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Gloria Jean (born Gloria Jean Schoonover, April 14, 1926 in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker) is an American singer and actress who starred or co-starred in 26 feature films between 1939 and 1959. She also made radio, television, stage, and nightclub appearances.


Her family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvaniamarker, where she sang on radio with Paul Whiteman's band. She was being trained as a coloratura soprano, when her voice teacher, Leah Russel, took her to audition held by Universal Pictures movie producer Joe Pasternak in 1938. Pasternak had guided Deanna Durbin to stardom, and with Durbin now advancing to ingenue roles, Pasternak wanted a younger singer to make the same kind of musicals. Up against hundreds of other girls, Gloria won the audition. Under contract to Universal, she was given the leading role in the 1939 feature The Under-Pup, and became instantly popular with moviegoers. For her next two vehicles, she co-starred with Bing Crosby in If I Had My Way and starred in the well-received A Little Bit of Heaven (which reunited her with many from the Under-Pup cast). Her most famous picture is her fourth, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, in which she co-starred with W. C. Fields.

After this, Gloria Jean was reassigned to her own series of "B" musicals. She maintained a good relationship with Deanna Durbin and was one of the invited guests at Deanna Durbin's marriage ceremony in 1941. For Deanna Durbin this was a good thing that a youngster could replace her as "The child singer." Gloria still had a large audience despite the poor management at the head of Universal studios, and during the war years she made 14 feature films. Most were "hepcat" musicals, which were geared to the teenage crowd of that day; Universal often used them to introduce new talent, including Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan, and Mel Tormé. Her dramatic tour de force, as a blind girl being menaced by an escaped killer, was filmed as one of four vignettes for Julien Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy. Gloria Jean's performance was the most acclaimed of any. However, Universal removed the half-hour sequence from the movie and instead expanded into a 1944 melodrama, Destiny. She co-starred with Olsen and Johnson in Ghost Catchers, and in her last two Universal features, released in 1945, she was teamed with singer-actor Kirby Grant.

When Gloria's Universal contract lapsed, she wanted to renew it but her agent arranged a busy schedule of personal appearances, across America and England. In 1946, she returned to Hollywood, but she found that she was no longer in high demand. She resumed her movie career in United Artists, Columbia Pictures, and Allied Artists productions, the most famous being Copacabana with Groucho Marx. Some theatre and television work followed in the 1950s and 1960s; the forgettable 1955 movie Air Strike and the lightweight comedy The Madcaps (filmed in 1959, re-released 1964) survive. Her final movie was with Jerry Lewis in The Ladies Man. Most of her footage was cut from the final print, and she is barely noticeable among the extras. She retired from show business in 1963 and began a 30-year career with Redken Laboratories, a national cosmetics firm.

Personal life

Gloria lived in California with her sister, Bonnie, until Bonnie's death in 2007. She now resides in Hawaii with her son and his family.

Gloria Jean's films are beginning to receive some exposure: If I Had My Way has been restored to its original length and issued on DVD, followed by the DVD release of Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. Universal Pictures has also struck new 35mm prints of Mister Big and Get Hep to Love for theatrical use. Her 1947 film Copacabana is widely available on home video.

Her authorized biography, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, was published in 2005.


Year Film Role Notes
1939 The Under-Pup Pip-Emma Binns first Universal picture
1940 If I Had My Way Patricia Johnson
A Little Bit of Heaven Midge Loring
1941 Never Give a Sucker an Even Break W. C. Fields's niece, Gloria Jean
Jingle Belles song specialties (short subject) (reissued as Winter Serenade)
1942 What's Cookin'? Sue Courtney
Get Hep to Love Doris Stanley
When Johnny Comes Marching Home Marilyn Benton
1943 It Comes Up Love Victoria Peabody
Mister Big Patricia Davis
Moonlight in Vermont Gwen Harding
1944 Ghost Catchers Melinda Marshall
Pardon My Rhythm Jinx Page
Reckless Age Linda Wadsworth
Destiny Jane Broderick includes deleted sequence from Flesh and Fantasy
1945 I'll Remember April April Garfield
Easy to Look At Judy Dawson last Universal picture
River Gang Wendy filmed earlier by Universal; release delayed
1947 Copacabana Anne Stuart United Artists
1948 I Surrender Dear Patty Nelson, aka Patty Hart Columbia
Manhattan Angel Gloria Cole Columbia
An Old-Fashioned Girl Polly Milton Eagle-Lion
1949 There's a Girl in My Heart Ruth Kroner Allied Artists
1953 Wonder Valley independent; no known usable prints exist
1955 Air Strike Marg Huggins Lippert
1959 Laffing Time (reissued as The Madcaps) Sally Suffer independent
1961 The Ladies Man Girl in boarding house Paramount

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