Jean up, I'd say she is girlish, but not ga-ga, sweet but not saccharine, intelligent and ambitious, with just the right amount of naïveté to complete her charm. After all, ingenuousness is becoming to an ingénue.

Despite her disparaging comment on her own beauty, she is truly lovely, with the most luminous blue eyes I've ever seen, and a way of using them which makes sane men break down and ask for an autographed photo.

For a few final facts let's return to the report of the inspired publicity writer.

"Jean is five feet, three inches tall and was born on October 17, 1907 [Transcriber's note: Jean Arthur was actually born in 1900]. She lives in Hollywood with her parents, who abandoned (pardon his dramatic verbs) their New York residence several years ago.' She has two older brothers, and in the East two nephews who, she has decided, will live with her some day in her colonial house and help her take care of her cow and at least one each of every other domestic animal."

"The story of my life is so long and sad I hate to go into it," says Jean Arthur, looking frightfully upset as she explains her marriage annulment.

Jean wants meaty roles instead of romantic innocents — but she'd rather not do heavies altogether.

Jean Arthur hates bridges and teas, and shades of Pollyanna, she has her heart set on a farm equipped with a nice clean cow.

Photo by: English

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, December 1930