- Gender: Female
- Birthday: 1926-04-14
- Day of Death: 2018-08-31 ( 92 years old )
- Place of Birth: Buffalo, New York, USA
- Also Known As: Gloria Jean Schoonover / Baby Skylark
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gloria Jean (born Gloria Jean Schoonover, April 14, 1926 – August 31, 2018) was an American actress and singer who starred or co-starred in 26 feature films from 1939 to 1959, and made numerous radio, television, stage, and nightclub appearances. She is probably best remembered today for her appearance with W.C. Fields in the film Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941).
Gloria Jean was three years old when she first sang on radio; in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she sang, under the name “Baby Skylark”, with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra on radio broadcasts. When she was 12, she was engaged by a New York opera company and became the youngest member of an opera troupe in the United States.
Gloria Jean was being trained as a coloratura soprano when her voice teacher 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. Up against hundreds of others, Gloria Jean won the audition.
Newly under contract to Universal, she was given the leading role in the 1939 feature. The film did well and Gloria Jean became instantly popular with moviegoers. She then co-starred with Bing Crosby in If I Had My Way (1940), then starred in the well-received A Little Bit of Heaven (1940).
Her fourth picture became her best known: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), in which she co-starred with W.C. Fields.
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. In May 1944 she turned eighteen.
After leaving Universal when her contract expired at the end of 1944, Gloria Jean made personal appearances across America; the successful tour prompted a tour of Europe.
She then resumed her movie career as a freelance performer appearing in United Artists, Columbia Pictures, and Allied Artists productions, the best-known being Copacabana (1947). Subsequently she began appearing on TV shows. Gloria Jean continued to appear in feature films, albeit low-budget ones.
Her last motion picture (in which she appears as an extra with no dialogue) was released in 1961. Her final television appearance was in 1962.
In that year she married Franco Cellini, an actor. By 1966 they were divorced. The union produced a son.
In 1965 Gloria Jean signed on with an employment agency, which sent her to a cosmetics company, where she worked as a receptionist until 1993.
In December 1991, she 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. She also participated in various nostalgia and autograph shows, meeting fans and displaying memorabilia. She had always retained her fan following.
During her final years she moved to Hawaii to live with her son and his family. Gloria Jean suffered health problems, including two serious falls and a heart condition. She died on August 31, 2018.
Her authorized biography, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, was published in 2005.