Gloria Jean

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Gloria Jean
Born Gloria Jean Schoonover
(1926-04-14) April 14, 1926 (age 91)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1939–1962
Spouse(s) Franco Cellini (m. 1962–66)(divorced)
Awards Young Artist Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award

Gloria Jean (born April 14, 1926) is an American actress and singer who starred or co-starred in 26 feature films between 1939 and 1959, as well as making numerous radio, television, stage, and nightclub appearances.

Early years[edit]

The daughter of Ferman and Eleanor Schoonover,[1] Gloria Jean was born Gloria Jean Schoonover in Buffalo, New York. Her ancestry is Pennsylvania Dutch.[2] Her family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, She had three sisters, Sally, Lois, and Bonnie. The family was involved in her career, with Lois serving as stand-in for the actress and their father managing her career.[3] Gloria Jean was 3 years old when she first sang on radio.[1]


After moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania, Gloria Jean sang on radio with Paul Whiteman's band. When she was 12, "she was engaged by a smallish New York opera company and became the youngest member of an opera troupe in the United States."[2]


Gloria Jean was being trained as a coloratura soprano, when her voice teacher, Leah Russel, took her to an audition held by Universal Pictures movie producer Joe Pasternak in 1938. Pasternak had guided Deanna Durbin to stardom, and with Durbin now advancing to ingénue roles, Pasternak wanted a younger singer to make the same kind of musicals. Up against hundreds of others, Gloria Jean won the audition.[4]

Under contract to Universal, she was given the leading role in the feature The Under-Pup (1939),[3] and became instantly popular with moviegoers. Universal's publicity department initially claimed the singer was 11 years old instead of 13; her actual age was not well known for many decades. For her next two vehicles, she co-starred with Bing Crosby in If I Had My Way (1940) and starred in the well-received A Little Bit of Heaven (also 1940), which reunited her with many from the Under-Pup cast. Her best-known picture is her fourth, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), in which she co-starred with W. C. Fields.

Universal recognized the need for musical entertainment during wartime, and Gloria Jean became one of Universal's most prolific performers; during the war years she made 14 feature films. Most were "hepcat" musicals, which were geared to the teenage market of the day, and Universal often used them to introduce new young talent, including Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan, Mel Tormé, and Marshall Thompson.

Gloria Jean made a successful transition to young adult roles. 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 (1943). Her performance won raves at the film's advance preview, and her segment was the best-received of the four. However, Universal removed the half-hour sequence and shelved it until 1944, when it was expanded into a feature-length melodrama, Destiny. She co-starred with Olsen and Johnson in the big-budget Ghost Catchers (1944), and in her last two Universal features, released in 1945, she was teamed with singer-actor Kirby Grant.[4]

When Gloria Jean's Universal contract expired at the end of 1944, she was persuaded by her agent to not renew it, citing the need for "a transition period to make the change from child to adult roles."[5] Instead, she made personal appearances across America. The successful tour prompted a new tour of Europe. In England, her rendition of "The Lord's Prayer" (and the lyric "forgive us our debts") was taken by some critics as a pointed comment about America's lend-lease policy.[citation needed] Thus the European tour ended abruptly and Gloria Jean returned to Hollywood.

She resumed her movie career as a freelance performer appearing in United Artists, Columbia Pictures, and Allied Artists productions, the best-known being Copacabana (1947) with Groucho Marx. Some stage and television work followed in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as four feature films. Wonder Valley (1953), produced on location in Arkansas, was Gloria Jean's first color movie and is now a lost film.[4] Her next feature was Air Strike (1955), a minor military drama.

After Air Strike Gloria Jean was hired by the owner of the Tahitian restaurant in Studio City, California, as a hostess,[6] greeting and seating dinner guests. She enjoyed the experience and occasionally ran the restaurant in her employer's absence. Show-business patrons were surprised that a film star was now involved in restaurant work, resulting in sympathetic feature stories in the national press. Veteran Hollywood producer Edward Finney, himself a Gloria Jean fan, saw one of these reports and hired her to star in the lightweight comedy Laffing Time (filmed in 1959, re-released as The Madcaps in 1964). Jerry Lewis also read that Gloria Jean was working in a restaurant, and signed her for a singing role in his latest production, The Ladies Man (1961).[7] Lewis removed almost all of her footage from the finished film; she appears only as an extra and has no dialogue. It was her last theatrical motion picture.


Gloria appeared in many television shows, both as a singer and as a dramatic actress. She sang on The Colgate Variety Hour, You Asked for It, and Showtime (a syndicated collection of musical performances filmed as Snader Telescriptions in 1951). Her dramatic credits included Death Valley Days, Annie Oakley, Lockup, and The Dick Powell Show.

Personal life[edit]

Newspaper columnist Bob Thomas reported that Gloria was engaged to a pilot, but he was killed in the Korean War.[6] Gloria herself denies this, dismissing it as mistaken identity. She was engaged only once, to the man she ultimately married in 1962. The marriage was not successful; her husband was frequently absent, living apart from his wife and son. Gloria Jean obtained a divorce and began a second career with Redken Laboratories, a national cosmetics firm, where she worked until 1993.

Revived interest in her life and films[edit]

In December 1991, Gloria Jean was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award, recognizing her achievements within the film industry as a juvenile performer.[8] Gloria Jean has also participated in various nostalgia and autograph shows, meeting fans and displaying memorabilia.

Gloria Jean's films are beginning to receive new 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. (Latter-day documentaries about W. C. Fields include recent clips of Gloria Jean, reminiscing about working with him.) 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.

Recent years[edit]

After her retirement from Redken, Gloria Jean lived in California with her sister, Bonnie. After Bonnie died in 2007, she moved to Hawaii, where she now lives with her son and his family. Her authorized biography, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, was published in 2005. A tribute website,, followed, again with Gloria Jean's cooperation. Her Internet presence includes a new series of videos showing the actress as she appears today.


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 (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 Marge Huggins Lippert
1959 Laffing Time (reissued as The Madcaps) Sally Suffer Independent
1961 The Ladies' Man Girl in boarding house Paramount

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Lux Radio Theatre The Under-Pup[9]


  1. ^ a b Dickenson, Fred (January 26, 1941). "Jingle, Jingle, Little Star". New Mexico, Albuquerque. Albuquerque Journal. p. 16. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ a b "Gloria Jean Started Acting Career Early". North Carolina, Statesville. Statesville Daily Record. October 25, 1947. p. 16. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ a b Mann, May (March 16, 1941). "Child Star Growing Up -- She Wears First 'Formal'". Utah, Ogden. The Ogden Standard-Examiner. p. 15. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ a b c Scott MacGillivray and Jan MacGillivray, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, 2005
  5. ^ Vernon, Terry (February 26, 1962). "Tele-Vues". California, Long Beach. Independent. p. 32. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  6. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (September 29, 1960). "Former Child Star Seeks a Comeback". Oklahoma, Lawton. The Lawton Constitution. p. 31. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Comedian Signs Ex-Child Star". Texas, Lubbock. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. October 30, 1960. p. 68. Retrieved January 2, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "13th Annual Youth in Film Awards". Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  9. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 38 (3): 32–39. Summer 2012. 

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