Oscar Actors: Crain, Jeanne–Background, Career, Awards

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Jeanne Elizabeth Crain (May 25, 1925 – December 14, 2003) was an American actress whose career spanned from 1943 to 1975. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in the 1949 film Pinky, in which she played the leading role.

She was also noted for her ability in ice skating.

Crain was born in Barstow, California, to George A. Crain, a schoolteacher, and Loretta Carr, Irish Catholic parents.

By 1930, the family was living in Inglewood, California at 822 S. Walnut Avenue.[2] After her parents divorced in 1934, the family of three moved to 5817 Van Ness Ave in Los Angeles.[3]

An excellent ice skater, Crain first attracted attention when she was crowned Miss Pan-Pacific at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. Later, while still in high school, she was asked to take a screen test with Orson Welles. She did not get the part. In 1943, she appeared in a bit part in the film The Gang’s All Here.

The Gang’s All Here was produced by 20th Century Fox. Fox then cast Crain in her first sizable role, in the romantic drama Home in Indiana (1944) with Walter Brennan, in which she played the love interest of Lon McCallister. The film, shot in Technicolor, was popular at the box office and established Crain as a film name.[4]

Darryl F Zanuck, head of Fox, gave Crain top billing in In the Meantime, Darling (1944), playing a war bride, directed by Otto Preminger. Her acting was critically panned, but she gained nationwide attention. It resulted in her landing the leading role in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim in October 1944, a musical film which was eventually made with Betty Grable as the star.[5]

Crain first received critical acclaim when she starred in Winged Victory (1944). She co-starred in 1945 with Dana Andrews in the musical film State Fair, in which Louanne Hogan dubbed Crain’s singing numbers. After that, Crain often had singing parts in films, and they were invariably dubbed, in most cases by Hogan.

State Fair was a hit, as was Leave Her to Heaven (1945), in which Crain was the “good” sister of “bad” Gene Tierney, both in love with Cornel Wilde. Crain became established as one of Fox’s bigger stars – so much so that Zanuck refused to let her play the comparatively small part of Clementine in My Darling Clementine (1946)

Crain and Wilde were reunited in Centennial Summer (1946), directed by Preminger, Fox’s attempt to match the success of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). More popular was Margie (1946). Her ice skating ability was on display in this film, in which she and Conrad Janis danced around the ice rink as her boyfriend Alan Young slipped and stumbled his way.

She made two films in 1948, You Were Meant for Me, a musical with Dan Dailey, that may have been Marilyn Monroe’s first appearance on film, and Apartment for Peggy, with William Holden.

In 1949, Crain appeared in three films. A Letter to Three Wives (1949), in which she was top billed, quickly became established as a classic, winning Joseph L. Mankiewicz two Oscars and being a solid box-office hit. The Fan, directed by Preminger and based on Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, was received poorly. However, Pinky earned Crain a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and was one of the more popular films of the year. Pinky was controversial because it told the story of a light-skinned African American woman who passes for white in the Northern United States. Although Lena Horne and other black actresses were considered, producer Darryl F. Zanuck chose to cast a white actress for fear of racial backlash.

Crain had another big success when she starred with Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb in the 1950 biographical film Cheaper by the Dozen, although her part was a supporting role. She had a cameo as herself in I’ll Get By (1951) and starred in Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), a mildly popular drama about snobbery in college sororities.

Crain paired with Cary Grant in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film of the offbeat drama People Will Talk (1951). Despite Jeanne’s heavily campaigning for the female lead, Anne Baxter was initially cast in the part, but when she had to forfeit due to pregnancy, Crain was given the role after all.[6]

Crain starred in Charles Brackett’s production The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951). Cast in May 1951, Crain was Brackett’s first choice for the role.

Crain was reunited with Loy for Belles on Their Toes (1952), the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, getting top billing this time.

While still at 20th Century Fox, Crain played a young wife quickly losing her mind amid high seas intrigue in Dangerous Crossing (1953), co-starring Michael Rennie. She starred in Vicki (1953), a remake of I Wake Up Screaming. Fox tried her in a Western City of Bad Men (1954). The box-office performance of these last few films was mild, and Crain left the studio.

Crain made Duel in the Jungle (1954) in Britain and then Man Without a Star (1955), a Western with Kirk Douglas at Universal, where she played the lead female role of a hard-nosed ranch-owner.

She showed her dancing skills in 1955’s Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a quasi-sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes based on Anita Loos’ novel and co-starring Jane Russell. The film was shot partly in Paris and was released in France as A Paris Pour les Quatre (To Paris for the Four), and in Belgium as Cevieren Te Parijs. Later in the 1950s, Crain, Russell, and another actress formed a short-lived singing and dancing lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip.

Crain made the Western comedy The Second Greatest Sex (1956), then starred with Glenn Ford, Russ Tamblyn, and Broderick Crawford in The Fastest Gun Alive directed by Russell Rouse. It was a big hit. At Universal, she starred with Jeff Chandler in the thriller The Tattered Dress (1957), then played a socialite who helps floundering singer and comedian Joe E. Lewis (Frank Sinatra) redeem himself in The Joker Is Wild (1957).

Crain began working in television, playing Daisy in a 1958 adaptation of The Great Gatsby and Rose in 1959’s all-star production of Meet Me in St. Louis alongside Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon, Jane Powell, Ed Wynn, and top billed Tab Hunter.

Film roles became fewer in the 1960s as Crain went into semi-retirement. She appeared as Nefertiti in the Italian production of Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961) with Edmund Purdom and Vincent Price and in Madison Avenue (1962) with Dana Andrews and Eleanor Parker. During this period, Crain appeared — for the second time — as one of the mystery guests on What’s My Line?, and made guest appearances on the Riverboat and Burke’s Law.

She co-starred again with Dana Andrews in Hot Rods To Hell (1967).

Her last films were The Night God Screamed (1971) and Skyjacked (1972) with Charlton Heston.

At the height of her stardom, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Crain was nicknamed “Hollywood’s Number One party girl”

Against her mother’s wishes, on December 31, 1945, Crain married Paul Brinkman, a former contract player at RKO Pictures credited as Paul Brooks. Crain and Brinkman had seven children.[11]

The marriage was rocky. In the mid-1950s, Crain obtained interlocutory divorce decree, each spouse claiming the other had been unfaithful (she also claimed Brinkman had been abusive), but the couple reconciled on December 31, 1956.

In the early 1960s, she was one of many conservative actors who fought for the Republican Party.

Crain and her husband remained married, although they lived separately in Santa Barbara until Brinkman’s death in October 2003.

Crain died two months later from a heart attack. Her funeral Mass was held at the Old Santa Barbara Mission. She is buried in the Brinkman family plot at Santa Barbara Cemetery.

Filmography

1943 The Gang’s All Here Chorus Girl / Pool Party Guest Uncredited
1944 Home in Indiana ‘Char’ Bruce
In the Meantime, Darling Margaret ‘Maggie’ Preston
Winged Victory Helen
1945 State Fair Margy Frake a.k.a. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair
Also soundtrack
Leave Her to Heaven Ruth Berent
1946 Centennial Summer Julia Rogers Also soundtrack
Margie Marjorie ‘Margie’ MacDuff Also soundtrack
1948 You Were Meant for Me Peggy Mayhew
Apartment for Peggy Peggy Taylor Also soundtrack
1949 A Letter to Three Wives Deborah Bishop
The Fan Lady Margaret ‘Meg’ Windermere a.k.a. Lady Windermere’s Fan
Pinky Patricia ‘Pinky’ Johnson Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1950 Cheaper by the Dozen Anne Gilbreth
I’ll Get By Herself Uncredited
Cameo appearance
1951 Take Care of My Little Girl Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Erickson
People Will Talk Deborah Higgins
The Model and the Marriage Broker Kitty Bennett
1952 Belles on Their Toes Anne Gilbreth a.k.a. Belles on Their Toes: The Further Adventures of the Gilbreth Family
O. Henry’s Full House Della Young (segment “The Gift of the Magi”)
1953 Dangerous Crossing Ruth Stanton Bowman
Vicki Jill Lynn
City of Bad Men Linda Culligan
1954 Duel in the Jungle Marian Taylor
1955 Man Without a Star Reed Bowman
Gentlemen Marry Brunettes Connie Jones / Mitzi Jones Also soundtrack
The Second Greatest Sex Liza McClure Also soundtrack
1956 The Fastest Gun Alive Dora Temple
1957 The Tattered Dress Diane Blane
The Joker Is Wild Letty Page a.k.a. All the Way
1960 Guns of the Timberland Laura Riley
1961 Madison Avenue Peggy Shannon
Twenty Plus Two Linda Foster a.k.a. It Started in Tokyo
Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile Tenet/Nefertiti Original title: Nefertiti, regina del Nilo
1962 Pontius Pilate Claudia Procula Original title: Ponzio Pilato
1963 Invasion 1700 Helena Kurcewiczówna Original title: Col ferro e col fuoco
a.k.a. Daggers of Blood
a.k.a. With Fire and Sword
1967 Hot Rods to Hell Peg Phillips a.k.a. 52 Miles to Terror
1971 The Night God Screamed Fanny Pierce a.k.a. Scream
1972 Skyjacked Mrs. Clara Shaw a.k.a. Sky Terror (final film role)