Born Bettejane Greer on September 9, 1924. Jane Greer is an American film and television actress who is famous for playing the femme fatale. Kathie Moffat, in the 1947 noir film Out of the Past. It seems as if Greer’s career is on an unstoppable trajectory upwards, she fades away into relative obscurity.
Kathie Moffatt in Jacques Tourneur’s hit film. Her role is one of the most convincingly and dangerously seductive bad girls in film noir history. So, why did she all but vanish from the spotlight not long after Out of the Past hit theaters some 75 years ago?
Join FactsVerse as we tell the incredibly tragic story of how one man caused Jane Greer’s career to crash and burn. But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to look back on Jane Greer’s early life and rise to fame.
Greer Had A Difficult Childhood
Jane Greer was born in Washington DC. She was the daughter of Bettie and Charles Durrell McClellen Greer Jr.
At the age of 15, Greer suffered from facial palsy which left the side of her face paralyzed. She manages to recover, the condition likely is what leaves her with her signature look. A calm, inexplicable, and impenetrable gaze leads RKO productions to promote her as the star, of ‘Mona Lisa Smile’.
Greer claims that the facial exercises overcome her paralysis. It teaches her the value of facial expressions when conveying human emotion.
Greer started her career in show business as a big-band singer. She also competed in beauty contests and did some professional modeling as a teen.
In 1945, Greer legally changed her name from Bettejane to Jane. Of her previous name, she would say that it was too bo-peepish and ingenueish for the type of roles that she wanted to play.
Howard Hughes Both Made And Destroyed Her Career
It’s almost impossible to sum up Howard Hughes in words alone. He was an inventor, director, business magnate, pilot, and a dozen other things all rolled up into one eccentric individual. While the man was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, he was also known for being quite the sleazeball. Countless tales paint a picture of Hughes as being a huge creep who coerces young women into signing unethically. Money-grabbing contracts control their lives and careers that condemn them to bitter ends.
And no one knew that side of Hughes more than Jane Greer.
If she had never met Hughes, Greer quite possibly could have been the biggest film noir starlet of her time. The stupidly rich tycoon and filmmaker spots a teenager, Greer in the pages of a magazine. He compels him to lasso the wannabe actress under a ‘personal contract’.
Hughes Never Wanted To Get Married
When Greer signed her contract, Hughes informed her that he never wanted her to get married. Shockingly, he didn’t want her to act either. She was forbidden from doing even a simple screen test. Talk about controlling!
Greer isn’t going to just sit back and take that kind of treatment. However, as she snaps back at Hughes with a string of obscenities. The first thing she did to get back at Hughes for thinking that he could run her life – that is after cussing him out – was by marrying a crooner named Rudy Vallee. She then sued Howard for a breach of their contract.
In order to avoid controversy and having his name run through the mud in the media, the super jealous and spiteful multi-millionaire was left with no choice other than to let Greer buy out her contract for the sum of $7,500. While that doesn’t sound like much today, it sure was for someone in 1940s who had been unemployed for the better part of their adult life.
Financially Controlling Her
He can’t cover that bill in one payment, Hughes allows Greer to pay him back in weekly installments of $25. That way, he was still able to financially control her. It took Greer six years to pay back Hughes in full.
But even that amount of control wasn’t enough for Howard. After all, he isn’t the man that is willing to allow himself to be outwitted and reject sitting down.
Greer finds a new studio to act for over at RKO. Her movie career is starting to look like it is back on the right track. She discovers that the studio sells to none other than Howard Hughes.
Not long after he gets to the studio, Hughes calls Greer into his office. He informs her that he will no longer be using her anymore. Since she is under an exclusive contract with RKO, that means she won’t be able to work for anyone else.
Greer protests and tells Hughes that he’s ruining her film career, and Hughes replies by saying ‘Yes, That’s right’. He knew precisely what he was doing, and it looked fairly clear that he was acting out of sheer spite.
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Hughes Found Additional Ways To Tank Greer’s Career
Even though Hughes wanted to ruin her, Greer did go on to have her big breakthrough role. Another actress drops out of appearing in The Big Steal, Hughes forces to find a replacement at the last moment. A name that is capable of selling tickets. The only actress whose schedule was sufficiently clear enough to squeeze in the last-minute part was, of course, Jane Greer!
There was just one problem. Greer was hiding the fact she was pregnant at the time. Sadly, this was something that many women in Tinsel Town did back during that era. Hughes flat-out refused to pay for a new wardrobe, so Greer had to come up with novel ways of hiding her pregnancy while wearing skimpy crop-tops designed for someone that was a thin as a twig.
Greer Hiding Her Pregnancy
Somehow Greer managed to successfully hide her pregnancy even from her co-stars. Reportedly, she even managed to convince them that the pills she was taking for her pregnancy were meant to combat the ill-effects off drinking Mexican water. Despite having to jump through all of these hoops to keep her job, Greer still managed to deliver one of the finest performances of her career.
Even though Greer was immensely talented and was given a few notable noir roles in films such as Out of the Past, Hughes’s bitter preoccupation with stifling her career did, in fact, cost Greer some of the best and most profitable years of her life.
After spending six years with RKO, barely receiving any work to speak of, she did manage to finally pay off that first contract she made with Hughes. Perhaps as some kind of final display of bravado, Greer even requested Hughes to let her slide on the last $50 of that debt. But not surprisingly, Hughes refused.
Jane Greer’s Career Post-Out of the Past
In 1951, Greer appeared in You’re in the Navy Now. A year later, she had a starring role in the film The Prisoner of Zenda. The last two significant parts of the early era of her film career were in 1956s Run for the Sun and 1957s Man of a Thousand Faces.
In 1984, after taking a long break from doing movies, Greer was cast in remake of Out of the Past called Against All Odds. In that film, she played the mother of the character that she had played back in 1947.
Greer had several notable television credits throughout her acting career as well. Some of the most noteworthy shows that she appeared on were Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Murder, She Wrote, Bonanza, and Quincy M.E.
In 1987, she got to poke fun of Out of the Past in a parody alongside Robert Mitchum in a Saturday Night Live sketch. In 1984, Greer joined the cast of the CBS prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest, and in 1990 she was given a recurring role on Twin Peaks.
Greer’s final film role was in 1996s Perfect Mate.
At the age of 76, Greer died of cancer on August 24, 2001, in Bel Air, Los Angeles. Her body was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in LA.
Howard Hughes died on April 5, 1976, at the age of 70 while on board a Learjet owned by Robert Graf. He was en route from Acapulco, Mexico, to Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Hughes was unrecognizable when he died. His drug use and reclusiveness had taken quite a toll on his body. Apparently, the FBI even had to use his fingerprints to conclusively prove it was his body as his hair, beard, and fingernails had grown very long, and he weighed barely even 90 pounds despite being 6 foot 4.
Hughes’ autopsy determined that his cause of death was kidney failure brought on by his years of heavy drug abuse.
The Big Steal or Out of the Past
It’s hard to say what Jane Greer’s acting career would have been like if she hadn’t been impeded by Howard Hughes. It’s a shame that one man with a vindictive grudge could do so much damage, but it’s fairly clear that if Greer had never signed that first contract with him, her life would’ve taken a very different path.
Do you remember Jane Greer best for The Big Steal or Out of the Past? And are you familiar with any of her other film or television roles? Let us know in the comments.
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