20th Century Fox in the late 1940s and early 1950s and as the second (or possibly third) wife of Howard Hughes. Although possibly best remembered for her siren role in Pickup on South Street (1953), Peters was known for her resistance to be turned into a sex symbol, preferring to play unglamorous, down-to-earth women.
Early lifeBorn Elizabeth Jean Peters in Canton, Ohio, she was the daughter of Elizabeth and Gerald Peters, a laundry manager. Raised on a small farm in Canton, Peters attended East Canton High School and the University of Michigan and later Ohio State University, where she studied to become a teacher and majored in literature. While studying for a teaching degree at Ohio State, she entered the Miss Ohio State Pageant in the fall of 1945. From the twelve finalists, Peters won. Sponsored by photographer Paul Robinson of the "House of Portraits", her grand prize was a screen test with 20th Century-Fox. As her agent, Robinson accompanied her to Hollywood, and helped her secure a seven-year contract with Fox. She dropped out of college to become an actress, a decision she later regretted. In the late 1940s, she returned to college, in between filming, to obtain a diploma.
It was announced that in her first film I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947), she would ironically play an "ugly duckling", supported by "artificial freckles and hornrimmed glasses". She eventually withdrew from the film. Furthermore, she was tested in 1946 for a farm girl role in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948), but it was eventually decided she was not suitable.
BreakthroughFollowing her rejection for Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, Peters was selected to replace Linda Darnell as the female lead in Captain from Castile (1947) opposite Tyrone Power, when Darnell was reassigned to save the production of Forever Amber. Peters, although she had not made her screen debut by this time, was highly publicized and received a star treatment while filming took place. Captain from Castile was a hit, and Leonard Maltin wrote that afterwards Peters spent the new decade playing "sexy spitfires, often in period dramas and Westerns." She was offered a similar role in the western Yellow Sky (1948), but she refused the part, explaining it was "too sexy". As a result, the studio, frustrated by her stubbornness, put her on her first suspension.
For her second film, Deep Waters (1948), which Peters filmed in late 1947, she was reunited with her director from Captain from Castile, Henry King. On this, she commented: "It's really a break for me, because he knows where he's going and what he wants, and I naturally have great confidence in him." The film was not nearly as successful as Captain from Castile, but Peters was again noticed. She was named among the best five 'finds' of the year, among Barbara Bel Geddes, Valli, Richard Widmark and Wanda Hendrix. She was next assigned to co-star next to Clifton Webb in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949), but Shirley Temple later replaced her.
Instead, Peters signed on in early 1949 to play Ray Milland's love interest in It Happens Every Spring (1949). For the role, she offered to bleach her hair, but this was overruled by the studio.Although the film became a success, most of the publicity went to Milland. Afterwards, she starred alongside Paul Douglas in the period film Love That Brute (1950), for which she had to wear a dress in which she was unable to sit. The film was originally titled Turned Up Toes and Peters was cast in the film in June 1949, shortly after the release of It Happens Every Spring. To prepare for a singing and dancing scene, Peters took a few lessons with Betty Grable's dance instructor.
By 1950, Peters was almost forgotten by the public, even though she was playing several lead roles from 1947. In late 1950, she was even cast in a secondary role as a college girl in Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), a Jeanne Crain vehicle. According to a newspaper article, Peters was given the role by Jean Negulesco by impressing him with her sewing. She once became famous for being a small country girl, but as she grew up, the studio did not find her any more suitable roles.
StardomAnne of the Indies, which, according to the press, was the film that finally brought her stardom. Before its release, she was cast in Viva Zapata! (1952) opposite Marlon Brando in a role which once belonged to Julie Harris, and she was set to play the title role in the drama film Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952). It was the first time since the beginning of her career that Peters had received this much publicity. While shooting Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952) in late 1951, on location in Hutchinson, Kansas, Peters was honored the title 'Miss Wheatheart of America'.
Director Samuel Fuller chose Peters over Marilyn Monroe for the part of Candy in 1953's Pickup on South Street. He thought Peters had the right blend of sex appeal and the tough-talking, streetwise quality he was seeking, and that Monroe was too innocent looking for the role. Peters was offered the role in 1952, after Shelley Winters had already dropped out, and Betty Grable had turned it down. Because of the sex symbol status of her character, Peters was not thrilled at taking on this role. She preferred to choose her own roles, as she had done with Anne of the Indies (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952) and Lure of the Wilderness (1952), which were all unglamorous roles.
For Pickup on South Street, Peters was advised to bleach her hair for the role, but she refused, trying to avoid comparison with Winters and Grable. However, she did agree to adopt a "sexy shuffle" to do the role. To further understand the role of a siren, she was helped by Marilyn Monroe. Peters eventually admitted that she liked making the film, in which she plays a siren, but announced in an interview she was not willing to take on other siren roles. She was quoted saying: "[Pickup on South Street] was fine for my career. But that doesn't mean I'm going to put on a tight sweater and skirt and slither around. I'm just not the type. On Marilyn Monroe it looks good. On me it would look silly." In another interview, Peters explained that playing down-to-earth and sometimes unwashed women have the most to offer in the way of drama. She said:
|“||A clothes horse seldom has lines or situations that pierce the outer layer and get into the core of life. After all, a woman in the latest Paris creation might feel and think like a plain, simple soul but the clothes she wears would prevent her from revealing exactly what she feels and thinks. One look in the mirror and she must live up to what she sees there. The same is true on screen. If the character is chic and soignee and lines are either 'bright' or 'smart aleck.' I do not think of myself as a person suited to reading such lines. Sophistication in an actress usually comes from many years of training. I came to the screen from classroom and I'm learning as I go along. I like to play roles I understand. As I am a farm girl, born and raised near Canton, Ohio, I like the frank, honest approach: Innuendo, intrigue the devious slant, are foreign to me and to the sort of character I best understand. I often think our glamorization of Hollywood stars—the perpetual photographing us in ermine and bouffant tulle, in French bathing suits or slee satin — throws the public off: They don't recognize us as human beings subject to the same discomforts of climate and working conditions as they are. They expect to see that goddess leading couple of wolfhounds come striding onto the set. Because I like to get away from all that and down to the heart of things I choose such characters as Josefa, or Anne or Louise, the girl in Lure of the Wilderness.||”|
Another 1953 film starring Peters was the film noir Vicki. The story of the film, which is a remake of I Wake Up Screaming, was bought by writer Leo Townsend especially for Peters. Townsend told that he gave the role to Peters in December 1952, because she was "one of the greatest sirens he's ever seen." Next, Peters was assigned to replace Crain in the film Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which was shot on location in late 1953 in Italy. Peters was unsatisfied with her role and said in a September 1953 interview: "When I heard Dorothy McGuire, Clifton Webb and Maggie McNamara were going to be in the picture, I thought I would finally have the kind of role that suited me. They sounded like smart, sophisticated company. But when I got to Italy and read the script, I discovered I was going to be an earthy kind of girl again. The script had me nearly being killed in a runaway truck."
Nevertheless, the film became a success and brought Peters again in the limelight. Other 1954 films co-starring Peters were the westerns Apache and Broken Lance. Although Broken Lance did not deliver her much attention, she was critically acclaimed for her performance in Apache, with one critic praising her for "giving an excellent account for herself", feeling she was "on her way to becoming one of the finest young actresses around Hollywood today."
Following her marriage to Howard Hughes, Peters retired from acting, her final film being A Man Called Peter (1955). After the release of A Man Called Peter, she refused several roles, for which she was put on suspension. Deciding she had had enough, she left Fox to focus on her private life. Producer Jerry Wald tried to persuade her not to leave Hollywood in early 1957, but had no luck. She was supposedly discouraged to be an actress by Hughes, and instead reported in late 1957 that she was planning on becoming a producer.In March 1959, it was announced that Peters was set to return to the screen for a supporting role in The Best of Everything. She never produced a film, nor did she appear in The Best of Everything.
Later careerIn 1970, there was again talks of a comeback, when it was reported that Peters was considering three film offers and a weekly TV series for the 1970-1971 season. Instead, she made her comeback in the television movie Winesburg, Ohio (1973). She was not positive about the film, saying: "I am not pleased with the show or my performance in it. I found it rather dull." The verdict was surprising, because when she took the role, she was enthusiastic on the project, saying: "I'm very fond of this script. It's the right age for me. I won't have to pretend I'm a glamour girl." Furthermore, her co-star William Windom was openly positive on his collaboration with Peters, saying she was "warm, friendly and charming on the set."
In 1976, Peters had a supporting role in the TV miniseries The Moneychangers. When asked why she took the role, she responded: "I'll be darned if I know. A moment of madness, I think. I ran into my old friend Ross Hunter, who was producing The Moneychasers for NBC-TV, and he asked me if I wanted to be in it. It seemed like fun. It's a nice part - not too big - and I greatly admire Christopher Plummer, whom I play opposite."
Afterwards, Peters appeared in the 1981 television film Peter and Paul, produced by her husband, and guest starred in Murder, She Wrote in 1988, which sparked her final acting performance.
[ Personal life and deathAfter landing a contract in Hollywood, Peters moved there, where she initially lived with her aunt, Melba Diesel. From the beginning of her career, Peters openly admitted she did not like the fame, explaining her sheltered life had made her develop antipathy to crowds. Co-actors at Fox recalled that she was very serious about her career. Jeanne Crain said Peters was "anything but a party girl". Despite her clashes with the studio, Peters was well liked by other contract players. One biographer recalled: "In all the research and planning that went into this book, no one ever had an unkind word to say of Miss Peters, and that is unusual." Peters was close friends with Marilyn Monroe, who also worked for Fox. Other actors she befriended during her career were Joseph Cotten, David Niven, Ray Milland, Marie McDonald, and especially Jeanne Crain.
Actor and soldier Audie Murphy claimed that he had a relationship with Peters in 1946, before she met Howard Hughes. In 1954, Peters married Texas oilman Stuart Cramer. By the time they married, they had known each other for only a few weeks, and they separated a few months later. There was much talk of Peters possibly retiring from the screen, but the actress insisted that after her eight-week leave from Fox, she was to return to Hollywood.
In 1957, after her divorce from Cramer, Peters married Howard Hughes, shortly before he faded from public view and became an eccentric recluse.The couple met in the 1940s, before Peters became a film actress.They had a highly publicized romance in 1947 and even then there was talk of marriage, but she said she could not combine it with her career. It was later claimed that Peters was "the only woman [Hughes] ever loved", and he reportedly had his security officers follow her everywhere even when they were not in a relationship. This was confirmed by actor Max Showalter, who became a close friend of Peters during shooting of Niagara (1953). Showalter told in a 2004 interview that because he frequently met with Peters, Hughes' men threatened to ruin his career if he did not leave her alone.
Peters retired from acting during the marriage between 1957 and 1971, and did not attend any social events in Hollywood. According to a 1969 article, she went through life unrecognizable, despite being protected by Hughes' security officers all day. Living in anonymity was easy, according to the actress, because she "didn't act like an actress." It was later reported that during the marriage, Peters was frequently involved in numerous activities, such as charitable work, arts and crafts, and university studies including psychology and anthropology at UCLA.
In 1971, Peters and Hughes divorced. She agreed to a lifetime alimony payment of $70,000 annually, adjusted for inflation, and she waived all claims to Hughes' estate. In the media, she refused to speak about the marriage, claiming she rather focused on the present and future. She furthermore admitted that she hoped avoiding being known as 'Mrs. Howard Hughes' for the rest of her life, although realizing it would be otherwise: "I'm a realist. I know what the score is, and I know who the superstar is." Later in 1971, Peters married Stanley Hough, an executive with Twentieth-Century Fox. She was his wife until Hough's death in 1990.
Peters died of leukemia in 2000 in Carlsbad, California, two days before her 74th birthday.
Year Film Role Notes
1947 Captain from Castile Catana Perez
1948 Deep Waters Ann Freeman
1949 It Happens Every Spring Deborah Greenleaf
1950 Love That Brute Ruth Manning
1951 As Young as You Feel Alice Hodges
Take Care of My Little Girl Dallas Prewitt
Anne of the Indies Captain Anne Providence
1952 Viva Zapata! Josefa Zapata
Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie Nellie Halper
Lure of the Wilderness Laurie Harper
O. Henry's Full House Susan Goodwin (The Last Leaf)
1953 Niagara Polly Cutler
Pickup on South Street Candy
Vicki Vicki Lynn
A Blueprint for Murder Lynne Cameron
1954 Three Coins in the Fountain Anita Hutchins
Broken Lance Barbara
1955 A Man Called Peter Catherine Wood Marshall
Year Title Role Notes
1973 Winesburg, Ohio Elizabeth Willard Television movie
1976 The Moneychangers Beatrice Heyward Miniseries
1981 Peter and Paul Priscilla Television movie
1988 Murder, She Wrote Siobhan O'Dea 1 episode