They say deaths happen in threes, and though it may be just an old wives’ tale, in the past few days movie lovers lost three underappreciated actresses. They may not have been mega-stars, but each contributed in her own way to the world of classic movies. In their honor, here’s three capsule looks at a trio of talented ladies no longer with us:
Gloria Jean (1926-2018) was probably the best known of the three, a Universal starlet of the 1940’s. She was signed by the studio as the next Deanna Durbin, who’d moved on to more mature roles. Possessing a sweet soprano voice, Gloria made her film debut in THE UNDER-PUP (1939), and followed with two hits, A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN and IF I HAD MY WAY (both 1940), the latter co-starring with Bing Crosby. My favorite Gloria Jean part is where she plays a fictional version of herself opposite W.C. Fields in the surrealist comedy NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941) as “Uncle Bill’s” niece. Gloria’s segment in Julian Duvivier’s FLESH AND FANTASY (1943) was cut from the film, and turned into a movie of it’s own, the excellent film noir DESTINY. She spent most of the 40’s in a series of low-budget teenage musicals (WHAT’S COOKIN’?, GET HEP TO LOVE, PARDON MY RHYTHM), with Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan usually on board. Leaving Universal in 1945, she freelanced without much success. By the late 1950’s, Gloria Jean was out of show biz and working as a restaurant hostess, later for a cosmetics firm, but fans of 40’s musicals will always remember perky little Gloria Jean in her heyday as a star.
CAROLE SHELLEY (1939-2018) was known primarily for one role, but it was a doozy: Gwendolyn Pigeon, one of THE ODD COUPLE’s Pigeon Sisters. Alongside Monica Evans as sister Cecily, Carole played the part in the original Broadway production, the 1968 film version, and for the first season of the TV series. Carole was mainly known for her stage work, winning a Tony for 1979’s THE ELEPHANT MAN, and creating the role of Madame Morrible in the original production of WICKED, but she did some films (two entries in the CARRY ON comedies, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, QUIZ SHOW, and as Aunt Clara in the 2005 big screen remake of BEWITCHED), and some voice work for Disney (THE ARISTOCATS, ROBIN HOOD, HERCULES).
JACQUELINE PEARCE (1943-2018) is fondly remembered by horror/sci-fi fans for starring in 1966’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and the title role of THE REPTILE. Jacqueline was the villainous Servalan in the British sci-fi series BLAKE’S 7, and the terrifying Chessene in the 1985 DOCTOR WHO serial “The Two Doctors”. When she wasn’t scaring the daylights out of audiences, she portrayed Jerry Lewis’s wife in the 1968 farce DON’T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER.