1940s gelatin silver photograph of tempting, blonde, B-movie actress Adele Jergens. A seductive and glamorous cheesecake pin-up portrait, Jergens shows off her curvaceous figure in a leopard print bikini. A truly tempting old Hollywood artifact!
Fewer dames were tougher on the 40s and 50s screen than leggy (5'9") “B” star Adele Jergens, the tough-talking, plump-cheeked peroxide blonde who gave her fair share of tawdry trouble in backstage dramas, film noir, crime potboilers, and adventure yarns. She was just as headstrong at trying to bust out of the chorus lines and cheesecake parts to become a topnotch “A” actress draw. She failed in the latter but nevertheless left a respectable Hollywood legacy for the host of hard-as-nails babes that did leave an impression.
Born on November 26, 1917, in Brooklyn New York, the youngest of four to working class Norwegian parents, she was christened Adele Louisa Jurgens (some sources say Jurgenson) and started her youth as a sports-minded tomboy before setting her young teen sights on an entertainment career as a dancer. After years of study (she earned a scholarship) at a Manhattan dance studio and following her graduation from Grover Cleveland High School, the knockout-looking 18-year-old found her way into the Broadway chorus line (billed as Adele Jurgens, her real name) of the Moss Hart/Cole Porter musical “Jubilee!,” which introduced the classic Porter songs “Begin the Beguine” and “Just One of Those Things” and starred Melvin Cooper and Mary Boland as the King and Queen and a young Montgomery Clift as Prince Peter.
The John Robert Powers Agency saw in Adele top runway model potential and quickly signed up the gorgeous girl and her gams. She willingly played the starlet game by being squired around town by big Broadway stars and handsome male eligibles, and finding promotional titles to further attract pin-up attention – “Miss World’s Fairest” at the New York 1939 World’s Fair, as well as “The Champagne Blonde” and “The Girl with the Million Dollar Legs”. She was even dubbed “The Number One Showgirl in New York City” at one point. By this time she had revised the spelling of her last name for the stage (Jergens). In between modeling assignments, Adele found dance work in other in cabaret revues, nightclubs, in the Rockette chorus line, and in such Broadway shows as Cole Porter’s “Leave It to Me!” (1938) again starring Gaxton and Moore and co-starring “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” singing star Mary Martin; Cole Porter’s “DuBarry Was a Lady” (1939) with Ethel Merman belting out “Well, Did You Evah?” and “Friendship”; “Louisiana Purchase” (in a replacement role) (1940), “Banjo Eyes” (1941) starring Eddie Cantor and the burlesque revue “Star and Garter” (1942) in which Adele had a featured role while understudying one of its headliners, Gypsy Rose Lee. She went on for Ms. Lee, Hollywood took immediate notice with Twentieth Century-Fox signing her up.
Adele started at the bottom rung at Fox with the usual decorative showgirl or good time girl parts in the musicals Hello Frisco, Hello (1943), Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943), The Gang’s All Here (1943) and Pin Up Girl (1944). When Fox dropped her option she was snatched up by Columbia in a seven-year contract. After minor parts again in the musicals Dancing in Manhattan (1944), Tonight and Every Night (1945) and State Fair (1945), she was entrusted with the lead femme role as Princess Armina of Baghdad in the Eastern adventure _A Thousand and One Nights (1945) starring Phil Silvers and handsome Cornel Wilde as Aladdin. She also displayed a brusque comic flair as the aptly-named Allura in the Rosalind Russell comedy She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945) as an hilariously-accented blonde briefly competing for Russell’s man Lee Bowman. Adele also top-lined her own musical albeit the quickly forgotten When a Girl’s Beautiful (1947) which co-starred Marc Platt and Stephen Dunne.
After a lull, the former WWII pin-up (once nick-named “The All-American Girl” by the men of the 504th parachute infantry) was now being billed by Columbia as “The Eyeful” and returned to the musical genre with the fantasy Down to Earth (1947). Rita Hayworth plays a heavenly muse who, disturbed by a Broadway musical below the clouds that is mocking Greek mythology. Turning mortal, she takes things in her own hands by turning mortal and (not easily) replacing the show’s tough-talking original goddess Adele Jergens in order to manipulate the proceedings. Adele gets to tap and sing (dubbed by Kay Starr) before she is fired.
Outside of musicals, the hard-looking blonde (especially when her hair was let down), Adele started making headway in crime dramas and film noir starting with a nifty featured role as a glamour girl in The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947). She followed that with hard-boiled roles in I Love Trouble (1948), The Dark Past (1948), Edge of Doom (1950), Armored Car Robbery (1950) and Side Street (1949). For the most part, however, it was the usual over-served hash that, while keeping her busy, also kept her locked in the “B” support ranks – The Prince of Thieves (1948), Law of the Barbary Coast (1949), Slightly French (1949), Make Believe Ballroom (1949), Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952), Somebody Loves Me (1952) – when not leading in inconsequential material such as Ladies of the Chorus (1948) (as Marilyn’s Monroe’s mom), The Mutineers (1949), The Woman from Tangier (1948), The Crime Doctor’s Diary (1949) and the serial Radar Secret Service (1950).
Treasure of Monte Cristo (1949) was notable for the casting of Adele and future husband Glenn Langan. One might think that gorgeous Adele would end up a divorcée many times over, but she and Langan, who wed on October 6, 1951, stayed married until his death almost 40 years later. The 1950s, following good parts (Sugarfoot (1951)) but far more routine ones (Beware of Blondie (1950), The Traveling Saleswoman (1950), Blues Busters (1950)), Adele moved into TV work. After having son Tracy in 1953, Adele took a brief break from her career, then resumed it and found work on such programs as “Dangerous Assignment,” “The Abbott & Costello Show,” “Mr. and Mrs. North,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Public Defender,” “I Married Joan,” “My Favorite Husband” and “The Burns & Allen Show”. Co-starring on film with husband Langan again in The Big Chase (1954), Adele worked for a couple more years then left the business as the quality of her movies diminished with tawdry roles in Fireman Save My Child (1954), The Miami Story (1954), The Lonesome Trail (1955), Girls in Prison (1956) and Runaway Daughters (1956). She never returned but husband Langan continued his career until the early 1970s, and he also dabbled in real estate.
Glenn Langan died of cancer in 1991 and their only child, 48-year-old Tracy, who had become a film technician, died in 2001 of a brain tumor, which devastated the actress. Her health declined quickly after her son’s death; she died the following year of pneumonia on November 22, 2002, just days before her 85th birthday.
Wednesday, June 3, at 6:30 p.m., the National Archives at Kansas City
will host Dr. John Curatola for a talk on “Props and Pin-Ups: Nose Art
in World War II.”
The use of nose art was common on military aircraft
during the Second World War. Painted on the fuselages of many of the
belligerent air forces aircraft, these stand-alone pieces
of art reflected aircrews’ values and attitudes. Messages and pictures
painted on these aircraft are not only a rich military legacy, but
provide insight into the time, temperament, and men who flew and
Curatola will address the various influences, national
trends, and general themes of this unique element of military history.
The presentation will show nose art in its original form and in
historical context, which includes partial nudity.
To make a reservation for this free program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-268-8010.