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Jean Muir; Actress Blacklisted in 1950s

July 26, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jean Muir, one of the first actresses blacklisted as a purported Communist sympathizer during the zealous McCarthy era, has died. She was 85.

Muir died Tuesday in a nursing home in Mesa, Ariz.

The blond actress was scheduled to play the mother in "The Aldrich Family" television series in 1950 when she suddenly was fired by NBC and General Foods Corp., the program's sponsor. The dismissal occurred after her name, along with those of about 150 other show business people, was listed in a 1950 booklet called "Red Channels: the Report on Communist Influence in Radio and Television."

Muir vehemently denied the accusation, telling news media: "I am not a Communist, have never been one and believe that the Communists represent a vicious and destructive force, and I am opposed to them."

But General Foods refused to relent, saying she had become too controversial to appear on their family show.

The accusations of Communism in her case were apparently prompted by printed reports that she had been a member of the Congress of American Women, which was listed by the U.S. Department of Justice as subversive. She said she had belonged to the group for six months, but resigned "because I suspected it."

The blacklisting took an emotional toll on Muir, and prompted a lengthy bout with alcoholism. She did not work on the small screen again until 1958 when she had a role in an episode of "Matinee Theater."

Muir's ordeal was described in detail in the 1952 book by Merle Miller "The Judges and Judged."

Born Jean Muir Fullarton in New York City, the actress began her career on the Broadway stage in 1930. She moved to Hollywood under contract to Warner Bros. in 1933 after a triumph in the play "Saint Wench."

Muir made a spate of mostly mediocre motion pictures in the 1930s, including "The World Changes," "The White Cockatoo," "Oil for the Lamps of China," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat."

She also created and operated Jean Muir's Theater Workshop on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Muir worked briefly in London and then returned to New York where she married attorney Henry Jaffee in 1940. She continued her career on the stage and in the new medium of television.

Muir taught drama at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., from 1966 to 1976 and lectured at other colleges as well.

She is survived by two sons, Michael of Los Angeles and David of Belmont, Calif., and a daughter, Margaret Bauer of Mesa.

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