Top New York models/cover girls in the 1940s. They were stunningly beautiful and each had her own unique brand of charm. Yet, just the same, Betty Jane Hess was just one of the many cover girls that tried Hollywood but failed to make grades as actresses.
Betty Jane Hess was born on February 3, 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to John N. Hess and Jessie W. Stroup. She was the youngest of three children – her older brother was John R. Hess, and her older sister was Mary Louise Hess. Her father worked as a demonstrator and her mother was a housewife. They married just before 1910.
She grew up in Pittsburgh, and attended high school there. She entered modeling quite young, in 1938, when she was barely 17 years old. As most beginners in the field, she competed in many pageants and slowly worked her way from Pittsburgh to New York.
Pretty soon, Betty was one of the highest paid Harry Conover models. She modeled for Chesterfield cigarettes and frequently worked with illustrator. She even scored a Life magazine cover.
Betty hit Broadway and appeared in “Hold on to your hats“, a revue with Al Jolson in the lead. As one of the “ladettes”, she was noticed by a unnamed Hollywood scout and scurried to the West coast to try a career in movies.
Her one and only credit is Cover Girl, a now classic Rita Hayworth/Gene Kelly Technicolor musical. While today remembered primarily a springboard for the two stars (Gene Kelly, loaned out from MGM; finally got the treatment he deserved at his home studio after this movie, and Rita crawled out of the B movies and supporting role sin A movies and got her due with Gilda and other great movies), it’s a fun, sweet movie nonetheless. Rita is simply enchanting, and Gene, while his character is somewhat of a jerk, redeems himself with his superb, athletic dancing. A great and breezy way to pass an hour and a half!
Betty Jane was one of 14 cover girls who appeared in it. The others were Jean Colleran, Ceceilia Meagher (both whom of I hope to profile in this blog), Dusty Anderson, Jinx Falkenburg, Helen Mueller, Anita Colby, Francine Counihan and so on.
Betty Jane toured extensively with Cover Girl, passing over many a city. It was noted that she refuses the swanky hotel accommodation when they passed Pittsburgh so she could stay with her family (her parents, brother and sister all lived together in 1940).
Yet, Betty chose family over career and gave up movies for good afterwards.
Betty was often seen in the newspapers due to her active social life and stormy love life. On a interesting note, Betty Jane was a passionate lover of ice cream but absolutely hated sea food 😦
Betty entered the media worlds in the late 1930s, as a young model in New York. Her first beau was Giuseppe Vittelli, a young Italian actor, who just joined a stage show in September 1940 when they started dating.
By 1941, Betty had moved on to greater plains, and dated Alexis Thompson, a wealthy sportsman famous as a old school, elegeant playboy. It was a very tumultuous relationship that lasted for several months, with lots of ups and downs. They broke up, got gether again, broke up again and so on goes the circle. They broke up for good in August 1941 after several months of pushing if forwards/backwards. She was also seen with Tom Cassara, who was known around town for dating showgirls. In September she was allegedly seen with George Hale, the famous showman.
Betty wasted no time in moving on and married Harry Bleich, a Wall Street sugarbroker, at the Little church Around the Corner in October 1941. Harry was a member of the affluent Illinois Bleich family (his cousin was actress Mary Bovard, profiled on this blog in 2013). Harry was drafted into the Navy in 1942. Betty got massive publicity when she went on to appear in Cover Girl, and was in the papers almost monthly in 1942 and 1943.
Betty gave birth to a son, John North Bleich, on May 22, 1945. Her second child, daughter Susan Bleich, was born in August 1946.
Sadly, that marriage hit a rough patch and they were separated by the end of the decade. Quite probably this was one of many “wartime marriages” when women married servicemen they would never have married in a normal circumstances. Most of these marriages failed without a hitch after the end of the war, but this one was not over… yet.
During her separation from Bleich, Betty Jane dated Sy Devore, the Tailor to the stars, in 1956. In 1959, she was the best gal of Hollywood producer Dick Krakauer.
By early 1960s, the Bleichs were reconciled and lived together until Harry’s death in 1972. In 1974, Betty remarried to Marshall Duffield. Marshall was an very interesting man, today primarily known as a USC all american quarterback. He was born in Salt Lake City in 1911 and moved to Santa Monica with his family in 1914. He graduated with honors from USC and was nominated for a Rhodes scholarship, but, in his own words:
“The Rhodes examination was scheduled for the same day as the final game of our 1930 season and I couldn’t have deserted the team, even if I’d wanted to,” he said years later of abandoning his plum academic chance to study at Oxford University.
“Maybe it would have been better if I had,” he added candidly. “We got beaten 27-0.”
After USC, Duffield dabbled briefly in politics, announcing his candidacy for Santa Monica mayor and Los Angeles Board of Education, and briefly attended law school. He worked as an assistant movie director and in 1933 married a starlet, Dorothy Lee. They divorced two years later.
Duffield next worked for an import-export business and just before World War II founded his Duffield Distributing Co. of Culver City, which handled beverages.
Returning to his business after the war, he expanded from five employees in 1946 to 150 with a sales volume of $10 million in 1957 when he sold the company.
Duffield then moved to Orange County and became president of the Newport Shoreside Co. boating concern, vice president of the Bayside Village trailer park and owner and general manager of the Duffield Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Long Beach.
Betty and Marshall lived peacefully and happily in Orange County until his death in 1990 at the age of 79. Betty never remarried. In her later years shared fun times and travel with Howard Marvin. She generally lived a glamorous life and was well liked by her friends.
Betty’s older son John North Bleich died on January 18, 2001, aged only 56. Sadly, her parents, brother, sister and nephew all preceeded her in death.
Betty Jane Duffield died on March 14, 2008, in California.