|Birth Day:||April 14, 1926|
|Birth Place:||Buffalo, New York, United States|
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Gloria Jean was being trained as a coloratura soprano when her voice teacher, Leah Russel, took her to an audition held by Universal Pictures movie producer Joe Pasternak in 1938. Pasternak had guided Deanna Durbin to stardom, and with Durbin now advancing to ingénue roles, Pasternak wanted a younger singer to make the same kind of musicals. He held auditions for a film called The Under-Pup.
In December 1940 she was sued by William Lustig, a Pennsylvania bandleader who had appeared with her during her local radio years; Lustig claimed to be her former agent.
Universal tried to give Gloria Jean a smooth transition from adolescent roles to leading-lady status; she was outgrowing juvenile roles but was not yet mature enough for adult leads. In December 1942 she was tested for the female lead in Phantom of the Opera, but was considered too young. She was then considered as the singing ingenue in a concurrent Abbott and Costello comedy, It Ain't Hay (released 1943) but was considered too old.
In January 1944 Universal announced they wanted to launch Gloria Jean as a more adult star and were developing "three or four stories". Resuming her string of musicals, Gloria Jean co-starred with Olsen and Johnson in the big-budget Ghost Catchers (1944), which featured singer-actor Kirby Grant. The two vocalists worked so well together that Universal teamed them for two more features. She starred in Pardon My Rhythm (1944) opposite Mel Torme, Reckless Age (1944) and I'll Remember April (1945) with Kirby Grant. In May 1944 she turned eighteen.
Veteran Hollywood producer Edward Finney, himself a Gloria Jean fan, saw one of these reports and hired her to star in the lightweight comedy Laffing Time (filmed in 1959, re-released as The Madcaps in 1964). Jerry Lewis also read that Gloria Jean was working in a restaurant, and signed her for a singing role in his latest production, The Ladies Man (1961). Lewis removed almost all of her footage from the finished film; she appears only as an extra and has no dialogue. It was her last theatrical motion picture.
Her family lawyer had vanished with her earnings and she was heavily in debt to the US tax authorities. To make matters worse, no directors wanted the former child star. "It was a mistake for me to stay away from Hollywood that long," she admitted in 1960. "You can easily be forgotten."
In 1962 she married Franco Cellini, an actor, but he was often away. By 1966 they were divorced. "I seem to attract the drips and the drunks," she said. The union produced a son, Angelo.
In 1965 she signed on with an employment agency, which sent her to Redken Cosmetics, where she worked as a receptionist until 1993.
"I'm very happy," she said in 1986. "I feel I had a wonderful past and I have a contented, happy present."
In December 1991, Gloria Jean was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award, recognizing her achievements within the film industry as a juvenile performer. Gloria Jean also participated in various nostalgia and autograph shows, meeting fans and displaying memorabilia. She had always retained her fan following, and corresponded steadily with friends and admirers for the rest of her life.
Her authorized biography, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, was published in 2005. A tribute website, GloriaJeanSings.com, followed, also with Gloria Jean's cooperation. Her Internet presence includes a series of videos showing the actress as she appeared in recent years.
After her retirement from Redken, Gloria Jean lived in California with her sister, Bonnie. After Bonnie died in 2007 she moved to Hawaii to live with her son Angelo and his family. (Angelo died in 2017.) Very late in life she suffered health problems, including two serious falls that slowed her mobility, and a heart condition. She died of heart failure and pneumonia on August 31, 2018 in a hospital near her home in Mountain View, Hawaii. She is survived by her daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.
Currently, Gloria Jean is 96 years, 2 months and 13 days old. Gloria Jean will celebrate 97th birthday on a Friday 14th of April 2023.
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