Jan Sterling portrayed some of the toughest dames on screen.

In the film version of Jersey Boys the guys, back in the 1960s, are watching an old movie on television. It’s Billy Wilder‘s classic Ace in the Hole, starring Kirk Douglas and Sterling. When in the scene they’re watching Douglas smacks Sterling across the face one character says, “now she’s gonna cry.” But Bob Crew‘s character snaps, “Big girls don’t cry.”  The boys look at each other and a song is born.

Whether this actually occurred only Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio know for sure (perhaps one of them can confirm this for us), but it sure sounds plausible. And it wouldn’t be the first or last time a classic movie would influence a song lyric.

Think of “We had it all, just like Bogey and Bacall….sailing away to Key Largo.”

But back to Jan Sterling. An underrated talent. She’d been on Broadway for years before movie audiences saw her in Johnny Belinda as the woman who tries to take Jane Wyman’s baby away from her. Then she starred as a tough inmate in the women’s prison movie, Caged. But she really hit her stride in Ace in the Hole, as the waitress who knows Kirk Douglas’ reporter is a heel, but lets him use her anyway.

A few years later she was part of the all star cast of The High and the Mighty as a worn out dame who tries to redeem herself. She received her first and only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actress. Her second husband, actor Paul Douglas died suddenly of a heart attack after only nine years of marriage.

Sterling continued working in Hollywood and New York but eventually moved to London and had a 20 year relationship with actor Sam Wanamaker, though they never wed, she stayed with him til his death. She acted on stage and television in her later years, and died a month shy of 83 in 2004.

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