At the peak of the Golden Era of Hollywood, one of the film industry's most popular genres was the screwball comedy, making stars out of young actresses like Jean Harlow and helping pave the way for future ones like Marilyn Monroe. But at the height of the era of the screwball comedy, the actress most associated with them was Jean Arthur, whose ability to portray everyday women made her incredibly popular in the 1930s and 1940s. As one critic put it, "No one was more closely identified with the screwball comedy than Jean Arthur. So much was she part of it, so much was her star personality defined by it, that the screwball style itself seems almost unimaginable without her."
Her seemingly effortless abilities helped get her cast in some of legendary director Frank Capra's most famous films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra's films were some of the most critically acclaimed and popular of Depression-era America thanks to viewers being able to relate to the characters, and Arthur was integral in this, as film critic Charles Chaplin once explained, "To at least one teenager in a small town (though I'm sure we were a multitude), Jean Arthur suggested strongly that the ideal woman could be - ought to be - judged by her spirit as well as her beauty...The notion of the woman as a friend and confidante, as well as someone you courted and were nuts about, someone whose true beauty was internal rather than external, became a full-blown possibility as we watched Jean Arthur."
Arthur was an Oscar nominated actress and one of the richest women in the country in the mid-1940s, but she nevertheless retired after her contract with Columbia ended in 1944. While that seems like an odd decision, Arthur was notorious for wanting to avoid the spotlight and Hollywood's celebrity culture, which led to her being branded a recluse.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors