Jean Peters (1926-2000)

Jean Peters
Jean Peters

Jean Peters was an American actress who appeared in a number of quality movies such as 'Pickup on South Street' in 1953 and 'Three Coins in the Fountain' in 1954 but who is considerably more famous for being the ex-wife of reclusive and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. She made only a handful of films and just when her career was beginning to take off, she married Hughes and chose to live a quiet life, away from the Hollywood publicity machine. She never spoke of her marriage to Hughes


She was born Elizabeth Jean Peters on October 15, 1926, in East Canton, Ohio. She was brought up on a small farm run by her family and attended East Canton High School. When her father died when she was ten years old, her mother opened a tourist camp on the outskirts of town and there was enough money around to send Jean to college.

Her ambition was to become a teacher and to this end she studied literature first at the University of Michigan and then at Ohio State University. In 1945 a friend at Ohio entered Jean for the State Beauty Contest. Jean was a rare beauty and she won the contest and the first prize of a screen test with 20th Century-Fox. Her life was about to change forever.

Movie Actress

She made the journey to Hollywood with her mother and was signed up by Darryl F. Zanuck to a seven year contract without needing to take the test. Several new roles were considered for her and in 1947 she was selected as the female lead in 'Captain from Castile' , playing Tyrone Power's love interest. She received the full studio publicity treatment and the film was a hit. After just one film Jean was a movie star.

Hollywood Star

After the success of 'Captain from Castile' there was no shortage of movie offers for Jean. She appeared in unspectacular films like 'Deep Waters' in 1948 and 'It Happens Every Spring' the following year. The comedy 'Love that Brute' in 1950 was warmly received and in 'Anne of the Indies' in 1951 Jean gave her most dynamic performance to date playing the captain of a pirate ship.

After this, the quality of her films improved noticeably. In 1952 she played the wife of Marlon Brando’s Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in the Oscar winning 'Viva Zapata!'. 1953 was almost certainly the highspot of her movie acting career. In that year she had the second lead in 'Niagara' with Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe, and then she was awarded a plum role in Samuel Fuller’s film noir masterpiece 'Pickup on South Street' with Richard Widmark. She played a prostitute and was not happy with the role, preferring to portray more unglamorous. parts. Nevertheless, she knuckled down and the movie was a great success.

In July 1953, the studio renewed Jean's contract for another two years and later in the year she replaced her friend Jeanne Crain in the film 'Three Coins in the Fountain'.The film was shot on location in Italy and became a great commercial success. Jean was again in the limelight.

Next, in 1954 Jean was loaned to United Artists for the Western 'Apache', with Burt Lancaster Returning to Fox, in the same year she was cast in another Western, Edward Dmytryk’s 'Broken Lance'.

Jean’s next film, A Man Called Peter' in 1955, was her last. Although it generated some of her best reviews yet, she was put on suspension again for refusing roles. Jean made the decision to finish with movies when long-time suitor Howard Hughes finally agreed to marriage.


Jean was married three times, firstly in 1954 to Texas oilman Stuart Cramer. At the time of their marriage they had known each other only a few weeks and they separated after only a few months.
during which there were credible rumours of a fling with co-star Robert Wagner.

Howard Hughes Her second husband was the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. The marriage lasted from 1957 to 1971 and was anything but conventional.. After the marriage Jean basically retired from acting and Hollywood social events. Hughes reportedly had his security officers follow her everywhere even when they were not in a relationship. Jean remained involved in activities such as charitable work, arts and crafts, and studying psychology and anthropology at UCLA. In 1971, when she and Hughes divorced, she agreed to a lifetime alimony payment of $70,000, and she waived all claims to Hughes's estate, then worth several billion dollars. For the rest of her life, and to her immense credit, she refused to speak about the marriage, claiming she preferred to focus on the present and future.

Later in 1971, Peters married Stan Hough, an executive with 20th Century Fox. They were married until Hough's death in 1990. On set, Jean was universally liked. She had the reputation of being a hard worker and was always punctual. She was not a typical self-absorbed Hollywood star. She liked dressing in jeans and wore little or no makeup. She avoided the Hollywood party scene and enjoyed making her own clothes.

Return to Acting

In 1973, Jean chose to return to acting in the television movie 'Winesburg, Ohio' and in 1976 she had a supporting role in the TV miniseries 'The Moneychangers'. After appearing in the 1981 television film 'Peter and Paul', she guest-starred in 'Murder, She Wrote' in 1988, which was her final acting performance.

Jean Peters died of leukemia on October 13, 2000, in Carlsbad, California, two days before her 74th birthday. She was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Jean Peters Academy Awards

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Jean Peters Filmography

Captain from Castile
Deep Waters
It Happens Every Spring