#Lookback: Isabel Jewell: Fremont County’s Hollywood Actress

by | Updated Dec 26, 2019 at 1:19PM

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community,

brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Isabel Jewell was born on July 15th, 1909. Initially, Isabel attended school locally in Shoshoni, Wyoming. Later, Isabel was sent to an Episcopal boarding school named St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Once she graduated from high school, she attended Hamilton College in Lexington Kentucky. Originally Isabel went to college for business, but after participating in a few school plays Isabel decided to pursue acting. Soon, she moved to Chicago where she joined a stock company where she started acting professionally. She performed with this company in Chicago for three years. After three years, was suddenly asked to step in and make an appearance in a play on Broadway in New York. After only three hours of rehearsal she appeared in the play “Up Pops the Devil” on Broadway, after which she became an acclaimed actress.

In 1931, Isabel played a telephone operator in a play called “Blessed Event”. As a result of her acting, Isabel was asked to play her character in the film version of the play which was released in 1932. Originally, she was going to act alongside James Cagney. However, Cagney demanded more money to play the role from Warner Brothers. As a result Lee Tracy was asked to replace Cagney in the role of Walter Winchell. Tracy had been the only person that Isabel knew in Hollywood since she had met him a year and a half before while she was acting in New York. 

After the film was released, producers said that Isabel was a good actress, but that she didn’t appear good on camera. So, she was ready to pack her bags and return to acting on Broadway, but Lee Tracy convinced her to stay in Hollywood. Over the next six months, Isabel went from studio to studio, but never got her big break. During this six month period, she was in a relationship with Lee Tracy. The couple was in love and had even discussed getting married; however, Isabel was determined not to get married. She wanted to be an actress so she continued looking for her next big break.

Isabel received her big break through a connection she had made while acting on Broadway. Otto Kruger came to Los Angeles to play “Counsellor at Law” on the stage. Kruger had known Isabel from her work in New York and so did the stage producer. She auditioned for a role in the play and got the part. After her performance, she was noticed by movie producers and began getting small parts in several movies. In 1934, she was signed to MGM studios, but was released from the contract two years later.   

She began acting as a free-lance actress. During her career, she usually played minor character roles. The first notable role she played was in the “Tale of Two Cities” released in 1935. In this film, she played a French Seamstress who had gone to the guillotine with Ronald Coleman. Another notable role was in “Lost Horizons”, which was released in 1937, where she played Gloria a hooker with tuberculosis who partners up with a character played by Thomas Mitchell in Shangri-La. Next, she played the role of Emma Slattery in “Gone with the Wind” which was released in 1939. Emma Slattery is a young woman who is the mistress and later wife of Jonas Wilkerson who Scarlett O’Hara blames for the death of her mother. In total, Isabel acted in 66 films from 1932 to 1973. Her final role was as Ciao Manhattan in Mummy released in 1972. Isabel also acted in several radio dramas including The Lux Radio Theatre which aired from 1936-1955 and Dr. Kildare in a reoccurring role in 1950-1951.

In her personal life, Isabel had many ups and downs in her life. In 1941, Isabel was married to actor Paul Marion, who had notable roles in “To Have and Have Not” and “Captain Midnight”. However, she and Paul Marion soon got divorced on May 12th, 1944. In 1959, Isabel was arrested in Las Vegas for passing bad checks. The bad check was for 37 dollars to be paid to a cab driver. Isabel was again arrested in Los Angeles in 1961 for drunk driving. She was sentenced to five days in jail and she was put on probation as a driver.

Isabel Jewell was a diabetic and as a result she was often hospitalized. She was always afraid that her condition would prevent her from getting offers due to the possibility of the production being delayed. Livia Jewell, her mother, died on August 8th, 1971. Isabel died April 15th, 1972, her death certificate states that she died of natural causes as a result of her lifelong battle with diabetes. Her remains were cremated and remained in California where she lived at the end of her life. Although Isabel Jewell was never a Hollywood star, she does have a star dedicated to her on the Hollywood Wall of Fame at 1560 Vine Street in Los Angeles, California.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

January 16th at the Riverton Museum 6:30pm, “Routine Patrol: Memoirs of a Small Town Cop”

By Bart Ringer Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

February 8th at the Riverton Museum 2pm, “Exploring Historic Computers”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

February 14th at the Riverton Museum 5:30-9:30, “Murder Mystery Night at the Museum: Roaring 20’s”

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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