Jean Arthur Update

In the twenty years since publication of “Jean Arthur” I have come across a fair amount of new information, not included in the book, that deserves to be recorded in some fashion for the benefit of future researchers and Jean Arthur fans. Most of it relates to her childhood and family, which were lightly touched upon in the book. I did some further research and learned quite a bit in preparation for speaking at “Jean Arthur Day” in Plattsburgh, New York (her birthplace), held in April 2015 to mark the unveiling of a plaque in her honor in front of the house where she was born.  I am grateful to David Palmieri for organizing that event and for providing me with some of the additional information about “Gladys Greene” (Arthur’s birth name) and her family that follows here.[1] Thanks also to Lee Greene for his work on Ancestry.com, and to Eva Scherzer from Austria, perhaps the world’s foremost collector of Jean Arthur memorabilia, who supplied me with many photographs and other mementos.  As will be seen below, I have included a number of photographs here that did not appear in my book and have not previously been published.

Jean Arthur’s Birth

In my book I reported the little-known fact that Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17, 1900 in Plattsburgh. At the time I was quite certain, based on a variety of documentary and other sources, that the date was correct, although I did not have a birth certificate to prove it 100 percent. Not long after the book’s publication it came to my attention that, in fact, a birth certificate did exist in the records of the City of Plattsburgh. I obtained the docment, which confirms the October 17, 1900 date. It does contain some inaccuracies: It lists her first name as “Anna,” a shortened form of her middle name “Georgianna”; it mistakenly records her mother’s name as “Anna” instead of the correct “Johannah” (which she shortened to “Hannah”); and it spells her last name “Green” instead of the correct “Greene.” Quite possibly the information for the birth certificate was recorded before Gladys’s parents had settled upon a name for the baby, and in the meantime the mother’s name was used as a placeholder. Here is the birth certificate:

 

In my book I also stated that Gladys was born at 94 Oak Street in Plattsburgh. Although I had taken a photograph of the very old-looking green house that now stands there, I did not include it in the book because I couldn’t be sure that the same structure had been there in 1900. It can now be stated with confidence that the multi-story house currently at 94 Oak Street was in fact the one in which baby Gladys was born. (Because the Greenes were renters, they would have occupied only part of the house). It is in front of that still extant house that the plaque commemorating Jean Arthur was placed in April 2015. You can see the house and plaque here:

 

 

Hubert Sidney Greene (Jean Arthur’s father)

In my book I described Hubert Sidney Greene, born in 1863 in St. Albans, Vermont, as an itinerant cowboy, painter and photographer out West in his youth, and all of that remains true. However, it seems that he began his career as a commercial photographer earlier than I had realized. He first shows up as a house and sign painter in a Montana Regional Directory in 1884 (perhaps working for his future father-in-law, Hans P. Nelson, who ran a house and sign painting business in Billings at the time). In the Dakota Territory Census of 1885 he is listed as an artist living as a boarder in the city of Abercrombie. Then in the latter half of the 1880s he is back in Billings, operating a photography studio (which may have gone bust).

After his marriage to Hannah Nelson in Billings in January 1890, the newlyweds moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where Greene got a job with another photography outfit, the Logan Studio, which he bought in 1893. That business failed, too, and in 1894 its assets were sold at public auction. Hubert, Hannah and their two young sons (Don and Bob) then moved back to Billings, where a third son, Albert, was born. Hubert continued his employment as a photographer; here is a self-portrait from his studio in Billings, from the website for the Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota University (http://library.ndsu.edu/exhibits/photographers/biography/greene.html):

 

 

And here are some photos of him in later years: (1) around 1924 (from Ancestry.com); (2) at the home in Hollywood that Jean bought for him and Hannah; and (3) in Montana, with Georgianna Nelson (Hannah's mother), while living in a trailer Jean bought him so he could resume painting the American West of his youth that he so loved (latter two photos courtesy of Arthur and Miriam Goodall).

 

 

 

 

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The Plattsburgh Years

The Greenes left Billings to move back east around 1897, as by 1898 Hubert and family were living at 23 South Platt Street in Plattsburgh, on the edge of town. He was now employed as a photographer for the George T. Woodward studio at 17 Clinton Street in downtown Plattsburgh, a mile’s trolley ride from the residence on South Platt. On April 1, 1898, around 1 a.m., 27-year-old Hannah gave birth at home to twin boys who each died within six hours. A local small-town doctor, David Kellogg, recorded in his diary that Hubert Greene had come to Kellogg’s home earlier that night and suggested that the doctor might want to go to the Greene residence soon, as Hannah apparently was nearing labor. But Kellogg told the 34-year-old Greene to go back home and that if he needed him, he would go there quickly. Greene shortly returned to the doctor’s home and Kellogg arrived at the Greenes before 2 a.m., by which time the two boys (christened Sidney and Hubert) had already been born. Whether Kellogg remained present at their deaths is not recorded. 

By 1900 the Greenes were in their apartment at 94 Oak Street, less than a ten-minute’s walk to the Woodard Studio for Hubert. They moved again a couple of years later, being listed in the 1902-1903 City Directory at 71 Bridge Street (an address that no longer exists and is now the site of an Amtrak station parking lot).  The Bridge Street residence was somewhat larger than the apartment on Oak Street and less than a five-minute walk across the Saranac River to Woodward’s.

The Greenes do not appear in the 1904-1905 Plattsburgh City Directory, and in my book I wrote that they next show up in 1908 in Portland, Maine, where Gladys attended school and her father again found work as a photographer for the Lamson Studio at 655 Congress Street (shown here in 1906, photo courtesy of David Palmieri).



The gap years between 1904 and 1908 were, and to some extent remain, a mystery, but in preparing for “Jean Arthur Day” I  found a 1905 New York State census listing for the Greenes at 12 Pine Street in the village of Saranac Lake, New York (town of North Essex), an idyllic location about 50 miles southwest of Plattsburgh. Hubert is again listed as a photographer. Dave Palmieri, who has done extensive research on the Greene family, calls this a “real find” that adds a fourth place to those where Gladys resided during her grade school years. Perhaps Hubert was working on assignment for Woodward in Saranac Lake, a picturesque location and haven for tuberculosis patients from New York City who were treated at the sanitarium there. I have not been able to determine how long the Greenes stayed in Saranac Lake; that question, as well as any further whereabouts for the family between 1905 and 1908, remains for future researchers.

The Greenes had their main residence in Portland from 1908-1912, living at 1 Marie Terrace the first two years and 292 Congress Street the last two years. As noted in my book, as early as 1909 Hubert Greene was in Jacksonville, Florida, where he took seasonal work with George Woodward, who was in the process of moving his photography operations there to be near his wife’s family (Woodward finally sold his Plattsburgh shop in 1912 and relocated permanently to Jacksonville). Gladys was in Jacksonville at least around 1913-1914, and may have been there in 1909 with her parents, or may have stayed up north with relatives. In the 1914-15 school year (eighth grade for her) she lived with a cousin in Schenectady, New York, where her paternal grandparents also lived. She may also have lived in Schenectady for a time with relatives earlier in her childhood.

Hubert and Hannah continued to be listed in Jacksonville directories through 1917, although by then Gladys was living in New York City with her parents, and she and her mother, at least, continued to spend time in Portland. Jacksonville seems to have remained a seasonal residence. Everything I know confirms that her family indeed led a nomadic existence, both because her father's work took him here and there, and his marriage to Hannah was an off-and-on proposition that led him to walk out on them from time to time. I believe there were intervals where Gladys was living alone with her mother, and perhaps one or two brothers, separate from Hubert, but it's hard to be more precise about the actual timeline. As I wrote in the book, in her divorce petition many years later, Hannah alleged that Hubert had deserted her on June 1, 1909 in Jacksonville and that he remained "separate and apart" from her from that day forward, although in light of other evidence that seems an exaggeration. (For one thing, the 1910 federal census lists the entire family living together in Portland at 292 Congress).

Here are a couple photos of Gladys from her grade school years. In the first, she is pictured (third girl from left) at a birthday party in Schenectady in June 1915 (courtesy of George Osan): 

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In the following photos she is in Jacksonville around 1913 (courtesy of Arthur and Miriam Goodall and Vivian Linster, respectively):

 

 

And here is her sixth grade attendance record from the Portland schools:

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Don Hubert Greene

My book revealed little about Don Greene, Jean Arthur’s oldest brother, beyond a couple key bookended and documented facts: he was born January 15, 1890—six months before his parents’ marriage (a fact his mother obscured to hide his illegitimacy), and he committed suicide in 1967 in Carmel. In between I described him as a drifter, much like his father, who seemed to live off his sister’s largesse. 

I can now provide a fuller picture of Don Greene, although it’s not very flattering. After publication of my book I received a letter from a Lorna Doxey, his granddaughter, with whom I had no prior contact. Don’s children were Hubert Don Greene and Gladys Alice Greene (Lorna's mother), who obviously were named for Don’s father and sister.

Ms. Doxey recounted that her only meeting with her great-aunt, Jean Arthur, came in 1965, shortly after the unexpected passing of Lorna’s mother (Don’s daughter).  In January 1965 Jean wrote to Lorna’s father and requested that he and Lorna fly to Carmel from their home in Los Angeles to inform her grandfather Don of his daughter’s death. At that time Don was in ill health and was living with Jean at her Carmel home at her expense. Jean was not in Carmel at the time, but paid the air fare, lodging and car rental for her visiting relatives. 

At her meeting with her grandfather, Lorna found him to be “cold, critical and distant.” She was eleven at the time. After she called him “grandpa” he told her, “Don’t you ever call me that. You call me Don Greene.” Don had married an Amena Bretschnider in Portland, Maine in 1911 but the marriage didn’t last; they lived for a time in Exeter, New Hampshire, but according to Lorna, Don soon deserted (a fact supported by Don’s 1917 draft registration card in which he lists himself as “single” and working as a carpenter in Glendive, Montana). Following the pattern of his father, Don may have returned to his wife from time to time, as the formal divorce was not issued until 1930 in New Hampshire. Shortly thereafter he moved to Los Angeles, where Jean and her parents were then living, and in 1935 he was listed as running a restaurant at 1706 1/2 Vermont Avenue (which eventually failed) with a “Margaret” Greene. Their residence was on Sunset Boulevard. No record of any marriage to (or further trace of) Margaret has been found, so she may have been a live-in companion.

Lorna Doxey said that Don Greene was a concert-level violinist or cellist. He was also, apparently, an alcoholic (as was his father and, to a certain extent, Jean Arthur). His final years must have been difficult, as his death certificate records that he was “despondent” and slit his wrists. Undoubtedly it was trying for Jean as well; according to Lorna, Jean wrote to Lorna's mother Gladys (Don's daughter) in 1963 to ask for money to help defray the expenses of caring for him, but Gladys thought that was bizarre and tore up the letter.

I have not been able to find any pictures of Don Greene. In his draft registration card he described himself as short and slender, which would match the physical characteristics of his father, Hubert.

Lorna Doxey did get to meet her great-aunt Jean Arthur, by then a major star, in Los Angeles in February 1965 while she was filming an episode of “Gunsmoke.” Lorna described Jean as gracious and generous, if peculiar and idiosyncratic. It was the only time they met.

Robert Greene

Robert Brazier (“Bob”) Greene, Jean’s second-oldest brother, was born in Abercrombie, North Dakota on March 25 of either 1892, 1893, or 1894 (the sources are in conflict, although the former two dates appear most likely). He died on November 20, 1955 in Los Angeles of a heart attack in his early 60s. Here are some pictures of him at various ages (the first one is with his Aunt Pearl, who is discussed at some length in the book; the photo is inscribed “To my wonderful Bob” and dated 1913 in Jacksonville, Florida). The other photos of him were taken at Jean’s “Driftwood” home in Carmel. These are courtesy of Arthur and Miriam Goodall:

Not much is known about him. It does not appear that he ever married. He worked as an awning maker, a clerk and traveling salesman while living in Portland betwen 1910 and 1912. He listed himself as an iron worker in Bristol, Massachusetts in his 1917 draft registration card. He also lived for some time in Los Angeles, where his sister may have gotten him a job as a Hollywood studio hand. 

Albert Sidney Greene

Jean Arthur’s youngest brother, Albert, was born in Billings, Montana the day after Christmas in 1894 (some sources suggest 1896, although I believe 1894 to be correct). He is pictured here (first, with his brother Bob, in Jacksonville in 1913, courtesy of Arthur and Miriam Goodall), and next, in his World War I uniform (from Ancestry.com), followed by two additional photos from Ancestry.com.

 

Albert followed his father into the photography business, although it is not clear whether they ever worked together. His World War I draft registration card, dated June 5, 1917 lists him as being employed as a photographer for Simmons & Hammond (seemingly run by a Sumner Chase Davis Jr.) at 633 Congress Street in Portland, Maine. (Hubert Greene had worked at the Lamson Studio in Portland, just a few doors away at 655 Congress). In what is probably not a coincidence, less than two weeks after he registered for the draft, Albert married Gladys Mildred Gregory, a carpenter’s daughter from Portland, although they had filed a document called an “intention” to marry more than a year earlier. The marriage record lists Albert as a drug clerk and his parents Hubert and Hannah living in Jacksonville at the time. Albert and his wife had two children: Albert Sidney Greene Jr. (1920-1966), born in Portland, and Don W. Greene (1922-1968), born in New York and pictured here on Ancestry.com:

 

I have not attempted to track down any living descendants of Albert’s two sons, who would have been nephews of Jean Arthur. It seems likely there may be some. This is another avenue for future scholars to pursue.

The details of Albert Greene’s military service and death are still a little murky. As I wrote in my book (at p. 307), Hannah claimed that he was killed in World War I, which is untrue because he showed up in later city directories in Portland and New York City (not to mention fathering sons born in 1920 and 1922). A family genealogy entry in Ancestry.com states that “the mustard gas poisoning he experienced in Europe led to his early death in 1926 at age 32,” but I could find no documentation for this. Possibly exposure to the chemical weapon caused bronchial problems that became worse with time, or maybe it is a family legend.

Jean Arthur’s Young Adult Years (and life in New York)

As I pointed out in my book, Jean Arthur always publicly maintained (falsely) that she was born and grew up in Manhattan. I suspect this was either because she was ashamed of her relatively dull and ordinary small town roots, or else she thought a New York City background would sound more glamorous and sophisticated to Hollywood studio people. But it’s true that she did move with her family to the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan, and as I originally wrote, by the summer of 1915 they were living at 573 West 159th Street. Hubert took a job with photographer Ira L. Hill at 433 Fifth Avenue (off West 37th Street). Hill was the city's foremost fashion photographer, specializing in beautiful women and theater actresses. 

Jean (Gladys) reportedly entered high school in the fall of 1915 and dropped out in her junior year due to a change in family circumstances, but I was never able to find any school records for her high school attendance. It appears that she was spending time in both New York and Portland during her high school years, as evidenced by the diary of a Portland man to whom she became “engaged” in the summer of 1917 as he was preparing to go off to war. I was contacted a few years ago by a Sandra Morse, whose father, Donald Morse, met Gladys that summer in Portland before he went off to army training camp in Massachusetts. The two of them kept up a steady correspondence in August and September, as did Gladys’s mother, Hannah, with the young man (an indication of the seriousness of the relationship). His diary entry for August 1, 1917, reads in part: “No letter from G [Gladys] yet. I am thinking about her all the time. Dear little girl. She has promised to marry me.” On August 8 he recorded having “cried for G. and her love” the previous night. And this from August 17: “Got a letter from G. in morn and wrote to her in afternoon. Tried to scold her a little but I guess I failed. I don’t want to lose here for I love her awfully. I love little Gladys.” Two days later he recorded that “I may get my pass for New York town and Gladys,” and on August 27 his diary reads, “I want to go to New York and see my little girl.”

Sometime thereafter Don Morse shipped off to France and served in several major battles. There is no indication that the relationship lasted beyond that summer. He ended up marrying a Brooklyn girl in 1924 who, according to his daughter, knew about the prior relationship and would never go to see Jean Arthur’s movies.

As noted above, all three of Jean Arthur’s brothers registered for the draft; the dates are the same for each (June 5, 1917, the first registration held, for men ages 21-31). In the following September, in the registration held for men ages 18-45 (just two months before the war ended), Hubert Greene also registered for the draft. Although he was 55 at the time, he misrepresented his age as 45 on his draft card—perhaps a reflection of his restless, adventuresome spirit that I describe in the book. At the time he was living at the West 159th Street address with Hannah, and presumably Gladys, and he listed himself as a photographer for “C. Smith Gardner” with a studio in the Waldorf Astoria hotel, then at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street. Gardner often photographed Ziegfeld Follies showgirls. So is he the photographer whose work led to the “discovery” of Gladys by a talent scout and paved her way to Hollywood? Possibly (or possibly Ira Hill), but I think more likely it was Alfred Cheney Johnston, another Ziegfeld Follies photographer whose subjects included actors and actresses from the stage and film world. He acknowledged having photographed Gladys Greene. Here is a Johnston portrait of model Gladys Greene, from around 1920 (courtesy of Eva Scherzer):

 

Another photo from around the same time shows her dancing, supposedly at an Arthur Murray studio (courtesy of Eva Scherzer):

 

 

Early Hollywood Years

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AboveJean Arthur in Hollywood, August 1924 (courtesy of Myrl Wyman). Below: sketch by an unknown artist from same time period (courtesy of Eva Scherzer).

 

Early Films

In my book I included a filmography of 89 films in which Jean Arthur’s appearance is well documented. From time to time since I’ve come across other lists, on sites such as IMDb and Wikipedia, that purport to include additional early silent films in which Jean Arthur appeared as an uncredited extra. Among the more common additions are Wine of Youth (MGM, 1924, as an uncredited “auto reveler”); The Iron Horse (Fox, 1925, uncredited reporter); Winners of the Wilderness (MGM, 1927, unspecified bit part); and Easy Come, Easy Go (Paramount, 1928, also unspecified bit part). I am skeptical of these claims, which are unverified and may be based on nothing more than someone thinking they spotted Jean Arthur in the film (actresses from the silent era often looked strikingly similar, with their short, dark, bobbed hair of the type worn by Jean before she turned blonde). I am particularly dubious of the claims for Wine of Youth and Winners of the Wilderness, as Jean almost never worked for MGM. The Iron Horse is more plausible in theory, since it was directed by John Ford, who also directed Fox’s 1923 Cameo Kirby in which Jean appeared. However, I personally watched the film and could find no sign of her. If she was in it, it was a “blink and you miss her” type role. Easy Come, Easy Go is perhaps the most plausible possibility among these, since Paramount was Jean Arthur’s home studio at the time and it starred Richard Dix, who also starred with Jean in Paramount’s Warming Up that same year (1928). But the film is lost and there is nothing to document that she was in it.  I’m more than willing to add any of these or other films to the Jean Arthur canon if someone has proof, but in the meantime I am sticking with my list of 89.

Julian Ancker, Mystery Man

In my book I included the few commonly reported facts about Julian Ancker, Jean Arthur’s first husband, whom she married in 1928 before having the marriage annulled (per legend, the very next day). He was Jewish, a photographer, reminded her of Abe Lincoln physically, and died of sunstroke shortly after the annulment. The reasons for the annulment are murky. Some said it was because she discovered that her studio contract forbade marriage and he sued for annulment when she failed to consummate the marriage. Jean maintained that she simply realized immediately that she had made a mistake.  Also, according to her, both sets of parents had opposed the union.

I still haven’t found any written record of the marriage or divorce. But Ancestry.com adds some details to Ancker’s life. He was born in California in 1899 (or possibly 1902) to parents born in Germany. He was tall and slender, with dark hair, consistent with Jean’s description. He ran a theater in Arizona in the early 1920s, and died in 1932 in Los Angeles around age 30 (cause not specified). In the 1930 federal census he is listed as divorced, confirming that there had in fact been a marriage.

Perhaps the most interesting new find about Ancker is this studio photograph of Myrna Loy, credited to him, from the Flickriver website:

 

 

The photo is from about 1925 or so, which indicates that Ancker was a studio photographer at the time. That is likely how he met Jean Arthur.

Other photos

Here are some other studio publicity stills of Jean Arthur from the late 1920s and early 1930s:

 

Jean’s Mother

I have a fair number of photos of Hannah (Nelson) Greene, only a couple of which I was able to include in the book. Here are a few others (all courtesy of Arthur and Miriam Goodall):

 

Jean Arthur’s Tenure at Vassar

I spent a fair amount of time in the book talking about Jean Arthur’s teaching stint at Vassar from 1969-72, including interviews of faculty and students who knew her. Here’s an article from the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2014 that sheds some additional light on that experience:

http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/life/2014/12/31/jean-arthur-vassar-college/21050123/

 In Memoriam

Many if not most of Jean Arthur’s contemporaries I interviewed for the book have since passed on, including Ellen Mastroianni, Jean’s long-time companion, and Jean’s close friends Barbara Baxley and Roddy McDowall. But Pete Ballard is still going strong at 85 with his costume and fashion doll work. I’ll close this addendum with a silhouette drawing he made of his friend Jean Arthur in 1978:

 

 

 

 

 

[1]           See also David Palmieri, “The Jean Arthur Plattsburgh Never Knew,” Lake Champlain Weekly, Dec. 30, 2009-Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue23.