charlie-oscar2A weekly feature in which my four-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier.

jeanmuir3Not too concerned with the Golden Globes that were happening about six miles away, Charlie reached back into obscurity yesterday on the Walk of Fame and chose beautiful Jean Muir. Like many talented people throughout movie history, Muir’s relative obscurity today was not pre-ordained. During her early years on the scene, she was frequently being touted as the Next Big Thing in Hollywood. And like many, it could have happened several times but she never quite caught the movie Brass Ring. Not that she seemed to mind. From the moment she arrived in Hollywood, Jean Muir was something of an iconoclast. She questioned everything about the Hollywood system and would later fall victim to one of its ugliest periods.

Born in Suffern, New York, on February 13, 1911, Jean Muir first appeared on Broadway in late 1930 in a play called The Truth Game with actress Billie Burke. Three more Broadway appearances followed before she got the attention of Warner Bros. who beckoned her to head west with the promise of hitting it big in the movies. She immediately started making well-reviewed appearances in films opposite people like Joe E. Brown, Warren William, Paul Muni and Franchot Tone.


In 1935, Jean Muir landed the plum role of Helena in Warner Bros.’ all-star verion of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that featured Olivia de Havilland as Hermia, Dick Powell as Lysander, James Cagney as Bottom and 15-year-old Mickey Rooney as Puck.

jeanmuir2Muir was admired by critics and audiences alike but she may have been too smart and inquisitive for her own good. On the Warners lot she was nicknamed the “studio pest” because she was always full of questions for everyone she worked with, from the camera men to the publicity people. She probably would have made a great producer or director but those options were generally out of reach in the 1930s for beautiful blondes! The outspoken actress always told the truth in interviews, to the exasperation of the studio. “I made this momentous decision,” she told a reporter in 1935, “about six hours after I arrived in Hollywood. Before I was in the town six hours, I was tired of it — the romance gossip, the stress laid on sex-appeal and the number of Lotharios interested in a girl — with her acting ability never even entering in to the conversation.” Oh Jean, not much has changed in the past 80 years!

Muir continually balked at how women were treated in the movie industry. “I heard that at a party not very long ago,” she told another reporter, “four or five of the men-about-town had their heads together and were in engaged in discussing very earnestly whether I really was — well, really was ‘a good girl’ or not. They had quite an argument. The ‘No’s’ had it, so I hear. I was amused. It doesn’t much matter to me what is said about me as long as I know the truth.” You can imagine that such an independent attitude in Hollywood didn’t make her that many friends in high places.

Jean Muir continued working in Hollywood through the 1930s in films such as The Outcasts of Poker Flat with Van Heflin and Virginia Weidler and And One Was Beautiful with Robert Cummings and Laraine Day. She was up for the part of Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind but lost it to her friend and former colleague Olivia de Havilland. After making The Constant Nymph in 1943 with Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine, Muir decided that she’d had it with Hollywood and returned to the New York stage.

redchannelsMuir had strong feelings on most subjects including marriage. “People working to establish a movie career,” she said, “are too much occupied with their own problems to give the right thought and attention to working together for a successful marriage. As for myself, I’m going to remain an old maid till I’m through with Hollywood.” She didn’t. Jean married New York City attorney Henry Jaffe in 1940. They had three children and stayed married until 1960. Jaffe later became a successful TV producer. Jean had started working in television herself and in 1950 was cast as the mother in the series The Aldrich Family. But her inclusion as a Communist sympathizer in the notorious “Red Channels” pamphlet that year led to her being fired from the show. She the first person to feel the sting of the Hollywood Blacklist even while she vehemently denied that she ever had anything to do with the Communist Party. After suffering from alcoholism during the 1950s, Muir re-emerged in the early 1960s doing more theater work and later became a respected drama teacher. Jean Muir died at the age of 85 on July 23, 1996.