Yesterday’s blog noted the presence of Jean Peters playing a streetwalker in the Sam Fuller crime drama, Pickup on South Street.
Today, we are concentrating on the fact that she was indeed at one point a major star. Then she married Howard Hughes — and virtually disappeared. (Let’s concentrate on Peters the actress, not the wife.)
In 1957, Peters wed the mogul via a hush-hush ceremony — the second marriage for both and the final one for Hughes. It lasted 13 years, and after the breakup Peters never spoke in public about her reclusive husband — the RKO studio head renowned, among other things, for being Hollywood’s busiest ladies man. Her career, put on hold, was jumpstarted via tv thereafter.
Peters came out of the American Midwest (born in Canton, Ohio) and parlayed a beauty contest win at college (Ohio State, naturally) into a seven-year contract at 20th Century Fox. Her career overall was relative brief (just 23 movie and tv credits) but packed plenty of punch. She worked with the leading players of the Fifties, often receiving equal billing. (Below is a shot publicizing her appearance in the 1953 thriller, Niagra.)
She was a sultry brunette, with passing resemblances to both Hedy Lamarr and Jane Russell. Yet, by and large, she was careful NOT to take roles that played up her sex appeal. She considered herself a tomboy at heart, reflected in the down-home blue jeans she favored rather than the glamorous outfits stars were expected to sport then.
One of our readers, Andy Bueno, wrote us some time ago about Peters. Here’s what Andy had to say —
I know some facts about Jean Peters.
You mention certain actresses in your site. Well, Jean was considered for the role of Delilah in ‘Samson and Delilah.’ It went to Hedy Lamarr.
Jennifer Jones was considered for the lead in ‘Captain From Castile’, but Jean got it. However, Jean was considered for the lead in ‘Portrait of Jennie,’ which Jones got.
Lauren Bacall was cast in a few of the roles Jean refused (‘Millionaire,’ ‘Gift of Love’, ‘Designing Woman’). So was Gene Tierney (‘Way of the Gaucho’, ‘The Egyptian’).
She (Jean) also got to play a pirate in ‘Anne of the Indies,’ a role scheduled for Susan Hayward. But Susan got to play Bathsheba (opposite Gregory Peck in ‘David and Bathsheba‘), a role Jean really wanted.
Also, the one role she played that she didn’t like was the Indian squaw in ‘Apache.’ It’s said she disliked Burt Lancaster.
In his book, ‘I Loved Her in the Movies,’ Bob Wagner says Jean was a good actress but was never great. He’s wrong! Jean was great in ‘Pick Up on South Street’ (director Sam Fuller chose Jean over Monroe, Gardner, Shelley Winters and Betty Grable and praised her performance in the film).
Funny, but Wagner never mentions Terry Moore in his book — though they made films together and dated. Why? Moore claimed she was once married to Howard Hughes, but offers no actual proof. She did marry Jean’s ex-husband, Stuart Cramer. Jean married Cramer in May 1954, and divorced him in December 1956 (so their marriage lasted more than 33 days — but Hughes’ public relations man made sure this wasn’t properly publicized — hence the confusion in these time lapses). Moore married him in 1959.
Well, all things considered, below is a shot of two principals in director Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata, the1952 biopic of a Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Jean plays the wife of you know who.