Jean Porter was one of Hollywood’s many ingénues, appearing in roles both on television and in films. Though her film career was short-lived in comparison to some of her peers, she remains a cheery and energetic presence in several classic films.
Bennie Jean Porter was born on December 8, 1922, in Cisco, Texas. Her father, H.C. Porter, worked for the Pacific Railway while her mother, Oma Thelma Simper, taught piano. Even at an early age, Porter was already particularly photogenic, dubbed the “Most Beautiful Baby” of Eastland County.
As she grew, so did her engaging personality, entertaining the residence of Dallas by hosting a Saturday morning radio show for the local WRR station by the age of 10. Later, she would secure a summer position touring with performer Ted Lewis and his band.
After spending her childhood in entertainment, Porter and her family moved to Hollywood, where Porter would begin training and work to find a role in the film industry. She won an all-expense –paid trip there and developed her craft as a performer. By age 12, she was taking dance lessons and the Fanchon and Marco dance school, leading to her being discovered by director Allan Dwan. Her first film appearance would be in an uncredited role as part of Song and Dance Man (1936). Porter would continue on in a succession of several uncredited roles before eventually moving on to appearances in B-movies as a bit player or supporting ingénue. Her early roles also included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) and One Million B.C. (1940) until she moved on to be cast in MGM films routinely.
Though Porter never achieved superstardom from her films, she appeared in some fairly popular endeavors. Among her screen successes were The Youngest Profession (1943), Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944), Bathing Beauty (1944), Thrill of a Romance (1945), Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945), Till the End of Time (1946), and Easy to Wed (1946).
While working on Till the End of Time, Porter met director Edward Dmytryk, who would become her husband. Porter had replaced Shirley Temple in the role. They married in 1948 in Ellicott City, Maryland, and had three children: Richard, Victoria, and Rebecca. Unfortunately, Dmytryk was blacklisted due to his refusal to respond to allegations of communism. He would become one of the Hollywood Ten most prominently blacklisted individuals of the film industry. As a result, the couple fled to England. Though they would return to the U.S. in 1951, it was not without challenges. Dmytryk was imprisoned for six months due to contempt of congress. He gave testimony and was eventually given a reprieve, leading him to be allowed to return to directing.
Porter’s career in films, however, would soon end. Dick Powell gave her a small part in Cry Danger (1951), which helped her to keep working while Dmytryk was in jail. During this period, Porter predominantly worked in television, appearing in shows like The Red Skelton Show, Sea Hunt, and 77 Sunset Strip. Her last film was The Left Hand of God (1955), directed by her husband. She retired from acting altogether in 1961.
Despite the many challenges they faced, Porter and Dmytryk remained married until Dmytryk’s death in 1999. The couple authored On Screen Acting together in 1984. Porter herself wrote frequently as a byline contributor for Classic Images as well as an unpublished book about Dmytryk and herself called The Cost of Living. Well into her 80s, Porter also published Hollywood’s Golden Age: As Told By One Who Lived It All and Chicago Jazz and The Some: As Told by One of the Original Chicagoans, Jess Stacy. She would also regularly attend various film-related events.
Porter passed away on January 13, 2018, in Canoga Park, California, at age 95.
Over the years, Porter maintained many properties and moved fairly frequently. She and Dmytryk traveled often but many residences where she lived remain.
In 1947, she had a residence at 1220 N. State Parkway in Chicago, Illinois. The original structure remains.
She also owned a property at 1400 Lorrain St. in Austin, Texas. This is the property today:
From 1956 to 1962, Porter and Dmytryk resided at 609 Saint Cloud Rd. in Los Angeles, California. The home also stands today.
1n 1983, Porter lived at 8729 Lookout Mountain Ave. in Los Angeles, California. Here is the home today:
By 1988, she relocated to 588 Cold Canyon Rd. in Calabasas, California. This is the home today:
In 1996, Porter resided at 3945 Westfall Dr. in Encino, California. This is the home at present:
Today, Porter can still be remembered through her films as well as her intriguing written output both with her husband and independently.