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.
The daughter of Ferman and Eleanor Schoonover, Gloria Jean was born Gloria Jean Schoonover in Buffalo, New York. Her ancestry is Pennsylvania Dutch. 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. Gloria Jean was 3 years old when she first sang on radio.
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.
|Gloria with Bing Crosby|
Under contract to Universal, she was given the leading role in the feature The Under-Pup (1939), 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.
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." 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. Thus the European tour ended abruptly and Gloria Jean returned to Hollywood.
As the 1950's began, television was taking off in popularity. Gloria made several singing shorts that were aired during television's early days. Other than that and a few guest appearances on TV series, Gloria's acting career was virtually finished. She appeared in the forgettable "Air Strike" in 1955 and she worked in a couple of movies that were never released.
Jerry Lewis found her working as a restaurant hostess and gave her a part in his movie "The Ladies' Man", which was meant to re-launch her career. Unfortunately, her scenes were cut from the final release. Gloria married shortly after that movie, a short-lived marriage which happily produced a son. At that point, Gloria virtually retired from the screen. She went to work for Redken (a cosmetics firm) until her retirement in 1993.
Gloria was reintroduced to a limelight of sorts by the magic of Ebay, where her movies (many of which are in the public domain) were being sold. Through the help of her sister Bonnie (who handled the computer end of things: Gloria didn't do "Windows"), Gloria got onto Ebay herself, selling copies of the movies she appeared in, as well as signed photographs (copies of old publicity shots) of herself. Spurred by the popularity of these, Gloria published her autobiography "Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven" in 2005.
After her sister Bonnie's death in 2007, Gloria moved to Hawaii, where she now lives with her son and his family. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia)