When she first hit Hollywood, Jean Ames claimed that her only dream in life was to become a great actress, and that everything she did in life served that “higher” purpose. And indeed, she rose from a uncredited performer to a credited performer, and there was a upwards swing in her movies at the time… It didnt’ go quite as smoothly as it may have done, but something was happening. And then puff, she got married, left movies and never returned to trying to achieve her great dream. Surprised? Not really. Let’s learn more about Jean!
Irma Salzman was born in August 24, 1919 in New York City to Walter Salzman and Minnie Eppler, their only child. Both of her parents were Austrian immigrants. Her father was a high end fur merchant.
The family moved to Boston in the mid 1930s and Irma attended grammar school there. She completed her education at Hollywood high after her family moved to Hollywood. During her school days, when she wasn’t appearing in class plays and studying, she was playing basketball and swimming. One notable thing is that she passed Senior Red Cross Life Saving swimming tests and was a certified lifeguard. She was also a champion high diver. However, Irma’s ambition had always been to be a great actress and she took additional acting classes to prepare herself for her future career.
Sadly, William died in the late 1930s, and in order to help her mother financially, she began working behind the counter in a dress shop. When she was fitting a new spring dress in the show window, an agent’s spouse spotted her and judged her as possible screen stuff. The agent signed her, and her career started!
Jean made her debut in Million Dollar Baby, a nice, pleasing comedy with May Robson playing a crusty old millionairess who wants to pay back some money to Priscilla Lane, and gets caught up in her love life. Good acting and charm galore, this is classic Hollywood at it’s simple, unassuming comedic best. A similarly very good screwball comedy was Jean’s next movie, The Bride Came C.O.D., a kind of a It happened one night rip of with the dynamite pairing of Bette Davis and James Cagney.
It was time for some serious fare with Manpower, a heavy, sultry, manly movie (as the name implies, of course), with George Raft and Edward G. Robinson playing two rugged lumberjacks, sparring for the attention of the alluring Marlene Dietrich. Sadly, jean’s next movie, International Squadron, was a lesser effort with Ronald Reagan the lead. A bit better was the navy themed Navy Blues, with Ann Sheridan and Jackie Oakie.
Jean’s next foray into movies, , was a peculiarity in itself. As one reviewer on imdb claims: Anatole Litvak, who directed so many women’ pictures, directs this odd little film that starts out as a kind of “small town band does good” picture, takes a turn into gangster territory, and then gets really dark with a venture into film noir and mental illness. An interesting combo for sure! The leads were played by Priscilla Lane and Betty Field, both underrated actresses.
1942 was jean’s best year. She got credited and acted in a string of solid movies. She started with All Through the Night, a less known but very good Humphrey Bogart movie, where he plays a rowdy bookie/swindler who accidental stumbles upon a Nazi conspiracy. Great, great cast (Jackie Gleason, William Demarest, Phil Silvers, and Frank McHugh, Petter Lorre, Judith Anderson), a innovative combo of a comedy-musical and straight-laced spy movie make this a unusual if superb winner. Highly recommended! Jean actually has a credited role in the movie.
Jean then appeared in The Male Animal, a comedy set on a college campus, dealing with free speech, censorship and democracy. While not nearly as good as the original Broadway play, it’s still a biting satire and worth a look, if nothing than to see Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland together in a movie. Next came the tearjerker Always in My Heart, only worth watching to see Walter Huston and Kay Francis.
Jean had a prominent role in Larceny, Inc., a surprise gem – it’s a very funny comedy with extremely witty dialogue and top notch performances from Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson and Broderick Crawford, who plays three crooks who want to rob a bank and in the interim fall into the “keeping shop” mode and become successful at it. Then came You Can’t Escape Forever, a lightning-fast, lightweight murder mystery/haunted house/romance/gangster movie. it’s another example of genre blending, and it mostly works – while not a top classic it’s charming and holds up even today.
Jean started 1943 with The Hard Way, an Ida Lupino film all the way. if nothing else, it’s worth watching just to see her play a ruthless, get-what-you-want manager who milks her younger sister (played by Joan Leslie) for all she’s worth (and more). Jean was one of the ton of pretty girls in The Powers Girl – the film you watch for the scenery, not for the story or performances.
Jean appeared in three B movies for the closing of her career: first one was Silent Witness, a so-so comedy crime drama about a corrupt lawyer who gets reformed when his DA girlfriend leaves him. It’s solidly made but with nothing to truly recommend it. The second movie was Truck Busters, another formulaic low budgeter, and the third one was Follow the Band, worth watching for Leo Carrillo alone.
And that was it from Jean!
Jean confessed to the papers that if she was not an actress, she would turn to modeling. Next to acting, Jean was most interested in music and painting, her artistic avocations being playing the piano and doing landscapes in water color. She also designed many of the smart clothes she wore.
Another peculiarity: Jean looked so much like Ida Lupino she had difficulty getting jobs. She also wrote once to the casting department that “I am a healthy Ida Lupino.” But otherwise she was a typical run-of-the-mill Hollywood working girl, who even rode to the studio on a bus. Here is an interesting bit on Jean:
Jean Ames Is willing to suffer for her art but Warner Bros won’t let her, not on concrete, at any rate, She has to ride a bicycle without using her hands for “The Male Animal”, and had been practicing on the studio’s concrete streets. But, during one rehearsal whirl, she narrowly avoided colliding with a prop truck. On another, she did collide with Henry Fonda. On still a third, she collided with the pavement when the bike went out of control. She came up with a skinned knee and various black and blue marks. ) Orders were promptly Issued that thereafter she practice on a soft dirt track.
Jean’s first real Hollywood beau was Bruce Cabot, and that was semi serious, as Bruce was well known for his appreciation of pretty Hollywood girls, and Jean was just one in a long string of pretties.
Then, in 1943, famous aviation captain Capt. Vincent B. Evans, skipper of the famous bomber Memphis Belle, visited Hollywood and it was love at first sight between him and Jean. Vincent had to return to Amarillo for aviation practice, and Jean, head over heels in love, visited him during her leave of absence from the studio.
They were young, pretty, the world was at war and marriages were at an all time high – it’s no surprise that Jean and Vince, despite knowing each other for only a few days at most, had planned to marry while she was in Amarillo, but later decided on the postponement. Instead of a hurried marriage, Jean returned from Amarillo to Los Angeles by plane with the announcement that she will be a June bride.
They eloped to Las Vegas on Sept. 17. Hollywood, and Jean was married under her real name, Irma Salzman. The honeymooners went to Texas, Vince’s home State.
Vincent Evans was born on September 6, 1920, in Fort Worth, Texas. Some time after 1930 his family moved to Henderson, Texas where the Vince attended the North Texas Teachers College after graduating from the Henderson High School.
He was already running a successful logging company, but wanted some excitement in his life, so he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces for Bombardier training on January 5, 1942, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his Bombardier Wings at Victorville Army Air Field, California, on July 4, 1942.
While she was honeymooning in Texas with Evans, trouble was in the works, for her predecessor insists Vince was a bigamist.
Dinusa “Dinny” Kelly Evans, former wife of Capt. Vincent B. Evans, often deco- rated bombardier of the famed Flving Fortress “Memphis Belle,” today claimed ;her husband’s marriage to Movie Starlet Jean Ames was s illegal. Capt. Evans I eloped here Sunday and his attorney said a Mexican divorce had been award- ‘ed the Army fiier three weeks ago at Juarez. “If there has been a divorce, i haven’t heard about it,” Mrs. Evans said, “and I haven’t signed any papers yet. Mexican divorces are illegal and I’m going to fight to have this decree invalidated u there was one.” The newspapers say he got his divorce on charges of incompatibility after a year’s separation,” she continued. “That’s not true. He lived with me last summer and early fall. He started to get a divorce last fall but dropped proceedings when I told him I would fight it. I’ll fight this divorce to the end, and the battle will start immediately.” Capt. Evans marriage to Miss Ames was not entirely unexpected. The couple met in Hollywood when Capt. Evans was on a visit after completing 25 missions over Europe.
I have no idea how this got solved, but somehow it did, and the Evans remained married. But, it seems that Vince was a well known womanizer – while he was married to Dinny, he romanced a night club singer named Kaye, whom Evans met in London. Some said he was planning to return to her after the war and they would marry, but guess it didn’t happen that way.
Vince was deployed at the Pacific Theater in September 1944. He was action in Saipan and Guam. He left active duty on August 6, 1945
The Evans had a daughter, Valerie Brooke Evans, born on February 14, 1945 in Los Angeles, while her father was still in the army. Their marriage was tempestuous, and it didn’t last long. After World War II, Vince began a career in acting and wrote screenplays.
The couple divorced in the late 1940s. Vincent became a business man in Buellton and Solvang, California, remarried to Marjory Winkler, and died in a airplane accident in 1980.
Jean completely falls of the radar from then on, and I have no idea what happened to her.
Jean Ames died in 1975.