Jan Clayton

Jan Clayton

Jan Clayton[1]
Born (1917-08-26)August 26, 1917
Tularosa, Otero County
New Mexico, U.S.
Died August 28, 1983(1983-08-28) (aged 66)
West Hollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1935–81

(1) Russell Hayden (married 1938–43, divorced)
(2) Robert Lerner (married 1946–58, divorced)

(3) George Greeley (married 1966–68, divorced)
Children Sandra Hayden (1940–56)
Robin, Karen, and Joe Lerner

Jan Clayton (August 26, 1917 – August 28, 1983) born Jane Clayton[2] was a film, musical theater, and television actress. Born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the only child of two schoolteachers, Clayton started singing at 4. Educated at Tularosa High School, New Mexico, Clayton graduated in 1935, then studied music and drama at Gulf Park College for Women in Gulfport, Mississippi.[3] She went to Hollywood in 1937 after winning a talent contest, appeared in a few horse operas and met her first husband, cowboy actor Russell Hayden. Their late daughter was named Sandra.[4]


Clayton was one of the original stars of the classic TV show Lassie, playing Ellen Miller from 1954 to 1957.

Clayton made several films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer but none were notable, except for an unbilled role as a singing inmate in The Snake Pit. In 1945, however, she was selected to play the role of Julie Jordan in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic, Carousel. She was such a hit that when Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern were casting Show Boat they offered MGM their future services for $1 if the studio executives would allow Jan to play Magnolia.[5] Clayton can be heard on the Original Cast Recordings of both Carousel (1945) and Show Boat (1946). The Show Boat album was the first American production of the show to be recorded with its original cast.

On May 20, 1954, Clayton guest starred in ABC's sitcom Where's Raymond? (1953–55), starring Ray Bolger as a song-and-dance man, Raymond Wallace. She played Francine Tremont, an actress and wife of a banker. In the story line, Francine is in town to make a special appearance with Bolger.[6]

In 1954, Clayton was one of the many guest stars in a television spectacular tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein, The General Foods 25th Anniversary Show, which featured all the then-surviving stars (except Alfred Drake) of all the classic Broadway musicals that the team had written (194354). Clayton and John Raitt, in full makeup and costume, performed "If I Loved You' (also known as the Bench Scene) from Carousel. It was the first opportunity for millions of viewers to see a scene from the musical, since none of the film versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musicals had yet been released.

While starring in "Show Boat", Clayton met Robert Lerner, an heir to the women's clothing shops bearing his name. They were married and moved to California, where Lerner attended Loyola Law School and Clayton concentrated on mothering. "We had three children in three years." she said in a 1976 interview with People Magazine. "Then came Lassie. I took it because I was dying to work." [7]

Clayton was to become best known to TV audiences as Jeff Miller's (Tommy Rettig) mother on the television series Lassie (1954) (aka Jeff's Collie in syndication re-runs). Clayton played the first four seasons (Sept 1954 - December 1957) of Lassie as Ellen Miller, a war widow living on her father-in-law's farm with her preteen son, Jeff, and her late husband's cantankerous old father, Gramps (played by George Cleveland). Clayton brought her extraordinary wealth and depth of Broadway theater acting to the Lassie series, developing in her character Ellen a loving mother with a wide range of heartfelt emotions ranging from sorrow and tragedy to great comedic relief. There were only a few times in Lassie where Clayton exhibited her extraordinary singing talents, most notably in the episode "The Gypsys" (Season 2, Ep. 15) where she sang the song "Marushka". Despite the series doing well with the TV audiences, Tommy Rettig sought release from his Lassie contract in Season 4, and Clayton also quit. "My home life was being absolutely wrecked," she says. "I had four children and a husband, and I was always working.".[8] The sudden death of George Cleveland hastened the departure of the remaining cast and in the episode "Transition" Ellen and Jeff start a new life in the city after selling the farm to The Martin family (costarring Cloris Leachman and Jon Shepodd) and giving Lassie to little Timmy Martin (played by child actor Jon Provost). Clayton appeared in only one more Lassie episode after that, "Timmy's Family" (Dec 1957), as a guest star in a supporting role to Lassie's new family.

In 1959 she starred in an comedy TV pilot called "The Jan Clayton Show", in which she played a college English teacher. In 1960 she produced and starred in another TV pilot called "The Brown Horse" about a woman trying to pay for her daughter's college tuition by working in a San Francisco restaurant. In 1961 she again starred in a comedy TV pilot based on Bess Streeter Aldrich's book, "Cheers for Miss Bishop". None of the three pilots were ever picked up.[9] Clayton played herself in an appearance on Peter Lawford's short-lived NBC sitcom, Dear Phoebe.

Clayton played in the episode "The Prairie Story" (1961) on NBC's Wagon Train. The episode, written by Jean Holloway, examines how the harsh prairie plays havoc on the lives of some of the women on the wagon train. Robert Horton carries the lead in this episode which aired three months after the death of Ward Bond.[10]

In "St. Louis Woman" (1962) on NBC's The Tall Man, Clayton portrays Janet Harper, a widow engaged to Tom Davis (Russ Conway), a friend of Sheriff Pat Garrett (Barry Sullivan). While Tom is away from Lincoln, New Mexico, the setting of The Tall Man, on a cattle drive, Janet begins to show a romantic interest in Garrett. Roger Mobley appears in this episode as David Harper, Janet's young son.[11]

Clayton was cast as Margaret Wilbarger, whose brother, Texas pioneer Josiah Wilbarger, lived for eleven years after being scalped by the Comanche, in the 1967 episode, "The Man Who Wouldn't Die" of the syndicated series, Death Valley Days. Don Collier played Wilbarger, for whom Wilbarger County, Texas, is named, along with Wilbarger's brother.[12]

Clayton was posthumously inducted into the New Mexico Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2012.

Personal life

Clayton's first husband was western actor Russell Hayden (1938–43); they had one daughter, Sandra (1940–1956). Sandra Jane Hayden was killed in an automobile accident on September 22, 1956, after driving her mother's Cadillac through a stop sign and colliding with another car. She was 16 years old. Her second husband was attorney Robert Lerner (1946–58), brother of famed Broadway lyricist Alan Jay Lerner; they had two daughters and a son: Robin (b. 1948), Karen (b. 1949), and Joe (b. 1950). Her third and final husband was pianist and film/television composer George Greeley (1966–68).


In the 1970s she began receiving treatment for her alcoholism. "My drinking got worse after my daughter died," she explained in her 1976 People Magazine interview. "Before that I was a social drinker. But even then after a few drinks I'd get the sillies, then the cries and finally the meanies." In 1970 she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and helped counsel other alcoholics on how to reclaim their lives. Every Thursday she would answer the phone at the Alcoholism Council of Greater Los Angeles, where she later was made a board member.[13]


Jan Clayton died of cancer, two days after her 66th birthday, on Aug. 28, 1983 in West Hollywood, Los Angeles County California. Her ashes are buried in Fairview Cemetery, Tularosa, Otero County, New Mexico, next to the gravesite of her father.[14]

Selected filmography


Wiki entry on "Lassie" movies and TV series

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