As a tribute to the new year, we’re featuring the story of Jean Howard and Charles Feldman, a Hollywood couple who most assuredly would have hosted a rocking New Year’s Eve party.
The story of Jean Howard and Charles Feldman lasts throughout Hollywood’s glamour period and though it was mostly enacted behind the scenes, the tale reveals a couple who had considerable influence over many of Hollywood’s luminaries; Howard as a photographer to the stars and Feldman as an agent and executive producer.
Jean Howard began a film career at eighteen, when her beauty and poise gained her a role in the last Ziegfeld Follies production. Recognition followed and brought her to Hollywood with an MGM contract. She soon created sparks in Hollywood; MGM head Louis B. Mayer fell in love with her and proposed marriage, despite his reputation as a staunch family man. Instead, she married Charles Feldman, a young attorney just making his start as an actor’s agent. Although an angry Mayer did his best to scuttle Feldman’s career, the wily agent eventually became the town’s top talent broker. He handled the careers of Hollywood’s legendary stars, including Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe. Later he branched out, becoming a film producer whose work brought forth some twentieth century classics such as Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, What’s New Pussycat and Casino Royale.
Jean and Charlie were a lively, good-looking couple, and their lives quickly became intertwined with those of the most celebrated film people: actors, writers, directors and studio executives. When her husband’s career was established, Jean decided to abandon acting in favor of her talent for photography. For her own amusement, she took innumerable photographs of the movie magnates and stars with whom she socialized. The candor and intimacy of these photos reveal another side to these celebrities, the most photographed people in the world.
Jean was a friend, and in her photos the stars are relaxed and off-guard – a far cry from the formal glamour portraits circulated by the studios. Despite their clashes and jealous rages, during and after their marriage, the two forged a personal and professional bond that lasted until Feldman’s death in 1968.
The American Heritage Center houses the Jean Howard collection which contains her famous photographs and negatives of Hollywood events and stars. Her partial list of Hollywood subjects includes Darryl Zanuck, Tyrone Power, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Jimmy Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland. Her non-Hollywood list includes Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jean Cocteau, Charles Feldman, Christopher Isherwood, and Noel Coward. There is also professional and personal correspondence related to her life as a photographer and to her ex-husband Charles Feldman’s business. There are biographical materials regarding her early acting career and notes related to her trips with Cole Porter.