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Jean Porter, a petite and vivacious supporting player in such 1940s MGM movies as Bathing Beauty, The Youngest Profession and Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble, has died. She was 95.
Porter died Saturday of natural causes in Canoga Park, California, her daughter Rebecca Dmytryk told The Hollywood Reporter.
Porter was married to writer-director Edward Dmytryk, one of the Hollywood Ten, from May 1948 — shortly after he had landed in trouble with the blacklist — until his death in 1999 at age 90.
The two met after Porter had replaced Shirley Temple in his film Till the End of Time (1946), and they also worked together on her final feature, The Left Hand of God (1955), starring Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney.
A native of Texas, Porter appeared in such Westerns as Home in Wyomin‘ 1942) and Heart of the Rio Grande (1942) with Gene Autry and in San Fernando Valley (1944) opposite Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
She was Lou Costello’s manicurist girlfriend in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945) and Richard Erdman’s ill-fated love interest, Darlene, in the great Bunker Hill-set film noir Cry Danger (1951), starring Dick Powell.
Born Bennie Jean Porter on Dec. 8, 1922, in Cisco, Texas, Porter was named the “Most Beautiful Baby” in Eastland County when she was 1. At age 10, she had her own half-hour radio show on Saturday mornings on the WRR station in Fort Worth and landed a summer vaudeville job headlining with Ted Lewis and his band.
Porter came west when her mother, a piano teacher, won an all-expense-paid trip to Hollywood, and she took lessons at the Fanchon and Marco dancing school (Rita Hayworth was one of the teachers.) There, Porter was discovered by director Allan Dwan, who gave her an uncredited role in his Fox musical Song and Dance Man (1936), starring Claire Trevor.
Small parts in such films as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), the sci-fi classic One Million B.C. (1940), Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) and Hellzapoppin‘ (1941) followed.
The perky 5-foot-tall, 98-pound Porter eventually was signed to a contract at MGM, and she played an autograph hound in The Youngest Profession (1943), which was laden with cameos made by the studio’s top stars.
Porter then portrayed a co-ed and the daughter of Margaret Dumont in Bathing Beauty, starring Esther Williams and Basil Rathbone, and appeared as one the young lovelies in another film released in 1944, the Mickey Rooney comedy Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble.
After she decided to leave MGM, Porter signed with Columbia and had the lead in the “B” pictures Betty Co-Ed (1946) and the 1947 films Little Miss Broadway, Sweet Genevieve and Two Blondes and a Redhead.
Edward Dmytryk scored a best director Oscar nomination for Crossfire (1947) and helmed such notable films as Murder, My Sweet (1944), Cornered (1945), The Sniper (1952), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Raintree County (1957) and The Carpetbaggers (1964).
MGM had loaned out Porter to RKO so she could step in for Temple in Till the End of Time. She had been dating singer Mel Torme when met Dmytryk.
Porter and her husband had fled to England in the late 1940s after he was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten for refusing to answer charges that he was a communist. They returned to the U.S. in 1951, and he served six months in prison for contempt of Congress.
Dmytryk then decided to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He admitted that he had been a member of the American Communist Party and named other members. That enabled him to resume his career in Hollywood.
While Porter was making Cry Danger, Dmytryk was in jail, she told the Western Clippings website in an undated interview. “Dick Powell, who was wonderful, gave me a part,” she said. “[It was] very little, but at least I was working.”
Her last onscreen appearances came in 1961 episodes of Sea Hunt and 77 Sunset Strip.
Porter wrote several books, including the unpublished The Cost of Living, about her and her husband; Chicago Jazz and Then Some, about their L.A. neighbor, jazz pianist Jess Stacy; and, with Dmytryk, On Screen Acting.
Survivors include her daughters Victoria and Rebecca and stepson Michael, an assistant director on such TV shows as Falcon Crest and Touched by an Angel.