Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2001 Sandpoint Magazine summer 2001
Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2001

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She used to be in pictures
by Trish Gannon

Jean Austin on the left as a child with the Little Rascals cast

The kids – and some of the adults – at Lake Pend Oreille High School (LPOHS) think of her as “the dragon.” As school secretary, Jean Austin makes sure everything is done the way it’s supposed to be done, particularly students signing in and out. “Where are you supposed to be?” she asks a dozen times a day. “Get to class.” Students say she “breathes fire” if they try to leave without signing out.

Austin hasn’t always been a school secretary. For three decades she was in banking. But it is her childhood labors that are most fascinating. Because from age 5 to 13, back in the 1930s, Austin worked in the movies.

Her father was the head artist for MGM studios, but he didn’t get her hired. It was her enrollment at the Meglin Kiddies Dance School. “It was very well known,” she said. “Most kids that got into movies went to that school. The studios were always calling.”

She first worked in the Little Rascals series, appearing in many episodes for a couple of years. “I worked in two or three pictures with Shirley Temple. She was nice.” But the role she loved best was as a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Mickey Rooney. “We got to fly! Our costumes were made out of cellophane, and they made a strict rule of no smoking on the set.”

She worked in movies until she turned 13. “Then you had to join the union, and it was pretty costly. My family couldn’t afford that.”

Also an accomplished violinist and dancer, Austin continued to perform in orchestras throughout her life. She says she appreciates the experience of being in the movies because, “It made me realize it was something I didn’t want to do.

Music and dance grab you spiritually. Acting didn’t do that for me.”

She feels that same spirit at LPOHS, the alternative high school, where she’s going on seven years of tenure. “I like the idea of an alternative school,” she said. “I have a great deal of admiration for these students. They’re tagged with the term ‘losers,’ but they’re really winners. I love these kids.” And they love her in return, when she's not making them fill out paperwork. They say she's just like another grandma.

Winter 2001

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