“I suppose I’m not entitled to enjoy my good fortune, for I seem to have attained it without those heartaches and privations which most girls seem to have endured in winning their way from the bottom. To me the whole experience has been enjoyable, even from the very first, although there were times when it didn’t seem that I was going to go very far.” – Jeanette Loff
Source: Charles Carter (1930)
Photo: Rolf Armstrong (1930)
Jeanette Loff (1906-1942) is one of those forgotten film players, whose life story is difficult to piece together. In fact, much of her biographical information was invented by studio publicists. Equally baffling is her untimely death in 1942 from ammonia poisoning at the age of 35.
She was born Janette Lov in Cronno, Idaho, on October 9, 1906. Her father was a violinist from Copenhagen and her mother was from Norway. She was the oldest of three daughters.
If newspaper accounts are true, the Lovs briefly moved to the Canadian village, Wadena, in Saskatchewan before relocating to Lewiston, Idaho. Around 1910, the family changed their name from Lov to Loff.
After Lov finished high school, the family moved to Portland, Oregon. She then studied piano at the Ellison-White conservatory, and played the pipe organ at a number of Portland silent movie picture houses. She also acted in a local stock company.
In 1927, she married Harry K. Roseboom, an older man who worked as a “traveling representative of a jewelry house.” At some point, she “became interested in motion picture work.” So she left her husband for a Hollywood career.
Loff‘s marriage to Roseboom was a secret. In fact, publicists made numerous claims about how she was “discovered” without mentioning her husband.
According to one newspaper article, Loff was playing the organ in a silent movie theater in Portland when a movie professional slipped her a note saying, “I think you would screen well. If you ever come to Los Angeles look me up. I’ll get you a screen test.” Another story maintains that she traveled with her mother to Los Angeles to visit a relative. While there, Loff sought work as a piano player for the studio orchestras, but none were hiring. So she looked for work as a motion picture actress.
One day in 1927, as the other story goes, Loff entered an empty “modest restaurant,” and ordered a fruit salad. Moments later, a movie director on his way to a meeting, entered the same restaurant to order a sandwich. After the director noticed her eating alone, he crossed to her and tapped her on the shoulder. He then interviewed Loff before sending her to Cecil B. DeMille’s studio for a screen test. She followed his direction and DeMille hired her. DeMille then changed her name from Janette Lov to Jeanette Loff, because he thought it sounded more American. Of course, this latter claim can’t be true because her family’s name had already changed to Loff. A slightly different variation of the DeMille‘s “discovery” story maintains that he had spotted her working as an extra in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927) and had hired her.
After Loff appeared in DeMille’s Hold ‘Em Yale (1928) and Love Over Night (1928), she signed with Pathe. Pathe’s publicity department invented its own story about her. They claimed that when she visited its casting office, a director asked about her prior experience. Loff replied that she played the pipe organ, but never mentioned that she had already worked in films.
“She didn’t have to go any further in telling her experience,” Pathe’s publicist wrote. “Her good looks and intelligence were enough and she was signed by Pathe.”
In 1928, director Paul Bern cast her opposite Eddie Quillen in a film called Geraldine. Although the film wasn’t made, Bern and Loff started dating.
In 1929, newspapers broke the news that she was married but separated from her husband. That August, Loff‘s parents filed for divorce. A month later, Jeanette filed her own divorce papers in San Francisco. In her filing, she accused Roseboom of becoming violently jealous whenever she had lovemaking scenes.
In 1930, Paul Bern arranged for her to test for Universal’s King of Jazz as a singer. She got the role and a huge publicity boost. Critics lauded her singing voice and Universal signed her to contract. Universal then cast her in small roles in a few non-musical films.
Bern broke up with her in 1930 and she started dating entertainer Walter O’Keefe. In October of that same year, Universal released Loff from her contract. She quickly signed a four picture deal with a poverty row production company called Tiffany Pictures. However, she only made one film for Tiffany, a western starring Ken Maynard. Afterwards, she left Los Angeles for New York City, where she struggled to find work on Broadway.
In 1931, Loff and O’Keefe announced their engagement. However, their romance quickly fizzled. She then stayed in New York City, boozing with other celebrities, and sporadically performing on the Broadway stage and touring with Buddy Rogers and the California Cavaliers. By late 1932, she was a has-been of the screen and stage.
Loff returned to Los Angeles in 1933 after hearing that Universal planned to re-release King of Jazz. Hoping the re-release would revive her film career, she accepted any work she could find. After appearing in a few B movies, her film career ended in 1934.
In 1935, she married Bert Friedlob, a “Hollywood liquor salesman.” The couple patronized Hollywood nightclubs and bars. The following year, when Friedlob produced Bert Wheeler’s “Hollywood Stars in Person” revue in Portland, Loff joined the cast. Their marriage, however, was stormy. He was a womanizer who had affairs with movie stars, including Lana Turner. Loff, on the other hand, stayed out of the news. Then in 1942, she swallowed a lethal dose of ammonia at their 9233 Doheny Road home and died hours later in a hospital.
Coroners could not determine whether her death was a suicide or accidental. While a family friend mentioned that she had stomach problems and probably mistook the poison for medicine, others believed that she was murdered.
Jeanette Loff‘s crypt is located at the Great Mausoleum, Protection Columbarium, niche #12730 at Forest Lawn Glendale.
Jeanette’s death was accidental. She took drops for her chronic stomach pain, often drinking the drops directly from the bottle. One day when she was feeling very sick she reached for her drops but grabbed a similar-looking bottle ammonia (which she inhaled when she felt nauseated) instead, and drank the ammonia.