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By Jim Manago, Biographer (Shirley Booth, Huntz Hall, and Kay Aldridge)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Shirley Booth's Sister Jean

In tribute to Shirley Booth's late sister Jean Coe (born on Valentine's Day in 1914, died January 23, 2010), I repeat this post.

This article ran ten years ago in an Oregon publication, News-Times, which serves the communities of Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks and Gaston. 

The following is reprinted with permission of the News-Times, Forest Grove, Oregon (www.fgnewstimes.com).


From FOREST GROVE NEWS-TIMES, 


Wednesday, March 3, 2004, Vol. 15, No. 3

"It’s a sister thing"

Jean Coe not just living on memories

By Cliff Newell
of The News-Times
  
When you meet Jean Coe and hear her speak for the first time, you wonder, “Where have I heard that voice before?”

You probably have. It came from Jean’s sister, Shirley Booth, one of America’s greatest actresses and star of the classic television sitcom “Hazel” from the early to mid-1960s. The timber and accent of Hazel’s voice are definitely in that of Coe.

Still, it is hard to imagine Jean Coe standing in anyone else’s shadow, even a sister as accomplished as Shirley Booth, who won the highest acting awards for theatre, movies and television.

Now age 90 and living at Alterra Wynwood in Forest Grove, Coe might need to use a walker she calls “Junior,” but her mind is lively and her sense of humor is sharp. It is simply a whole lot of fun to sit down and listen to her tell about her life. Or even just ask her how she is feeling.

“I have a case of immaculate indigestion,” she said.

Certainly, her sister was a big part of Coe’s life since she worked as her personal assistant for many years. It was in 1951, just as Coe’s marriage was ending, when she went to New York to visit Booth.

“I told her, “I’ve got to find a job,” Coe said. “She told me, why don’t you work for me?”

Coe joined Booth just as her career was taking off into the stratosphere. In a period of three years, Booth won Tony Awards for “Come Back, Little Sheba” and “Time of the Cuckoo” on Broadway. She then won the Academy Award in 1952 for the movie version of “Come Back, Little Sheba,” starring opposite Burt Lancaster. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther raved of Booth: “Her skillful and knowing creation of a depressingly common type - the immature, mawkish, lazy housewife - is visualization at its best.”

But Booth became best known for playing the wisecracking maid Hazel from 1961 to 1966. That’s when she needed Coe’s help the most. It was a time when “people walked up her driveway and expected to find Hazel.”

Coe did all kinds of jobs for Booth, including handling the mail, making her appointments and, yes, Hazel fans, signing her pictures.

That practice came home to roost one night when a Hazel fan came to Coe’s home, insisting that she was the daughter of Shirley Booth. As proof, she brought an autographed photo – which Coe had signed.

“I told her, I’m afraid this is an awful shock for you,” Coe said. “She left, but she wasn’t convinced.”

Of her sister, Coe said, “She was well-liked as a person and respected as an actress. People would come up to her at dinner and she never turned anyone away.”

Coe first came to Oregon following the death of her son, who suffered a heart attack. She went to live with her daughter Leslie in Gaston.

“It was just lovely.” Coe said. “There was such a panorama there – a donkey, dogs, and horses. But I am a city gal.” 

A few trips to the city was like a whole new life," Coe said. "I thought, 'I've got to get out of Gaston. I haven't got that much time left.' "

Describing herself as an "Auntie Mame Mother,” Coe went looking for a place in Forest Grove and found a place she at first thought was named “Alcatraz Wildwood.” Once she got the name straight and got a tour, Coe said, “I said, 'Where do I sign?' I never, ever regretted it.”

Even at age 90, life has surprises for Coe. Not long ago she was in a nurse’s ward on the second floor at Alterra Wynwood to have a bandage put on. While waiting she listened to Alterra's handbell choir practicing "Amazing Grace."


"When they finished I clapped,” Coe said. “Before I knew it I was up there with them.” 
_________________________________
Thanks to Pat Yoakum for her assistance on this story. 


Reprinted with permission of the News-Times, Forest Grove, Oregon

*****


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