Child Singer of 1940s, Gloria Jean, Dies at 92

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Gloria Jean, the singer who rose to fame during her pre-teen days, died August 31, Friday, out of heart failure and pneumonia in Mountain View, Hawaii. She was 92.

Born as Gloria Jean Schoonover in 1926 in Buffalo (New York) to Ferman and Eleanor (Watkins) Schoonover, she acted in more than two dozen movies too between 1939 and 1959. She debuted with “The Under-Pup” in 1939 when Joe Pasternak signed her to a contract with Universal Pictures. She soon became a sensation. Her best was in W.C. Field’s antic comedy “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

The other movies Jean made her appearances were 1940s “If I Had My Way,” 1942s “Get Hep to Love,” 1944s “Pardon My Rhythm” and 1947s “Copacabana.” By mid-1950s film roles went sparse and her last in a major studio film was 1961s comedy “The Ladies Man.”

When her film career cooled, she took a job as a restaurant hostess in Los Angeles. She met an Italian Franco Cellini and married him in 1962. Both had a son, Angelo Cellini, who died last year, and divorced in 1966.

In 1963 Jean started working for Redken Laboratories as a receptionist and continued with it for next 30 years. After retirement she lived with her sister Bonnie in California. She moved to Hawaii following Bonnie’s death in 2007 and lived with her son and his family.

In 2005 her authorized biography “Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven” was published.

She started her child career by singing on local radio in her native Scranton, Pa., and later in an opera troupe. She appeared in several TV shows too. She sang on The Colgate Variety Hour, Showtime and You Asked For It. She acted for Death Valley Days, Annie Oakley, Lockup, and The Dick Powell Show.

In much later part of her life she was honored by the Young Artist Foundation recognized as a juvenile performer. She participated in several nostalgia and autograph shows.

Her film “If I Had My Way” received new beginning. It was restored to original length and released on DVD. Similarly “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break” was issued in the new media format.

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