Isabel Jeans

Stately Isabel Jeans was brought to Hollywood by the director Anatole Litvak to appear as Fermonde Dupond in his comedy Tovarich (1937). The daughter of an art critic, Frederick George Jeans, she had aspired to be a singer but instead forged a career on the stage. Her first role came courtesy of theatre legend Herbert Beerbohm Tree when she was fifteen years old. Isabel went on to acquire a varied repertoire in the classics, as well as displaying a singular comic talent in contemporary works by Noël Coward, Ivor Novello, and others. By the late 1920’s, she had become a fixture on the London stage, toured the United States, appeared with great success on Broadway and acted in two early films by Alfred Hitchcock: When Boys Leave Home (1927) and Easy Virtue (1927). She had been married, thrice separated and eventually divorced from actor Claude Rains, having seemingly relished the role of the philandering wife. Her husband for a subsequently longer haul was to be a prominent English barrister.

In stark contrast to Isabel’s usually dignified appearance, her declared favorite pastimes were: playing a mean hand of poker, driving fast cars and going to the race track. On the other hand, there was this aura of maturity and elegance which made her one of the first actresses film producers would turn to when casting dignified socialites or upper class toffs. Hitchcock, for one, gave her another such role, as Mrs. Newsham, in Suspicion (1941). According to her ex Claude Rains, Isabel became a somewhat “mannered actress”. Following an absence from the screen for almost ten years, she came once again into her own in delicious character parts, shining as Aunt Alicia in Gigi (1958) and in the satirical Peter Sellers comedy Heavens Above! (1963), as the land-owning Lady Despard.

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