Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jane Bryan (1918-2009)

Jane O'Brien Dart, a youngster whose name was changed to Jane Bryan when she appeared in films with Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Kay Francis, James Cagney and many other stalwarts from Warner Brothers in the Golden Age of the studio era--only to walk away from it all to marry industrialist Justin Dart, (who was a force behind Rexall Drugs among other ventures)--has died at age 90.

With Anita Louise and Bette Davis in The Sisters (1938) (right).

There was something about her intelligent vulnerability that I just liked. My favorite performance of Ms. Bryan's was in one of her last films, We Are Not Alone (1939), directed by Edmund Goulding from James Hilton's excellent novel.

Jane Bryan played an Austrian governess who appeared opposite Paul Muni (below) ) in We Are Not Alone. Muni gave one of his most subtle performances in this movie, along with the magnificent Flora Robson, who graced the film with her talent as well. The combination of story and filmmakers drew something rare from the young actress too, whose quiet warmth never received a better showcase. Not available on dvd, this is movie, which builds slowly, is well worth looking for next time it is scheduled on TCM. In one of the few times Bryan consented to speak about her career, she thought that this movie's somber depth of feeling was enhanced by the outbreak of the Second World War during its production, which, set in WWI, dealt with the spiritual loneliness, racism, fear and rigidity that underpin most wars.

A really lovely little freckle-faced 21-year old off screen in 1939, seen below, Bryan seldom spoke about her career publicly, but once said that when she appeared with Cagney in Each Dawn I Die, he kept encouraging her to get out of the business--not because he thought she didn't have talent. He just saw that she was "too nice" to make it to the top of the heap at WB. Active in various arts organizations, such as the Monterey Museum of Art, she had a gift for friendship. You can see her complete obituary here.

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