For a few brief years, dazzling, dusky, model-turned-starlet Dusty Anderson was up there in the public gaze – on magazine covers and the silver screen. But as a model her shelf-life was finite, while her acting talents were limited – she was never going to make it big as a movie star.
Her marriage to Jean Negulesco transformed her life and enabled her to pursue her interest in painting. It has also given us a window onto the life of a starlet who might otherwise have sunk into oblivion.
Dusty Anderson grows up
Like so many models and movie stars of the 1940s, “Dusty” is not Dusty Anderson’s real name. Born in 1918, she’s christened Ruth Anderson. Her mother is of Cherokee origin and has given up her career as an opera singer to marry a Swede who has settled in the US.
Dusty attends De-Vilbiss High School in Toledo, Ohio, where she becomes president of the dramatic association. She also studies for six years at the Museum of Art of Toledo. During her time at the University of Toledo and photography school, she scrimps and saves in order to buy a couple of expensive cameras. Unfortunately, during a canoe trip along the shores of Lake Erie, a sudden squall overturns her canoe, and the cameras sink to the bottom of the lake.
To earn the money she needs to replace her equipment, she does some part-time modelling for local artists and photographers. She proves so popular that she decides to make a career of it. When she wins a $400 jackpot on Bank Night at her local movie theatre, she heads for New York. There, she gets a contract with Harry Conover, who rechristens her Dusty and makes her a Conover cover girl. It’s in New York that she meets newspaperman Charles Mathieu, and in 1941 the couple get married.
In April 1943, with her husband overseas with the US Marines Corps, Dusty and 15 other models are cast in Columbia’s Cover Girl, one of Rita Hayworth’s triumphs. In Hollywood, Dusty goes on to land a contract with Columbia Pictures, and features in a handful of movies including Tonight and Every Night (another Rita Hayworth vehicle), A Thousand and One Nights (1945) and The Phantom Thief (1946). She also appears on the cover of the October 27 1944 and December 14 1945 issues of Yank, The Army Weekly.
Dusty Anderson becomes Dusty Negulesco
Dusty Anderson is doing okay if not spectacularly, but her career as an actress is about to take second place to her love life. In February I945, two months after her husband returns from the war with malaria, Dusty Anderson files for divorce. Apparently, in the course of an argument he’s given her a black eye.
Soon after that, she finds herself at an auction in Beverly Hills. Attending the same auction is director Jean Negulesco, who spots:
…a tall shapely beauty, wearing a black hood, a black turtle-neck sweater, and black leather slacks. A tasteful blue turquoise Navajo necklace was dangling between her lovelies.
The girl in question is, you’ve guessed it, our Dusty. Her companion at the event, publicist Dorothy Campbell, obligingly makes an introduction. Dusty plays it cool and returns her attention to the auction to bid on an antique mirror. But she fails to win it because, you’ve guessed it again, she’s outbid by Jean, who plans to invite her round to his place for dinner and make a gift of it for her. But she’s vanished off the scene before he can make his move.
Jean is not the kind of guy who lets a small setback like that get in his way. He makes a few enquiries, discovers her phone number and asks her out. She says no, she’s in the middle of a divorce and her attorney has instructed her to keep a low proﬁle so as not to complicate proceedings. But a few weeks later, she calls him back to accept his invitation.
What draws them to one another? Well, clearly she’s gorgeous and he fancies her – there’s no doubt he has an eye for the girls, as will become apparent. He, meanwhile, is arguably the most eligible bachelor director in Hollywood and therefore not without his attraction for any aspiring starlet. But perhaps there’s more to it than that simple, ages-old equation. They share a strong interest in fine art. Jean has come to Hollywood from Romania, where he was a successful painter. Dusty has studied for six years at the Museum of Art of Toledo and has tried her hand at both painting and photography.
Anyway, from that night on, the two become inseparable. The main obstacle blocking the path of true love at this point is Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, to which Dusty Anderson is contracted . He disapproves of the relationship and reminds her repeatedly of Jean’s playboy reputation. He even suggests to her that Jean is bisexual. Dusty is devastated and ready to leave, but discovery that she’s pregnant puts paid to that.
Dusty Anderson’s divorce becomes ﬁnal in June 1946, and on 21 July the couple tie the knot. Their wedding is an informal affair held in the back garden of the West Los Angeles home of director Howard Hawks, Jean’s best man. Dusty’s attendants are Howard’s wife Slim, Joan Perry (Harry Cohn’s wife) and Dorothy Campbell. Pianist Jose Iturbi gives the bride away. Because of Jean’s commitments at Warner Bros, the couple go on just a brief honeymoon to Laguna Beach. The plan is to have a longer honeymoon in Europe the following year
Dusty Anderson has a family
Jean and Dusty badly want to have children but they are out of luck. After five months of pregnancy, Dusty has a miscarriage, which makes her very ill. They try again and the same thing happens. At this point, their doctors advise them to give up their efforts so as not to endanger Dusty’s health.
So the couple turn their parental yearnings elsewhere, supporting orphans under the Foster Parents for War Children plan. On a visit to Italy in August 1953, they invite nine-year-old war-orphan Adelina Peluso from Naples to Rome to meet them. They have supported her for three years and on this occasion Dusty buys her a whole new wardrobe. Four years later, while in Greece, they meet 12-year-old Chryssoula Yannidaki, a fatherless Greek girl whom they have been supporting for two years.
Then, in 1959 while Jean is away in Hong Kong, Dusty hears about illegitimate children born during the American occupation in Germany after the War and abandoned by their mothers. She finds out that there’s a three-month-old girl in a hospital in Stuttgart and, after consulting with Jean, takes the next plane to Germany to adopt Christina. While she’s at it, she discovers another little girl, Gabrielle, whom she adopts to be Christina’s “sister.”
It’s not until May 1961 that all the paperwork is completed. Jean and Dusty are reunited in Rome with “’Tina” and “Gaby.” Their arrival at Rome’s airport is captured by the local press and shown in Italian newsreels.
Dusty Anderson asserts herself
A news snippet in the September 1949 issue of Screenland magazine, reveals that:
Mrs Negulesco, who is Dusty Anderson, has given up acting for painting. Had her first art show and we understand Greta Garbo has bought one she did of a whole flock of cats.
In October 1950, Dusty presents 15 of her latest paintings at a big show at the Drouant-David gallery in Paris. “Her pictures include scenes of London’s River Thames, conventional flowers and fruit, a study of her two Siamese cats, and a self-portrait.” She’s enjoying her new career as a painter and lets Jean know that she would like to go to Paris to study art and improve her technique. Jean is not in favour because he reckons it would require at least two years of study and practice.
This becomes a topic of ongoing friction between the couple. Another is Jean’s constant philandering. His bungalow on the 20th Century-Fox lot, where he invites stars and starlets for lunch, is known as “bangalow.” “Poor Dusty,” says producer Jerry Wald’s wife, Connie. “[She] had to put up with a lot.”
The marriage goes downhill. In 1953, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen reports that the Negulescos “are writing the Unhappy Ending after all these years.” In May, Dusty Anderson ups and leaves for Paris with Dee Hartford, Howard Hawks’ latest wife.
In order to try to win back his Dusty, Jean persuades Darryl Zanuck, his boss at 20th Century-Fox, to give him an assignment in Europe and chooses to work in Italy on Three Coins in the Fountain. Before leaving, he confides in columnist Harrison Carroll:
I don’t pretend she went to Paris with my blessing, I thought it was a stupid expense. But Dusty wanted to study painting, and when one of those Cherokee Indian girls makes up her mind, nothing is going to stop her.
En route to Rome to scout for locations, he stops off in Paris to talk Dusty into a reconciliation. The couple make up and a few days later Dusty joins Jean in Rome.
Jean’s love affairs are something Dusty Anderson has to cope with throughout their marriage but she goes some way to getting her revenge. When she suspects that he has a crush on Sophia Loren while making Boy On a Dolphin, she travels around the world on his credit card, expense no object (or perhaps even THE object). Jean will later remark: “I am still paying the bills. My weakness for my stars cost me a fortune.”
But, to return to Dusty’s career as an artist, in August 1955 it is reported that “Dusty Negulesco has made much progress as a painter and her pictures have received good notices from the art critics.” And her paintings appear in at least two of Jean’s movies: Daddy Long Legs and The Best of Everything.
Dusty Anderson gets around
Dusty Anderson’s first trip abroad is in May 1948, accompanying her husband who’s off to research his next film, Britannia Mews. This is presumably the pretext for their extended honeymoon. With the job complete, Jean takes her to Paris for some sightseeing, not least to visit the most important museums and art galleries. On their itinerary is Galerie Drouant-David in the fashionable rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where Jean buys all the paintings they have by then unknown expressionist painter Bernard Buffet.
In 1950, Jean gets a new, more lucrative contract with 20th Century-Fox, which means the couple can now afford a new home. After viewing a series of properties in and around Bel Air and Beverly Hills, they decide to buy the house that Greta Garbo has put on the market. Having lived there for 14 years, first with actor John Gilbert, then with conductor Leopold Stokowski, she’s decided to leave Hollywood and move to New York. Latterly, she’s been using only a part of the house, sharing it with a maid and a gardener, and leaving the remainder of the property empty. By the time the Negulescos get their hands on it, the huge, mostly abandoned living room is covered by such a thick layer of dried leaves that it takes seven people to clean it up. The house will be their home for 13 years.
In 1963, Jean and Dusty move to Madrid. It’s a joint decision, although partly the result of Jean’s desire to work in Europe, where there are opportunities to get involved with projects that are less commercially driven. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Hedda Hopper reports that Dusty has told her that, having rented their Beverly Hills house:
We are traveling light to Madrid, with two small children, trunks full of photographs, records and paintings, one small Rolls, and a secretary with our casting files. The airplane couldn’t make it, and I am not sure we won’t sink the boat.
Jean brings his career to a close in 1970 with the release of Hello-Goodbye. It’s time to retire and enjoy the fruits of his efforts. At 71, he is a wealthy man with a fabulous art collection and a number of houses in different parts of the world as well as a beautiful wife. In the 1970s, the couple are living in Marbella, on the southern coast of Spain, in a house they have had built for themselves not far from the sea. The house is always full of friends visiting from all over the world.
Dusty Anderson’s last days
In 1993, Jean’s health suddenly deteriorates. On 18 July, three days before their 47th wedding anniversary, he dies at home of heart failure. Dusty is at his bedside. The last news we have of her comes in an email message from Malcolm Abbey to Michelangelo Capua, Jean’s biographer. He reports that she was “sent away” to a nursing home.
Last I heard, and this was 20 years ago, she was severely alcoholic and unable to remember from moment to moment who she was talking to. Very tragic.
But hold on. An article about Dusty Anderson’s 99th birthday published on Fabiosa in December 2017 suggests that she “is peacefully enjoying her advanced years.” Let’s hope so.
Want to know more about Dusty Anderson?
There’s not a whole lot of information about Dusty Anderson out there on the Internet. The most informative source is Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. There are two books about Jean Negulesco though, which provide most of the material on which this piece is based:
- Jean Negulesco: The Life and Films by Michelangelo Capua
- Jean Negulesco’s autobiography – Things I Did … and Things I Think I Did – a good read but with disappointingly little about Dusty Anderson.