The beautiful Jean Arthur was smart, funny, and being hard pressed for a job, lied about her age to get one. Facing an extremely talented Hollywood in the 1930’s Jean could not offer dancing or singing as a forte.
Yet, Jean Arthur made 89 films, 17 appearences on stage and a strong impression on everyone she met. Frank Capra adored Jean, she was one of his favorite actresses, and truthfully didn’t mind that she did have a habit of vomiting before and after every critical scene. She would appear in three of his biggest films; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can’t Take It With You. Jean Arthur, like many other leading ladies of the day, including Ginger Rogers, turned down the role of Mary Bailey in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life most notably because James Stewart was in the lead male role. When asked of her dislike for Stewart, she only mentioned that she liked Gary Cooper better, and that if he was in the lead then she would consider it. Gary and Jean had worked together in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and she found in him the intelligence and reflection that she herself tried to uphold in the midst of Hollywood glitz and glamour.
Plagued by perfectionism and the intrinsic spirit of Old Hollywood-Anxiety, Jean would often succumb to pettiness, and conceit. She despised the idiotic and yet began in Hollywood with the slapstick comedies and horse operas. Early on in her career many of her films were lighthearted. A favorite is Preston Sturges’ Easy Living where Jean plays opposite Ray Milland and Edward Arnold. The cast meshes beautifully, and with classic Preston Sturges writing it is one of her better early roles.