Crain, Jeanne (1925—)

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Crain, Jeanne (1925—)

American actress. Born on May 25, 1925, in Barstow, California; eldest of two daughters of George A. (a teacher) and Loretta (Carr) Crain; attended St. Mary's Academy; graduated from Inglewood High School, 1941; attended University of California at Los Angeles, 1952; married Paul Frederick Brinkman (former actor under name of Paul Brooks), on December 31, 1945; children: seven.


The Gang's All Here (1943); Home in Indiana (1944); In the Meantime, Darling (1944); Winged Victory (1944); State Fair (1945); Leave Her to Heaven (1945); Centennial Summer (1946); Margie (1946); You Were Meant for Me (1948); Apartment for Peggy (1948); A Letter to Three Wives (1949); The Fan (1949); Pinky (1949); Cheaper by the Dozen (1950); I'll Get By (cameo, 1950); Take Care of My Little Girl (1951); People Will Talk (1951); The Model and the Marriage Broker (1952); Belles on Their Toes (1952); O. Henry's Full House ("The Gift of the Magi" episode, 1952); Dangerous Crossing (1953); City of Bad Men (1953); Vicki (1953); Duel in the Jungle (1954); Man Without a Star (1955); Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955); The Second Greatest Sex (1955); The Fastest Gun Alive (1956); The Tattered Dress (1957); The Joker Is Wild (1957); Guns of the Timberland (1960); Twenty Plus Two (1961); Madison Avenue (1962); Ponzio Pilato (Pontius Pilate, It./Fr., 1962); Neferite Regina del Nilo (Queen of the Nile, It., 1962); Col Ferro e col Fuoco (also titled Invasion 1700 and Daggers of Blood, It./Fr./Yug., 1962); Hot Rods to Hell (52 Miles to Terror, 1967); Skyjacked (1972); The Night God Screamed (1975).

Jeanne Crain, whose exquisite features and wholesome image graced the films of the 1940s and 1950s, was first discovered by Orson Welles, while she was touring RKO Studios with her high school class. Welles, who at the time was casting his film The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), had the 15-year-old tested for the role of Lucy but seeing the results felt that she was too immature and did not project well on the screen. Crain, intent on an acting career since her first role in an eighth-grade play, went on to win a number of beauty contests. She was on her way to a successful modeling career ("Camera Girl of 1942") when Hollywood beckoned once again.

Crain made her film debut adorning a swimming pool in the 20th Century-Fox musical The Gang's All Here (1943), starring Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda . She landed her first major role (third billing) in the racing story Home in Indiana (1944), with Walter Brennan and another studio hopeful, June Haver . Of her early films, however, Crain is probably best remembered for her starring role in the remake

of the musical State Fair (1945). Variety called her a perfect foil for Technicolor and also remarked on her excellent voice, perhaps unaware that her singing was dubbed by Louanne Hogan . On the strength of her performance, she was named a star of tomorrow by Motion Picture Herald and given a new, more lucrative, Fox contract.

Crain's marriage in 1945 to actor Paul Frederick Brinkman, who would later leave the profession to become a furniture manufacturer, had a great impact on her career. Over the course of the next 18 years, she would give birth to seven children, often losing plum roles to pregnancy or family responsibilities. Devoted to motherhood, she once said: "You have to decide which is more important to you, an armful of babies or a scrapbook full of screen credits." In 1956, Crain was separated temporarily from her husband (there were rumors of other women), but the two reunited on the eve of their 11th anniversary. She credited their strong Catholic faith as the reason the marriage survived.

Crain's popularity rose considerably in 1946, with the release of Margie, a sentimental story about the loves of a young high school girl that earned her a Life magazine cover. By now, Crain was receiving over 2,000 fan letters a week (second only at the time to Betty Grable ), but she took the next year off to have her first child, forcing the cancellation of a proposed film. After excellent notices as William Holden's wife in Apartment for Peggy (1948), she was again forced out of several projects due to preg-nancy. She made three films in 1949: A Letter to Three Wives, The Fan, and Pinky, the last of which won her the only Academy Award nomination of her career and gave her some credibility as an actress. The film, which co-starred heavy hitters Ethel Waters and Ethel Barrymore , dealt with the subject of racial intolerance, telling the story of a light-skinned black nurse (Crain) who passes for white in the North, then returns to her southern black roots. Crain had written Darryl Zanuck asking for the role and tested for the part just two weeks after her second child was born. Although many Southern cities refused to show the controversial film, it was a landmark movie in its treatment of a contemporary issue. (At the time, no one seemed to question the casting of a white woman for a light-skinned black, even though Lena Horne was in Hollywood and available.) The role made Jeanne Crain the #1 box-office earner of 1949 and secured for her another four-year contract with Fox.

What the studio offered, however, were films featuring sweet young girl roles, including Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), the biopic on Lillian Moller Gilbreth , and I'll Get By (1950). Perhaps the most noteworthy of Crain's films of this period was the George Cukor-directed comedy The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951), though Thelma Ritter , as a lonely-hearts advisor, ran away with the laughs. By 1953, Crain had wearied of the image Fox had created for her, and, after losing the leads in Quo Vadis and Carrie, she finally broke with the studio, commenting, "I've been cute long enough. I can't take a chance of being forced to play somebody's daughter again. I'm not another Mae West , but then I'm not the washed-face pigtail type people think I am either."

Hiring a new publicist, Crain also dyed her hair red, in hopes of winning sexier roles. After Duel in the Jungle (1954) for Warner Bros., she signed a five-year contract with Universal, which specified that she appear in one movie a year. Her first venture with the new studio was the western Man Without a Star (1955), in which she played an unscrupulous rancher, a role The New York Times found her "a bit too haughty and polished for." She was more successful in promoting her new image in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), co-starring Jane Russell, and prompting William Zinsser of the New York Herald Tribune to remark: "She has been hiding her light under a pinafore far too long. She turns out to be a fine song and dance girl from head to toe."

Crain's last film for Universal was the courtroom melodrama The Tattered Dress (1957). The studio ended her contract because she had been unable to report for a film due to the birth of her fifth child (she later sued for back pay). She was off the screen for three years, during which time she appeared in a television production of "Meet Me in St. Louis" and also made an unsuccessful pilot for "The Jeanne Crain Show," which cast her as an ex-New York model and mother of two, married to a magazine editor. Other television appearances included "The Great Gatsby" (1958), "My Dark Days," a two-part drama on "G.E. Theater" (1962), and "The Other Woman" on "U.S. Steel Hour" (1960).

Her return to films included a western and three undistinguished pictures in Europe, before she returned to the United States to appear in the low-budget Twenty Plus Two (1961) and Madison Avenue (1962), which had potential as an exposé of the advertising industry but was not favorably received. One of her last feature films was Hot Rods to Hell (1967). Crain busied herself with other interests, mainly painting and sculpting, and made only scattered appearances. Her final films were Skyjacked (1972) and The Night God Screamed (1975).

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts