Pretty Jane Liddell was at first glance a starlet that wanted some fame and fortune from Tinsel Town. And that she did get, but not in the way one would expect – her fame has nothing to do with her movies (her career is pretty slim), and her fortunes came around in a very unusual way. Let’s learn more about her!
Jane Anne Liddell was born on July 28, 1927, somewhere in Missouri, to Grace Webber and Thomas Liddell. Before Jane, the Liddells had had a son who died the same day he was born in 1921. Thomas was a store manager. Jane spent her earliest years living around Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska. The family moved to Neola, Iowa, where Grace’s family was from, in 1929.
Jane grew up in Iowa, before the family moved to Oakland, California in the late 1930s. Jane still held her relations from Neola close to her heart (especially her aunt), and was often visiting them or they were visiting her in California. Jane was interested in the performing arts, and did some minor acting work in local workshops and plays. Ann attended high school in Oakland.
By coincidence, just after graduating from high school, Jane met, purely socially, actress Ann Sheridan via some mutual friends. Ann liked the plucky girl and, upon hearing that she wanted to become an actress, was more than happy to help her, and introduced her to producer Howard Welsch. Welsch also liked the girl, gave her a chance to appear in one of his movies. This is how her career started!
Jane’s first movie was Woman on the Run, a Ann Sheridan film noir. It may be a low budget affair, but it’s a very stylish, slick movie. Dennis O’Keefe plays a painter who witnesses a murder, then he becomes a target for the killer himself. He tries to evade him, but can he? Excellent location shooting in San Francisco combined with a tense story and a gallery of first class, offbeat characters make this one a minor gem. Jane’s friend Ann Sheridam plays O’Keefe’s former wife who doesn’t believe him at first, and there are also solid turns by Robert Keith, Frank Qualen and Ross Elliott.
her second movie was Rogue River, a nifty outdoor movie about the conflicts that arise between members of an extended family in a small Oregon lumber town. The movie might be thin on the dramatics (altough the story isn’t half bad), but it’s very impressive visually and a treat for the eyes. Shot on location, is features the Pacific west as it once was, and there are some good actors to show their skills – Leslie Fenton, Rory Calhoun, Peter Graves.
Then came a seminal 1950s movie which perfectly encapsulates the decades attitudes towards what movies should be – The Blue Veil . A tearjerker shot in the best, most expensive vein, this is a very touching, emotional but highly unrealistic movie. As I said, typical 50s, which preferred to live in a American dream style bubble. But moving this aside, the movie does have it’s man and strong merits. Jane Wyman stars as a war widow who seeks employment as a nanny after her baby dies shortly after the delivery. The movie then follows her life as she selflessly helps parents rear their children. Overall, this is an excellent movie and people remember and cry over it decades after watching – it’s a true monument to it’s dramatic genius. And many, many great actors appear in it – Jane, Charles Loughton, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, Audrey Totter, Richard Carlson and so on.
Then came the breezy, cute 50s musicals, Small Town Girl and How to Marry a Millionaire. As somebody once wrote, super fun fluff! The stories are usually paper thin, but the sets, the costumes, the actors, the music, the overall vibe are all magical and anyone who had not watched it should definitely do it! And oh the cast is simply delicious – Ann Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Bill Powell, Cameron Mitchell and so on.
Jane’s last movie came in 1956, a family western drama, Westward Ho, the Wagons!. Since this is a Walt Disney production, we know what to expect (wink). The movie was tailor made for Disney star Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett to big acclaim in the eponymous TV series. A string of movies were made to capitalize on his success. This use-case usually does not end particularly well for the movie quality, although here it’s a surprisingly well made movie. In fact it’s like two separate films spliced together, the better for a two part extravaganza on TV. To quote a reviewer: “The first half hour is an enjoyable but relatively routine wagon trail tale, involving a boy must run from hostile Indians on foot. when the train arrives in Fort Laramie and no further big battles occur. In fact, this is where the movie takes off dramatically, promoting the sort of racial tolerance and mutual acceptance so essential to the Disney vision.” Parker plays a doctor who helps all people, regardless of their ethnicity. While the movie doesn’t flow as it should, it’s a very nice film with a positive message and goo production values.
That was it from Jane!
When she first came to Hollywood, in 1948, Jane was seen with Forrest Tucker, who was separated but not divorced from his wife, Sandra Jolley. In the end Forrest and Sandra reconciled and Jane was out.
And then, in November 1948, Jane married Charles Bernhard, a very wealthy British producer and businessman. This could have been just another rich man marrying a pretty starlet scenario, but actually it was not. Bernhardt was told by his doctors that he was terminally ill and would be dead in a matter of months, and he wanted to marry a pretty young girl before his demise. A bit on the egoistical side, but anyone can understand this – he knew he was going to die, and wanted certain things to happen before that. When you look at it, ff the other party consents, than it’s two mature individuals having a mutually beneficial relationship and that’s all fine. Jane was there on hand, and she would be left a wealthy widow, and said yes to his proposal. So far so good. However, the drama beings after Bernhardt died in 1949. Namely, in his will he disinherited Jane, claiming that she refused to act on the spousal duties, like setting up a mutual home, and that she deserves nothing from his estate. Jane sued his estate to get her share. There was much legal drama going back and forth (I will not go into this).
So what really happened? Nobody knows, and here is my take on the situation – and it doesn’t look so good for Jane. It seems she wanted to have her cake and eat it too – namely, get married to a rich guy who would die soon and leave her a wealthy widow and then refuse to give him what was expected from a wife. While I cannot know exactly what happened, and it is possible that the two had a deal that Bernhard tried to change (perhaps he told her she doesn’t have to do anything and took it back which would change this narrative a lot), I would venture to say that Jane married for money and then tried to kept Bernhardt at arms length. I repeat, we cannot know for sure what happened and Jane could potentially be a victim, but by the looks of it, I would rather say that she chickened out when it was time to take things next level (living together, keeping home, taking care of each other). This is her right, for sure, but if that is the case, act like a normal person, annul the marriage and ask for nothing and just move on with your life. It didn’t work out and that’s fine. Especially if the guy is dying, as it seems that Bernhard died quite bitter at his wife for this unexpected turn of events. Just is just my take on the situation, and people can disagree with me, but it was not a happy period for Jane at all.
Anyway there was much drama over the property division, and Jane fought tooth and nail to get her share of the inheritance. In the end she got some money, and in fact funded herself a comfy life in the upper echelons of Los Angeles society. Now begins the dramatic life of Jane Liddell, the social butterfly that hosted tons of parties and dated a large number of men. Was is a cool life? Perhaps. Truth to be told, Jane now depended no no man, could do what she wanted, did not have to marry if she did not want to, and was a free agent. So many women, then and now, have no idea what this entails, nor how it feels, which is sad. You can choose what you want, of course – getting married, staying single, whatever – but having the freedom to choose is an incredible thing, something denied to women for many, many centuries. So, in a way, Jane got what she wanted, perhaps not in a most glittering and stress-free way, but it was here. Plus she did not have to work, and slowly her movie output diminished. And now, for a chronology of her beaus:
In the early 1950s, Jane dated Bill Walsh, a former beau of Ruth Roman, for a long time. She also dated another Bill, Bill Bishop, around that time. Afterwards she was seen with Robert North, a radio actor who played Alice Faye‘s brother in her radio show. He was followed by Joe Pasternak, a famous producer who seemingly dated so many pretty women in Hollywood.
Jane then took with Freddie de Cordova, a colorful fellow is there ever was one. A producer and director of some reputee, he was rumored to be gay and still living with his mother in his 40s. Jane was seen with Jeff Chandler, but then ditched him for the handsome Lance Fuller in 1954. That same year, she ditched Fuller for Bob Stack, a socialite actor.
In 1955, her man of the day was British actor Maxwell Reed, former hubby of Joan Collins. In 1957, she was feted by Mario Ferrari, of the prestigious family, who zapped her around Hollywood in a fancy car. This was a pretty serious relationship, but I think his family in the end said no to the prospect of Jane being a wedded member, and it broke. She recuperated by dating another aristocratic face, Baron Gottfried Von Hohenburg. Him living in Germany and she in Los Angeles put a hamper on the proceedings, and they also broke up.
in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jane dated Ken Scott, an agent, and David Hedison. By 1966, she was evolved with the famous comedian, Phil Silvers, who was once married to starlet Jo-Carroll Dennison.
In the late 1960s, she dated Gerry Huffaker and Charles Darke. Jane then falls of the newspaper radar. It seems that she continued living in California, and later in the 1970s married a certain Mr. Dragge, about whom I could find to concrete information. Most probably she and Dragge divorced in the 1990s.
Jane Liddell died on November 18, 2009, in Los Angeles, California.