Entering movies as a Barbara Stanwyck double, Jean Chatburn actually made her way into the credited tier and even had a chance to become a full pledged working actress, but sadly left movies before she could make a memorable career for herself.
Geneveive Jennie May Kellar was born on September 11, 1914, in Hanover, Michigan, USA to Daniel H Kellar and Leora Marion M Kellar. Her father came from Indiana to Michigan and married her mother, a Michigan native.
In 1920, the family lived in Hanover, Michigan. Genevieve attended elementary and high schools in the city and showed an early interest in a showbiz career.
I have no idea exactly how she ended up in Hollywood, but by 1934 she was appearing in movies regularly.
As all girls who had any singing ability, one would expect Jean to be pushed into musicals for most of her brief career. Wrong! She actually had a varied career spanning several genres, somewhat of a rarity for somebody who was basically a starlet.
Her first movie, Paradise Valley, made in 1934, is a lost one today and nothing can be said about it’s quality or indeed any plot.
Come On, Marines! her second feature, could have been a very good if not solid jungle combat movie, but ends up a lukewarm mess with no real redeeming features (a lot of money and authenticity went into its making, but for no avail). Thirty Day Princess, while no big master piece, is Jean’s first solid movie. A fluffly comedy starring Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant, it’s a perfect Sunday afternoon watching and highly enjoyable if you’re not looking for a serious, philosophical drama. Jean had a short foray into serious drama with Society Doctor, a mediocre movie with Chester Morris on the downside of his career and Robert Taylor on the upside (although it’s clear as day that Morris is a seasoned actor and Taylor a mere amateur trying to learn his craft… Sadly I never found Taylor to be a good actor until the 1950s, when he finally matured into something, but even then he was lacking compared to the true greats of cinema… Ah well, a handsome face could get you far if you had the right breaks!). A predecessor of the Ben Casey franchise with a dedicated but gruff doctor as the lead, the movie has it’s moments of glory but also had several highly absurd ones (Morris’s character operating on himself with the help of a mirror! Come on!!).
Drifting through the genre, Jean finally hit her stride in a musical, Memories and Melodies. Yes, the movie is forgotten today but it gave her chance to sing on screen. The quality of her movies went up from then on. Naughty Marietta is a classic today, one of Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy’s best efforts, a charming movie worth watching several times.
No More Ladies is the suave, elegant drawing room comedy Hollywood made dime a dozen in the 1930s. It’s brisk, funny but not really noteworthy as far as the genre goes. Joan Crawford played the role she does in most of her movies, as do Robert Montgomery (before his greatest roles in film noir and drama, he was a typical charmer) and Edna May Oliver (mostly played the same type, but what an actress, simply hilarious!). The Great Ziegfeld is a movie that needs no introduction, a absolute classic that holds up more than well today. Jean even has a delightful scene with the ever suave William Powell playing Ziegfeld. Then, typically, there was a decline in movie quality.
New Shoes is a mildly disturbing (or better said weird) short with Jean’s shoes having the leading role (as I said, weird).
The Devil on Horseback could have been an entertaining movie with a silly but endearing plot – sadly in ended up an undefined, weird movie with some pretty bad acting and lots of stereotypes. On the plus side, Jean played the best character in the movie – the female lead’s (Lili Damita, Errol Flynn’s first wife) secretary and one of the very few female characters with lesbian overtones in movies of that time in general (yes, the movie does have a few surprises)! However, with this dud, Jean entered the prestigious area of supporting characters. She would never be uncredited again, something many other actresses never managed to achieve in career that lasted longer than Jeans!
Some Time Soon another musical short, lost today, gave Jean a leading role. She then played the main female support role in Bad Guy, an interesting movie about a convict who gets out of jail but returns to crime. It’s a morality story, very much grey, and shows both the good and the bad sides of the main character, played well by Bruce Cabot. Willowy and beautiful Virginia Grey serves as his love interest.
Jean’s last movie is a good one. Dramatic School, while not really a classic today and not a top movie in terms of plot nor character development, features so many good actresses it’s a must see for anyone who likes the golden age of Hollywood. Paulette Goddard, Louise Rainer, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford… and the list goes on! Of course Jean, a little known actress then, gets drowned by the sheer number of bigger stars, but her role was prominent enough that maybe someone could have noticed her.
Like many other actress of the day Jean gave up her career, which was slowly but securely on the rise, for marriage and children.
Jean married Richard Metz, a future professional golfer from Kansas, in 1929 when she was just 15 years old. Metz was born in 1908, making him only 21 for the marriage. The marriage was quickly annulled, but that was not the end of the Jean/Dick story.
Jean was quite active in the publicity stakes in Hollywood. While her career was nothing to talk about, she was featured in papers on every opportunity she (or her publicist) could muster. We learned from the various articles that she was an active horse woman, maintained her slim frame by bowling, that she enjoyed sun bathing, was a passionate motorcyclist and was quite a clothes horse. Jean seemed like a well rounded, interesting woman a bit ahead of her time. She also entereted beauty peagants pretty late, when she was in the early 20s and working as an actress, but was quite successful at it, winning several titles.
Jean married Frank Orsatti, brother of the better known agent Victor Orsatti in 1936, not yet 22 years old. Frank was born in 1893, making his almost 20 years older than Jean, and worked as a press agent (like Victor) and had one writing credit to his name. The couple bought a breeding farm outside of Los Angeles and were heavily involved with thoroughbreds. Their horses frequently won races at the famous Santa Anita racetrack cca 1937. At their peak, they had four champions. Frank and Jean were very good friends with his brother and his then wife, the stunning beauty June Lang, and they often went out to town as a foursome. Frank seemed like a nice and attentive husband to Jean, but fate would have it otherwise. Jean re-met her former husband, Dick Metz, by chance, in 1939 and it changed their lives.
Jean divorced Orsatti in November 1939 in Reno, Nevada, and married, two days later, her first husband, Dick Metz. This time it was for keeps. She left Hollywood not long after to live in Chicago with her golfer husband. They had three children, two sons Craig and James and a daughter, Joan.
After Dick retired from golfing in the 1950s, the two went into the cattle ranching business in his native Kansas. Theirs was a happy marriage until declining health compelled Metz to commit suicide in the parking lot of an Arkansas City, KS funeral home on May 4, 1993. She never remarried.
Genevieve Metz died on July 18, 2007 from cancer.