Jean Howard was a Hollywood actress, hostess, celebrity, and photographer. Her book, Jean Howard’s Hollywood: A Photo Memoir (1989), depicts the time of the Palm Springs movie colony and studio rule. She was born Ernestine Hill on October 13, 1919 in Longview, Texas. Her father financed her participation in fashion shows and beauty contests. She signed a contract with MGM, but went to New York with Lorenz Ziegfeld instead. She was in the 1930s Ziegfeld Follies and later in a number of films including The Prize Fighter and The Lady. Louis B. Mayer fell in love with her and proposed marriage, but she rejected him and married Charles Feldman (agent-producer) instead. They divorced in 1948, but continued to share their intimate and professional life until his death in 1968.
Cole Porter’s wife, Linda, was a close friend of Jean Howard. After she died, Howard accompanied the songwriter on two tours of Europe and the Middle East. The photographs that Howard took in 1955 and 1956 with Porter became the subject of her second book, Travels with Cole Porter (1991). In 1964, she met musician Tony Santoro in a Capri nightclub. They lived together and migrated between Capri, Italy and California until they eventually married and settled in California in 1973. After their divorce, Howard spent more of her time in Italy, but returned to California during her last years. She died at home in 2000.
Howard’s friends and acquaintances were many. Her friends included Cole and Linda Porter, Marlene Dietrich, and the Darryl Zanuck family. She mingled with numerous others, including Tyrone Power, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. Howard’s elegant Spanish colonial house in Coldwater Canyon was the location for numerous Hollywood parties.
Jean Howard’s interest in photography began during the 1940s on the advice of a graphologist, who convinced her to take some serious classes (her student work is in the collection). Her ability to capture fellow celebrities at their ease makes her pictures remarkable. They appeared in Life, Vogue, and other major magazines while her fame as a photographer grew.
From the guide to the Jean Howard Papers, 1930s-1990s, (University of Wyoming. American Heritage Center)