Look at her as the smart, cynical Washington insider who does the right thing by helping an idealistic young senator fight corruption in Capra's Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
In those two classics, Jean Arthur is exactly what Jennifer Jason Leigh as an ace newspaper reporter should have been in The Hudsucker Proxy instead of doing that imitation of Katharine Hepburn from Woman of the Year.
Ever since I was a teen and started seriously reading Hollywood history, I've read about how brilliant James Dean was when he did a spontaneous rope trick in one scene in Giant. People raved about that inspired piece of Method acting. Unfortunately, he didn't hear the raves because he was killed in a car collision before the movie opened. When actor/director Rob Reiner hosted "The Essentials" on TCM back in 2001, he also brought up the brilliance of the rope trick before he presented Giant.
Giant director George Stevens directed Jean Arthur in 1943's The More the Merrier. Arthur starred in that bright World War 2 romantic comedy opposite Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn. She got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this comedy hit.
She was in her early 40s. For an actress, that achievement is impressive even by today's standards. In her early 50s, she starred as the peaceful frontier wife and mother who argues about gun ownership in another George Stevens classic, Shane. Alan Ladd starred as the weary gunslinger. Paramount wanted her to do more pictures but she made Shane the end of her film career. She'd been making movies since the silent era.
She played a receptionist in the 1925 Buster Keaton silent film comedy, Seven Chances.
Buster was a guy being chased by all kinds of women who want to marry him for money.
It was remade as 1999's The Bachelor with Chris O'Donnell in the Buster Keaton role.
After its theatrical run, the movie aired in prime time on ABC. Soon, the network launched a reality show about several young, single women competing for a proposal from a guy called...The Bachelor.
Shane was Jean Arthur's last feature film. She continued to get script offers but she turned them down. Reportedly, Ida Lupino took the 1972 role in Junior Bonner starring Steve McQueen after Jean passed on it. However, she did try her hand at the small screen. Did you know she had a sitcom? The Jean Arthur Show only lasted for one season on CBS in 1966. I remember my parents making a point to watch it so they could see what she looked like. They both smiled and said, "She's still got that voice." The sitcom centered on a mother and son lawyer team. Arthur also did Jell-O commercials.
A few nights ago, I watched Jean Arthur in the 1930s screwball comedy Easy Living. Oh, man, was she good! She's a poor office girl in Manhattan riding to work on the top of a double-decker bus. A Wall Street millionaire arguing with his shop-aholic wife throws her new sable coat off the roof of their penthouse. The coat lands on the poor office girl's head. A modern day fairytale with mix-ups ensues.
Check out Jean's rope trick in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and let me know if it deserves the same attention that the James Dean rope bit in Giant for gotten for decades.