June 3, 2024 | J. Clarke

Unglamorous Facts About Jeanne Crain, Hollywood’s Most Unfortunate It Girl

A life of wealth, fame, and beauty would probably be a dream come true for most people. But in the case of Hollywood starlet Jeanne Crain, the glamor on the surface of her life looked nothing like her tragic reality behind closed doors.

1. She Got A Lucky Start

Jeanne Crain grew up in just the right place at just the right time. Born in California in 1925, Crain spent her earliest years adjacent to Hollywood. The city emerged as a center for the film industry about a decade before her birth, making her path to stardom possible. It did not, however, make her young life any easier.

Beverly Hills HotelLos Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library, Picryl

2. Her Foundation Crumbled

Crain’s parents divorced in 1934. Just around nine years old at the time, this upended her life completely as she, her mother, and sister moved to Los Angeles. Divorce tends to be especially difficult for children, but she seemed to take it all in stride. In fact, she realized at a young age that she had something she could use to her advantage…

American actor Jeanne CrainHulton Archive, Getty Images

3. She Used Her Assets

By her early teens, Crain began taking a special interest in any activity that gave her the chance to be the center of attention. She snagged the lead roles in school plays, and even began entering (and winning!) pageants. She boasted both notable talent and effortless beauty, which likely explains her first real chance at stardom. 

However, it didn't quite pan out as expected...

Jeanne Crain posingFilm Star Vintage, Flickr

4. She Stood Out 

It all started with a studio tour. Well, it sort of started with a studio tour. In the early 1940s, Crain experienced her first brush with fame while on a tour of RKO Studios. She must have looked something special that day, because when director Orson Welles set his eyes on her, he felt he just couldn’t let her get away. 

Orson WellesLME Press, Flickr


5. She (Almost) Got Her Chance

Welles made arrangements for her to screen test for the film The Magnificent Ambersons. It’s not hard to imagine a teenage Crain with stars in her eyes at the thought of this opportunity. But the stars didn’t sparkle for long. She didn’t get the part, and returned home to a life of more reasonable choices. For a little while, at least, 

The Magnificent AmbersonsWikimedia Commons, Picryl

6. She Couldn’t Be Normal

Once she finished up at Inglewood High School, Crain took the typical route forward and pursued higher education. She landed a spot at UCLA, and majored in drama. It turned out to be just the beginning of her real drama, though. She never did get that UCLA degree, but she got just about everything else she thought she wanted.

UCLA Royce HallThank You (24 Millions ) views, Flickr

7. She Started Small

In 1943, Crain finally managed to land herself a spot on screen. She appeared in her first film, The Gang’s All Here. She played a pretty small role as a chorus girl, but it seemed to give her the final push toward pursuing acting wholeheartedly. Even so, her first movie role didn't turn out to be the only major development in her life at that time.

The Gang's All Here 1943Jack Samuels, Flickr

8. She Fell Hard

That very same year, an 18-year-old Crain first met 25-year-old actor, Paul Brinkman. By many reports, the two seemingly fell in love at first sight, becoming totally enamored with each other. Perhaps they seemed like the perfect young Hollywood couple. At least one person, however, didn’t like the look of the two together at all. 

Jeanne Crain dancing with her husband Paul BrooksModern Screen, Picryl

9. She Didn’t Approve

Crain’s mother staunchly opposed the two dating. Reports on exactly why aren’t explicit, but I doubt most mothers would be stoked about their barely adult daughter dating a much older, more experienced man. Still, Crain continued her steamy relationship with Brinkman. And while things began heating up in her personal life, her career heated up as well.

Jeanne Crainoneredsf1, Flickr


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10. She Did Her Thing

The very next year, Crain landed a role in the film Home in Indiana. This time, she got plenty of screen time in a leading role. The film didn’t skyrocket to success, but it did just well enough to make her a strong competitor for lead roles. But even with the film’s success, she still lacked in several areas, which soon became glaringly apparent. 

JEANNE CrainIsabel Santos Pilot, Flickr


11. She Flopped

Her follow up film, In the Meantime, Darling showed all her flaws. Reviewers criticized her acting, and the film failed overall. She didn’t let the naysayers stop her, though. She continued to book leading roles, starring in films like The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and Winged Victory. And when she found a flaw she couldn’t overcome, she faked it until she made it. 

The Shocking Miss PilgrimLMPC, Getty Images

12. She Couldn't Sing

The buzz around Crain continued to build, and she became a go-to for leading roles at Fox Studios. But she still couldn’t quite do it all. More specifically, her singing left much to be desired. Instead of recasting her, though, studios hired a singer to dub her in singing roles. Meanwhile, things in her personal life weren’t so easy to fix. 

Jeanne CrainMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

13. She Wasn’t Ready

The relationship between Crain and Brinkman appeared swell—a little too swell, in fact. Reportedly, Brinkman wanted to marry her. She refused, however, allegedly not feeling quite ready to tie the knot. And, of course, the issue of her mother’s disapproval remained. The two broke up, then shocked everyone with their next move. 

Actress Jeanne Crain with Paul BrinkmanMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

14. They Ran Away

The break-up didn’t last very long. In 1945, after just two years of dating and breaking up, the two eloped. They returned to the Hollywood scene as husband and wife, Crain at 20 years old, and her new husband at 27. And while her relationship with her mother turned sour and stayed that way for several years, the marriage only further accelerated her rise to fame.

Actress Jeanne Crain with her husband Paul BrinkmanMichael Ochs Archives , Flickr

15. She Got Boujee

Crain became an audience favorite in film. Even more importantly, Fox Studios considered her one of their top talents, so much so that they refused to let her play smaller roles. And while she continued to play leading women on screen, she started to enjoy the perks of being a celebrity offscreen too. In other words, she hit the streets. Hard.

Hot Rods to HellJames Vaughan, Flickr

16. She Loved The Night Life

During the 1940s and 1950s, Crain earned the nickname “Hollywood’s Number One party girl”. She herself said she received a minimum of 200 party invites per year, and reportedly didn’t miss many of them. She basked in all the glamor her life afforded her. But depending on who you ask, she sometimes took things a bit too far.

Jeanne Crain with a new type of plastic raincoatArchive Photos, Getty Images


17. She Had Exotic Tastes

Now positively swimming in money, Crain and her new husband built a lavish home, and got to work making babies to fill it up. But, oddly enough, Crain craved to hear more than the pitter-patter of children’s feet. In fact, she apparently wanted to hear more of a prowl. In 1947, she got herself a pet lion named Shah. You can guess how that went.

image of baby lionSmithsonian's National Zoo, Flickr

18. The Neighbors Hated Her

The neighbors didn’t take too kindly to the full-sized beast living next door. I can’t blame them, either. Eventually, Crain gave in to her neighbors’ complaints and surrendered her “pet” to the local zoo. But perhaps she faced that bit of adversity just in time to get some experience with hate. You see, a much more serious scandal loomed on the horizon.

Jeanne CrainArchive Photos, Getty images

19. She Wouldn’t Say No

Crain seemingly could do no wrong, even when her films didn’t perform well at the box office. As the 1940s drew to a close, she starred in several more films with varying success. But one movie in particular raised some eyebrows. And if she played the role in today’s climate, audiences probably wouldn’t hesitate to cancel her.

Pinky, US lobbycardLMPC, Getty Images

20. She Stole The Role

Crain starred as a light-skinned Black woman in the 1949 film Pinky. Productions cast like this normally at that time, and she even earned an award nomination for the role. Even so, the role should have gone to a Black actress. Of course, like many other white actors playing people of color, Crain didn't have to take the heat.

Pinky, posterLMPC, Getty Images

21. She Fought For It

With one Academy Award nomination under her belt, you might think Crain breezed into her next several movie roles. However, the very opposite proved true. Crain found herself fighting to secure leads in films like People Will Talk and The Model and the Marriage Broker in 1951. But by the 1950s, she decided to try an entirely new approach. 

The Model And The Marriage BrokerLMPC, Getty Images

22. She Ditched Them 

After just barely landing leading roles and ending up in films that barely made an impression in the early 1950s, Crain quit her work at Fox Studios. In a surprising move, she turned her attention to working with Universal Studios instead. But she didn’t just need a location change. She seemed to think she needed a whole new persona. 

Universal Studios FountainAnthony Giorgio, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons


23. She Went Red

Right ahead of her move to Universal, Crain dyed her hair red. Reportedly, she did so in an attempt to recreate herself as a more seductive leading lady. She succeeded too, earning another notorious title as Hollywood’s "sexiest redhead”. But unfortunately for her, the shift didn’t seem to fix her difficult life behind the scenes. 

Jeanne CrainHerbert Dorfman , Getty Images

24. They Looked Good

From the outside looking in, Crain, her husband, and their quickly expanding family appeared the picture of the perfect celebrity family. In fact, by the time she switched studios, the two already had four children. Pictures of the happy couple floated all throughout the Hollywood gossip mill. But in the shadowy background, something dark began to emerge. 

Jeanne Crain and her familyRon Case, Getty Images

25. The Cracks Started To Show

Fairly early in their marriage, Brinkman became more of a businessman than a performer. Even so, he likely never made anywhere near as much money as his wife. Although not explicitly reported, it’s not hard to imagine this causing a rift of jealousy between the two. That might explain the shocking way he reacted to some of her opportunities.  

Jeanne Craine Posing with Her HusbandBettmann, Getty Images

26. He Held Her Back

Although reports of this particular event didn’t emerge until later, Brinkman seemed to exercise a bit more than his fair share of control over his wife’s choices. When she landed a role filming abroad in 1953, he refused to let her travel to work on it. And although that’s the only report of that kind of behavior, it helps explain the shocking news of 1956.

Jeanne Crain 1925oneredsf1, Flickr

27. The Honeymoon Ended

In 1955, various reports emerged indicating that there might be trouble in paradise. Granted, some of it didn’t seem all that believable. One report claimed Crain walked out on her husband after insisting she would literally put some type of spell on him. And while that sounds truly ridiculous, other rumors rang with much greater probability. 

Jeanne Crain At HomeGraphic House, Getty Images

28. He Got Caught

Things really blew up in 1956 when a detailed magazine article alleged Brinkman behaved unfaithfully toward his wife. According to the reports, Brinkman habitually entertained several women outside of their marriage. The news came as a total shock to celebrities and fans alike, but Brinkman didn’t turn out to be the only shady suspect.  

Actress Jeanne Crain and husband actor Paul Brinkman

29. She Got Caught Up

Reports of Crain’s own infidelity began to emerge as well. According to her husband, she involved herself in a fling with their neighbor. As with much Hollywood gossip, none of these accusations ever came back totally confirmed. But judging by Crain’s next life-changing move, clearly something wasn’t going right between the two. 

Jeanne Crain and Her Husband Paul BrinkmanHulton Deutsch, Getty Images

30. She Wanted To Quit

Shortly after these allegations came out, Crain officially filed for divorce from her husband. The rumors of infidelity certainly played a role, and she cited them in the case. But the other reasons she cited for the official end of their marriage ended up being the most shocking of all, which might explain why she reportedly went into hiding right after filing. 

Jeanne CrainJohn Irving, Flickr

31. She Couldn’t Take It

Crain hid away with her sister in a home near San Francisco for several days as the news of the divorce tore through Hollywood. Her sister backed up her claims, reportedly saying Brinkman “beat her up something terrible the other night”. As expected, onlookers stood by for Brinkman’s response. And like any Hollywood villain, he didn’t disappoint. 

Actress Jeanne Crain at dinner at Mocambo's in Los AngelesMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

32. He Called Her Out 

Not only did Brinkman vehemently deny he caused any physical hurt to Crain, but he also asserted that her mother played a huge role in the whole situation. He went another step further, countersuing his wife with accusations of her infidelity, and trying to secure custody of their children. And what of Crain’s career during this drama? Well…

Actress Jeanne Crain poses at home in Los Angeles, CaliforniaMichael Ochs Archives, Getty images

33. The Show Went On

Crain didn’t officially move out of her home or take any work breaks during the entirety of the divorce drama. In fact, she landed one of her most popular roles yet in a Western comedy with other huge Hollywood names. But even with her success in film still secure, the chaos of her divorce hadn’t even run half its course yet. 

Actress Jeanne Crain poses at home in Los Angeles, CaliforniaMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

34. She Got Her Wish (Kind of)

Ultimately, the courts granted the couple a kind of provisional divorce order while the process continued to wear on. You might think this should calm things down for a bit, allowing both parties to make considerations with cooler heads. And if you truly thought that, you thought very wrong. Both Crain and her husband(ish) chose more scandalous pursuits. 

Jeanne Crain in 'Margie'De Carvalho Collection, Getty Images

35. Things Got Messy

During this interim, reports allege that both Crain and Brinkman began dating other people. By all means, these reports could have just been more bits of Hollywood gossip. Even so, they don’t sound totally impossible, considering the practices of Hollywood today. One particular report of Brinkman' angry rage doesn’t sound too unbelievable either. 

"State Fair" Film StillDonaldson Collection, Getty Images

36. He Staked His Claim

According to some reports, Brinkman got into an altercation with Crain’s supposed side lover, their neighbor. Following this scuffle, the neighbor claimed he intended to marry Crain. To her credit, she never seemed interested in anything of the sort by anyone’s account. Perhaps more shocking than anything else, though, is how their divorce proceedings finally concluded. 

image of some show with Jeanne CrainUnited Archives, Getty Images

37. They Did It With Flair

The announcement came just before their eleventh wedding anniversary, at a New Years Eve party. In the company of their family and friends, Crain and Brinkman announced their decision to end the divorce proceedings and stay married. That may sound like a happily ever after, but I’d call it toxic. You can be the judge after reading the rest of their “love” story.

Mit Stahlharter FaustUnited Archives, Getty Images

38. They Got Busy

Brinkman and Crain went on to have another three children, for a grand total of seven children together. They continued to make appearances and take vacations together, appearing as the perfect couple again (for then, anyway). Unfortunately for Crain, though, resolving their marriage didn’t mean the end of all her troubles.

Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, 1945LMPC, Getty images

39. She Barely Survived

In June 1957, Crain and Brinkman hit the news again after a freak accident on their yacht. They found themselves trapped due to engine trouble on what they called their “second honeymoon voyage”. The Coast Guard saved them, but it seems like quite the bit of foreshadowing to me, future events considered. Things in her career seemed to fare at least a little better.

Dick Haymes, Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, 1945LMPC, Getty Images

40. She Kept Going

None of Crain’s marriage drama ever kept her from landing lead roles. She continued her film career into the late fifties and early sixties, eventually making her television debut in the 1958 TV series adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Considering her long career, even she probably didn’t expect the embarrassing turns things took. 

The Great GatsbyUrban Romantics, Flickr

41. They Put Her Out To Dry

In the late 1950s, Crain again found herself at the center of a legal battle. This time, she got into it with Universal Studios. They filed claims against her, insisting that they’d overpaid her on multiple occasions and that she owed them money. Seems pretty odd, honestly. Crain seemingly thought so too, and easily pulled out her own receipts to counter them.

Actress Jeanne Crain poses at home in Los AngelesMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

42. She Got Them Back

Crain responded right away with a claim of her own. She alleged that Universal owed her even more money than they said she owed them. There’s no explicit report on how that shook down, so it likely got settled away into oblivion, or came from another questionable gossip source. Either way, there’s one life detail all the reports agree on. 

Actress Jeanne CrainMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

43. They Went Their Own Way

After several more years together, Crain and her husband finally parted ways. They never did actually divorce, though. They supposedly both felt very strongly about the sinfulness of divorce, considering their Catholic backgrounds. But sacred union or not, by the late 1970s, they lived separately. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t see each other.

George Cukor, Darsteller: Jeanne Crain, Barry NelsonUnited Archives, Getty Images

44. They Kept It Cordial

Even though they lived separately, Crain and Brinkman continued to see each other regularly, and always on her birthday. Some people might call that true love, and others might call it some sort of bizarre trauma bond, but they made it work for them. By now, you’re probably wondering about their seven kids. Well, they did okay... mostly

Lady Of LeisureJohn Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

45. They Caught The Bug

Unsurprisingly, a few of their kids caught the performing bug. Their first son and his father’s namesake, Paul, grew up to work as a pretty successful television executive. Their last son, Christopher, rounded out the family as the lead of a rock band. Tragically, though, she’d lose some of them far sooner than she probably expected. 

Ready To Go showJohn Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

46. She Lost Him Early

In the early 1990s, Crain received the kind of news every mother hopes they never do. Authorities reportedly found the body of her second son, Michael, after he passed from drinking too much. However, the details of his passing aren’t many. Sadly, fate had another cruel twist in store for Crain.

Jane Russell et Jeanne CrainDominique BERRETTY , Getty Images

47. He Didn’t Make It

Just a few years later, in 1997, she received news of her youngest son's passing. In his case, an overload of illegal substances marked the end of his life. And much like his older brother, people found him already gone. With all this suffering and her age marking the end of her career, Crain turned to quieter pursuits to occupy her day-to-day.

Gentlemen Marry BrunettesSilver Screen Collection, Getty Images

48. She Stayed Loyal

In her elderly years, Crain reportedly spent lots of time with her husband. They tended to each of their ranches together, maintaining their friendship throughout their lives. Crain and Brinkman found themselves with more than enough money to live their final years in comfort, and did so until the very end of them both—which happened at peculiar timing. 

American actor Jeanne CrainHulton Archive, Getty Images

49. They Lasted To The End

Brinkman passed in 2003. Crain passed just two months later. Considering the life of tumultuous love they’d managed to live out together, their lives ending within months of each other feels somehow poetic. And despite the many tragedies of her personal life, Crain left an indelible mark on the film world. 

Actress Jeanne CrainMichael Ochs Archives , Getty Images

50. Her Legacy Lives On

Thanks to publicist Charles J Finlay, an entire collection of commemorative tokens to Crain’s career can be found at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University. Furthermore, classic films featuring Crain are widely available on several platforms for fans and critics alike. In the end, she had it all, and received both the joys and pains of getting it all. 

Conrad N. Hilton;Jeanne CrainDon Uhrbrock, Getty Images

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