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No Regrets : Gloria Jean Savors Days of Child Stardom

September 30, 1985|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

"You don't need this yet," Groucho counseled her. She agreed.

Like many of her Hollywood peers, Schoonover discovered one day that her movie income had been mismanaged, perhaps dishonestly so.

"I got in such trouble with the IRS that they seized all my savings out of the bank," she said. "If I had had good advice, I wouldn't have a worry today. Instead I'm struggling like everybody else." During the 1950s, she also got catastrophic career advice. An agent urged her to leave Universal and go on a two-year personal-appearance tour. When she returned to Hollywood, nobody remembered Gloria Jean.

Some 'Incredibly Obnoxious'

"Some top people I worked with--I won't name names--were incredibly obnoxious," she said. The worst were the decision-makers who figured she would do anything for a job.

"One producer ripped a beautiful coat I had," she said. "I was in shambles when I got out of there. It was a nightmare. They figured I was trying to get back in the business and so I was vulnerable. Well, I didn't want it that badly, believe me."

Used to having studio personnel dictate her every move, she floundered at first without structure or a job. "When you're in the studios like that, you're not prepared for the outside world," she said. "It's like you are in a cocoon."

Looking back, the end of her career seems inevitable now, but it was unimaginable at the time. "I would advise people in the business to prepare for something else," she said, almost too calmly for someone who remembers what it felt like when her charmed life disappeared.

Worked in Restaurant

Schoonover went to work as a hostess in a Westside restaurant. She was married only briefly, she said, and the traumatic union produced her only child, a son, Angelo Cellini, who is now 22. She never remarried. "I seem to attract the drips and the drunks. I always have," she said, without apparent bitterness.

In 1965 an employment agency sent her on an interview for a receptionist job at Redken. Schoonover bears a striking resemblance to Redken's founder and chairman of the board, Paula Kent Meehan, a former actress and fellow redhead. "I was her idol when she was young," Schoonover said. "People used to ask her for her autograph, thinking she was me." According to Schoonover, her job at Redken has been a wonderful second career.

A recent convert to Roman Catholicism, she said her non-film way of life has given her peace of mind. She adores the occasional get-togethers with Jane Withers and other former child stars. But she is realistic about the costs, and odds, of making a comeback. "You've got to be 14 today to be famous," she said.

On the other hand, she doesn't altogether buy the argument that life in the slow lane is necessarily superior to the glamorous film industry.

She recalled talking to Roddy McDowell several years ago when he came to Redken to shoot a TV movie. "He told me, 'All you get in the industry today is rejection. You're lucky you're out of it,' " she said. "What's funny to me is that everything I see today has Roddy McDowell in it. I don't know what he was talking about."

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