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Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  270 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
The luminous star of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Shane, and other classic films was, as the subtitle aptly puts it, "the actress nobody knew." Jean Arthur (1900-91) kept her personal life private, disdained the Hollywood publicity machine, and was called "difficult" because of her perfectionism and remoteness from costars on the movie set. John Oller, a lawyer, tracked d ...more
Paperback, 358 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Limelight Editions (first published February 1997)
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Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jean Arthur is one of my favorite actresses. If I'm scanning through the TCM schedule and I see that she happens to be in a film I've never heard of and would otherwise have little or no interest in based on the summary, I'd still probably watch it just because of her presence. (Those of you who are into old movies realize that this isn't a very good strategy because stars were contracted to their studios back then and—unless they were uncommonly powerful in the industry—they generally had to ap ...more
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I had waited impatiently for almost 30 years for someone to tackle a biography of Jean Arthur, one of my favorite actresses and one of the brightest comediennes of the '30s and '40s. In my youthful naivete, seeing that nobody seemed interested in the project, I thought about taking on the job myself. Thank goodness I waited for John Oller to write his book instead! There's no way that anyone could have done a better job with this most reclusive and challenging of subjects. Even during her heyday ...more
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This well researched & documented biography of Jean Arthur, one of the screens most elusive stars, was a wonderful read! It covered her early life, her career, her relationships & later life. Any true fan of the great Ms Arthur's must read this wonderful book, full of insight & information, into one of Cinema's greatest stars! Her flaws, insecurities & crippling anxieties are notorious in Hollywood-- and now we have some insight into who she was as a person! Must read
She had a unique voice, one that Frank Capra, her frequent director, once described as accurately as anyone has, as "a thousand tinkling bells." She could be street smart and innocent all at once. She was one of the best actresses working in the genres of the screwball and romantic comedies of the '30s and '40s: wonderful in films such as "The Whole Town's Talking" (1935), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), "Easy Living" (1937), "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), and one of my favorites, "The M ...more
Aug 28, 2011 rated it liked it
this book was good for the most part. however towards the end it got a little depressing. jean arthur was an amazing actress but lived a life of paranoia, fear and avoidance. her later life was aimless and unhappy it seemed. she was an alcoholic and a recluse. she spent so many years trying to hardest to stay away from the limelight and letting ANYONE into her life. this explains why there is so little known about her and this book is really the only book to shed light as to why. it was interest ...more
John Nondorf
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've loved Jean Arthur in several movies and now feel a kinship to her after reading about her introvert life. This book tells her story spots and all and she remains a beauty through and through.
Jul 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Engrossing read; a fascinating look at one of Classic Hollywood's most elusive stars, Jean Arthur.

A talented comedienne with a pleasant but very distinctive voice, she is often credited as the embodiment of a screwball comedy actress. Despite her charm, comic timing, charisma and talent, which shines so brightly in movies such as The More the Merrier, You Can't Take it With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and The Devil and Miss Jones, Arthur seemed tormented by some co
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jean Arthur has been my favorite actress for years, so I was happy to find this biography of her life. As private as Arthur was, you cannot help realize that the author, John Oller, must have spent an enormous part of his life uncovering the mysteries of her life. Born Gladys Greene in 1900 and living to the age of 90, Oller had a LOT of ground to cover, and I am very thankful for the time he must have spent researching and writing this book. One of the things about her career that I find most a ...more
John Kennedy
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very well-researched and well-written biography of one of my favorite actresses. She somehow could turn on the charm for the cameras, but remained insecure otherwise. Oller explores the enigma of Jean Arthur. Much remains hidden because she was a virtual recluse. But that doesn't keep Oller from trying, as he interviews practically anyone who ever knew her.
Aug 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
My god this woman was fucked up. I always knew she was little out there, but holy shit...I love her even more now. I don't ever care for actors enough to want to read their bio, but I have idolized her for years. So I had to.
Jaime Contreras
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Jean Arthur is the actress who everyone has seen in films like Mr. Deeds, Only Angels Have Wings, The Plainsman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Easy Living, You can't take It with You, The Talk of the Town, The More the Merrier, and Shane. She also was a phenomenal stage actress with great roles in Lysistrata,Coquette, Born Yesterday, Peter Pan, Saint Joan, and First Monday In October. Ms. Arthur was known to be a private person who was selective in her choices. this extended to her personal life ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jean Arthur has long been one of my favorite actresses. This biography details just how strange of a character she was. Impossible to work with, she clearly had some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I still can't figure out why she never wanted to work with Jimmy Stewart again after "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

She sounds like she would have a fascinating, if overly difficult, person to know.
Aug 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Such a sad, sad book. I would have liked more detail about Arthur's film work, behind-the-scenes information, but with such a reclusive woman as his subject, Oller has done a pretty decent job. Heartbreaking to read about her extreme shyness, difficulties in theatre and television work. I will watch her films with new eyes....
Sep 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting insight into Jean Arthur, an actress I adore! Reading about her life made me realize that it's the characters she played that I adored not the real person. Sometimes it's good not to know some things about people. Ignorance is bliss!!
Apr 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very good biography about one of my favorite actresses who I knew little about. It seems she was reclusive and somewhat peculiar person, especially in her later years. Oller did a fine job covering both her personal life and amazing career.
Anne McMullen
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not much has been written about Jean Arthur, so I was really excited about this book. It didn't disappoint at all. I love Jean's movies and never tire of watching her early movies. I devoured this book. Highly recommended.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
I adore Jean Arthur, but not much is known about her and she's rarely discussed, so I loved that someone decided to write a biography of her. It's a very loving and carefully researched picture of her, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Samantha Glasser
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: movies, non-fiction
The writing flows quickly. The author assumes the reader knows who a lot of the big Hollywood figures are, so there isn't a lot of background information. He also erroneously called WAMPAS "W.A.M.P.U.S."
Nunzio DeFilippis
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jean Arthur is possibly my favorite actress of all time, and this book paints a pretty tragic picture of her as riddled with insecurities. Once I got past the shattering of my hero worship, it was a fascinating read.
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A difficult subject due to Jean Arthur being so private & mysterious but a fascinating book nonetheless. What a woman she was.
Very interesting. I really knew very little before this book (as the title would suggest as being the likely case!).
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
She was a wonderful actress. I especially enjoyed her with Charles Coburn.
After reading this book, I so wish I'd gotten to see her version of Peter Pan.
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very fascinating read about an underrated actress.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012-read, movies
Might have rated this higher, but the chapter on psycho-analysis seemed a bit too much of a guessing-game by the author.
Winter Sophia Rose
Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Intriguing & Fascinating! Portrait Of An Enigma!
rated it liked it
Dec 21, 2014
rated it it was amazing
May 24, 2014
Judith Colson
rated it it was amazing
Sep 30, 2014
cheryl looper
rated it really liked it
Jul 16, 2015
Mark C. Rogers
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Dec 07, 2014
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