Jean Peters (1926-2000)

Jean Peters
Jean Peters

Jean Peters was one of Hollywood's top actresses in the late 1940's and early 1950's but she is best remembered today for being the wife of the eccentric oil and movie magnate, Howard Hughes. She was an early feminist, resisting being typecast as a Hollywood glamour girl. She felt that the sex symbol route was degrading to women and preferred to play more ordinary, down-to-earth female roles.


She was born Elizabeth Jean Peters on October 15, 1926, in East Canton, Ohio, and raised on her parents' small farm. As well as farming her father also managed a laundry in East Canton. He died when Jean was ten and she was brought up by her mother.

Jean's first ambition was to become a teacher and as a young girl she was an excellent student. She graduated from East Canton High School and after a short spell at the University of Michigan, she began a Literature course at Ohio State University.

Her life changed dramatically in 1945 when a friend entered her in the Miss Ohio State pageant. Jean won the contest and was awarded the first prize of a screen test with 20th Century-Fox Studios. Like a fairy tale, she passed the screen test and was given a contract by the Studio. She dropped out of her University course and moved to Los Angeles.

Movie Actress

She made her movie debut in 1947 as Tyrone Power's co-star in the period adventure romance, 'Captain from Castile'. The big budget movie was only a moderate success but Jean herself received good reviews and in 1948 was voted by readers of Photoplay magazine as the newcomer most likely to succeed.

The future looked bright for the beautiful young actress but Jean proved to be an unusual Hollywood starlet in that she did not like playing conventional sex symbol roles and she was not afraid of letting her feelings known to the Hollywood studios.

She made several low budget movies such as 'Love That Brute' and 'As Young as You Feel' in 1950, and 'Take Care of My Little Girl' in 1951 and gave an outstanding performance as a female pirate captain in 'Anne of the Indies' also in 1951 but she continued to upset the Fox heads with her feminist attitude and she was finally put on suspension.

In 1952 her career restarted when director Elia Kazan, requested her for his historical biopic 'Viva Zapata!', starring opposite the mercurial Marlon Brando. Her performance as Brando's love interest brought her back in favor with Fox and she appeared in 1952's 'Lure of the Wilderness'.

Hollywood Star

Jean became extremely well known as a result of movies she made in 1953. In 'Niagara' she co-starred with Joseph Cotten and a rising Fox actress called Marilyn Monroe and she then appeared in three films noirs, the last of which gave her one of her best ever roles, that of Candy in Sam Fuller's brilliant 'Pickup on South Street'.

Jean continued to clash with Fox studio bosses over the roles she was offered. After playing the Indian wife of Burt Lancaster in 'Apache' in 1954 she was not happy with the love interest parts she was subsequently given in 'Broken Lance' and 'Three Coins in the Fountain' later the same year. Ironically 'Three Coins in the Fountain' became a major success, but Jean was beginning to lose patience with Fox's attitude. After one more movie, 'A Man Called Peter' in 1955, which was again a box office success, Jean retired from moviemaking.

Life After Hollywood

Much of Jean's life from that time on was dominated by her relationship with the eccentric businessman, Howard Hughes, who became her second husband.

Howard Hughes

Hughes was a billionaire oil magnate with a liking for movies and movie actresses.

Jean and Hughes first met at a party in 1946 just after Jean had first arrived in Hollywood. It is believed they dated for a short while and a besotted Hughes proposed to Jean, who wisely declined, saying she was too young. It would be 11 years before they married, during which time Hughes openly dated other actresses and Jean married her first husband, Texas millionaire oilman Stuart Cramer III.

The marriage with Cramer did not work out and he and Jean separated after a few weeks and divorced eighteen months later, with Jean citing mental cruelty as the cause.

Jean finally married Howard Hughes in May, 1957, in a secret ceremony in Tonopah, Nevada. She was 30 and her husband was 51. At his insistence, Jean abandoned her movie career and, until the marriage ended in 1971, she was hardly ever seen in public. All interview requests were declined and persistent interviewers were offered bribes to desist.

Jean's married life with Hughes was unconventional to say the least. As he aged, Hughes became more and more eccentric. He employed Mormon staff, as Mormons were non-drinkers and instructed them to follow Jean wherever she went. He became obsessed with germ contamination and he issued complex instructions to his staff and to Jean about how to wrap all cutlery in tissue paper and how to open tin cans, and for years he stored his urine in glass jars.

For the rest of her life Jean refused to comment on her time with Hughes. It is believed that she led an active life, occasionally meeting up with her husband, but more often following her own interests.

She lived mainly in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, frequently attending football and basketball games in Los Angeles with a female friend and always accompanied by a Hughes security man. She occupied herself also with charity works and used her acting skills doing readings for the Braille Institute in a recording studio.. She attended UCLA, studying sociology and using the name Elizabeth Peters.

Her marriage to Hughes officially ended in 1971 and she received a settlement of $70,000 a year for life. Hughes would eventually die in 1977.

Third Marriage

Two months after her divorce from Hughes became final, Jean married Stanley Hough, a 20th Century-Fox production head whom she had first met on the set of 'Captain from Castile' in 1946. They remained married until his death in 1990.

Return to Acting

Almost twenty years after leaving the profession, Jean returned to acting in 1973 with a role in the television movie 'Winesburg, Ohio'. She followed this in 1976 in the television series,'The Moneychangers' and in 1981 in the television biblical drama 'Peter and Paul' which was produced by her husband, Stanley Hough. Her last screen appearance was in 1988 in the hit series starring Angela Lansbury, 'Murder She Wrote'.

Jean Peters died in Carlsbad, California on October 13, 2000 of leukemia. She was aged 73 years.

Jean Peters Academy Awards

No Nominations:

Jean Peters Filmography

Captain from Castile
Deep Waters
It Happens Every Spring
Love That Brute
As Young as You Feel
Take Care of My Little Girl
Anne of the Indies
Viva Zapata!
Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie
Lure of the Wilderness
O. Henry's Full House
Pickup on South Street
A Blueprint for Murder
Three Coins in the Fountain
Broken Lance
A Man Called Peter