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Jean Peters, actress, 73

Friday October 20 6:16 PM ET

Jean Peters, Ex-Wife of Howard Hughes, Dead at 73 

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Jean Peters, a farm girl who won a screen
test in the 1940s and went on to star in films opposite Marlon Brando and
Tyrone Power before marrying billionaire recluse Howard Hughes, has died
at age 73, associates said on Friday.

The former actress died on Oct. 13, two days before her 74th birthday, in
La Jolla, Calif. and was buried Tuesday at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver
City, Calif. She reportedly died of leukemia.

One of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies during the 1940s and '50s,
Peters starred opposite such stars as Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster and
Spencer Tracy, as well as Power and Brando.

She made her film debut starring as Power's sultry lover in the 1947
swashbuckler ``Captain from Castile'' but gave up acting 10 years later,
at the height of her career, when she secretly married Hughes, who had met
her when she was still a teenager and he 20 years older.

Her other film credits include ``It Happens Every Spring'' (1949) with Ray
Milland,'' ``Viva Zapata!'' (1952) with Brando, ''Niagara'' (1953) with
Marilyn Monroe, ``Pickup on South Street'' (1953) with Widmark, ``Three
Coins in the Fountain'' (1954) with Dorothy McGuire, ``Apache''
(1954) with Lancaster and ``Broken Lance'' (1954) with Tracy.

Her final film turned out to be the 1955 drama ``A Man Called Peter,''
which earned the actress critical acclaim.

Her overnight rise from obscurity to stardom is the stuff of movie
legend. The green-eyed brunette landed a trip to Hollywood and a 1946
screen test at 20th Century Fox as the winner of the Miss Ohio State

The story goes that Fox executives initially were little impressed with
Peters, and she returned to Ohio, only to be called back because Hughes,
then a major investor in the studio, saw the footage and was taken with
her. In any case, the studio ultimately signed her to a contract.

According to the biography ``Howard Hughes: The Untold Story,'' the
vaunted filmmaker, aviator and billionaire industrialist met Peters in
1946 at a party in Newport Beach. Hughes invited the stunning 19-year-old
starlet and her date, war hero Audie Murphy, to fly with him and several
other guests to Santa Catalina Island aboard his private plane.

By some accounts, Hughes and Peters immediately embarked on an
unpublicized romance and were rumored to have been engaged before
splitting in the mid-50s, then they rekindled their relationship after
Peters' brief first marriage to Texas oilman Stuart Cramer.

In any event, Peters -- one of a prodigious line of Hughes conquests that
allegedly included Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Ava
Gardner -- ultimately tied the knot in a secret 1957 ceremony in Tonapah,

Oilman Cramer later married actress Terry Moore, who claimed to have once
been married to Hughes.

As Hughes' spouse, Peters abandoned her movie career and largely faded
from public life while her eccentric husband drifted into seclusion. The
couple reportedly spent much of their married life apart, and were finally
divorced in 1971. He died in 1976.

Peters steadfastly declined to talk about her relationship with Hughes,
telling Newsweek magazine in 1972, ``My life with Howard Hughes was and
shall remain a matter on which I will have no comment.''

After nearly 20 years, Peters returned to acting in the 1973 public
television production of Sherwood Anderson's ''Winesburg, Ohio'' and made
a rare network TV appearance in the 1976 NBC miniseries, ``Arthur Hailey's
'The Moneychangers.'''

Her last acting role was in the CBS television movie ``Peter and Paul,''
produced by her third husband, Stanley Hough, a 20th Century Fox executive
she married in 1971. 

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