Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hidden Jewell

Gertrude Lawrence

Joan Davis

The most popular guesses for our latest Mystery Guest were, respectively, musical comedy legend Gertrude Lawrence and comedienne Joan Davis. Popular, but wrong. Personally, while we can see shades of Gertie in our MG, we don't see Davis at all -- but we would have understood, had any of you guessed Katherine Cornell, Ilka Chase, or even Gloria Guinness!

Katharine Cornell

Ilka Chase

Gloria Guinness

You would, however, still have been wrong. No, our Mystery Guest is not any of these soignee, gracious ladies of the thea-tah or society pages; she's Isabel Jewell, the snappy broad who will be forever immortalized as "that poor white trash, Emmy Slattery" in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Miss Jewell specialized in playing tough cookies; she was even romantically linked in real life with the fast-talking actor Lee Tracy, which would have been a marriage made in pre-Code heaven. Among her more notable appearances were Manhattan Melodrama (1934), which is remembered as the first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy, as well as the last film John Dillinger ever saw (he was gunned down by federal agents upon exiting the theater); and as one of Bette Davis' fellow dance hall "hostesses" in Marked Woman (1937).

L-R: Mayo Methot, Lola Lane, Bette Davis, Rosalind Marquis and Isabel Jewell in Marked Woman (1937, Warner Bros.)

Aside from her gallery of various floozies, chippies and molls, Jewell also won notice for her against-type portrayal of a doomed seamstress destined for the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities (1935). Her most substantial role, however, was as the sympathetic prostitute in Lost Horizon (1937).

Publicity for Lost Horizon (1937, Columbia)

Despite her strong showings in an impressive number of major, A list features, Jewell's career went into an almost immediate decline following Gone with the Wind; she appeared in such unsavory productions as Babies for Sale (1940) and the Poverty Row comedy Danger! Women at Work (1943).

Lobby card for Danger! Women at Work (1943, PRC)

By the end of the 1940's, Jewell was back in prestige productions like The Snake Pit and Unfaithfully Yours (both 1948), but in unbilled bit parts. Around this time, she also began cultivating a considerably more refined image, after years of being typecast as the brassy blonde.

Isabel Jewell, ca. 1940's

During the 1950's, television brought a steadier flow of work, but like so many unfortunate cases before her, Jewell fell on hard times: she was arrested in 1959 for passing bad checks, and again a few years later for drunk driving. She died at age 64, from undisclosed causes, in 1972; and posthumously entered the cult film annals via her appearances as Edie Sedgwick's mother in Ciao! Manhattan (1972) and a snoopy landlady in Tab Hunter's sleaze-shocker Sweet Kill (1973).

Isabel Jewell, ca. 1964

The profile-less "David" correctly guessed Miss Jewell, as did our ever-astute Toby Worthington -- a "jewell" of a fellow, himself. As always, thanks for playing, darlings; and for being patient while you waited for the reveal!


  1. Well I knew she looked familiar!!

    ha ha It's those eyes I guess.

    Glad a couple people got it right.

  2. YAY! I am the "profileless David"!
    Your blog is heaven - thanks for the entertainment!

  3. I've seen Gone with the Wind way too many times and I just watched A Tale of Two Cities not too long ago, but didn't make the connection. Congrats to David and Toby! I bow to your superior knowledge.

  4. She was unforgettable as "Laury Palmer", in the film: Born To Kill (1947). This in addition to other great film roles:
    1. A prostitute in the film Marked Woman.
    2. A weary fortune teller in The Leopard Man.
    3. A lesbian hairdresser who is connected to a Manhattan cult in The Seventh Victim!
    4. A "crazy mother" in the film Ciao! Manhattan!