In 1947 Jane Greer starred opposite Robert Mitchum in the film noir classic Out of the Past, and the success of that film helped earn her a place on the cover of LIFE. That movie was a crowning moments of a career that had elements of a film noir story on its own.

The actress, born Bettyjane Greer, had actually been in LIFE magazine twice before that ’47 cover. In 1942 she appeared, unnamed, as one of three women modeling the uniforms of the W.A.A.C.s, the new all-female military unit that came into being during World War II. She got the modeling job because her mother worked in the War Department. The very businesslike picture, included in this story, is not the sort of photograph that you would necessarily expect to draw attention to a young woman—but it hit the radar of singer Rudy Vallee. According to the magazine, Vallee “tried unsuccessfully to worm Miss Greer’s address out of LIFE.” He did connect with Greer eventually when she came to Hollywood, resulting in a brief marriage between the two. She and Vallee separated after three months. The uniform modeling job, which also made it to newsreels, had led to a screen test with David O. Selznick, reported LIFE. But “Miss Greer signed up elsewhere, however—with Howard Hughes.”

In its 1947 story LIFE described her audition for Hughes:

She prepared for her first interview with Mr. Hughes by carefully learning the script with which she had heard he tested all aspiring stars. It was a comedy, The Awful Truth, and, because Howard Hughes is a little deaf, Miss Greer read it at the top of her lungs.

Hughes was charmed. And this is when the noir aspects of Greer’s story really took hold. Greer not only signed with Hughes but for time was in a relationship with the eccentric billionaire. She eventually bought her way out of Hughes’ contract and caught on with RKO. LIFE wrote about Greer again for a story about starlets in training, and that studio soon gave Greer the female lead in Out of the Past. By that time she was also married to attorney Edward Lasker, and seemingly set up for superstardom.

But then who should come out of Greer’s past but Howard Hughes, now feeling jealous toward Greer. He bought RKO, which meant that Hughes now controlled her contract. “He said to me, while you are under contract to me, you will never work,” Greer recounted in an interview decades later. “And I said, `But that will be the end of my career.’ And he said, “I guess it will, won’t it?”

Hughes didn’t completely end her career, but he put a damper on it at a time she should have been reaching new heights. Eventually Greer got herself out of her RKO contract and returned to regular work, including multiple appearances in the 1950s on The Ford Television Theatre. And she enjoyed a late-career revival in the 1980s, including an appearance in Against All Odds, the 1984 remake of Out of the Past that starred Jeff Bridges and featured Greer as the mother of the movie’s female lead, played by Rachel Ward. Greer also had a six-episode run on the prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest, and appeared in three episodes of the David Lynch television show Twin Peaks.

She died in 2001 of complications from cancer, just shy of her 77th birthday.

Jane Greer modeled the uniforms for the new WAAC units in LIFE, 1942.

Charles Steinheimer/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

This montage was the opening photo of a LIFE story on actress Jane Greer in a 1947 issue of LIFE; the caption said that she was “dreaming that she is pursued by the men she has been bumping off all day on the movie set.”

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer, 1947.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer, 1947.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer (C) performing in scene from the 1947 movie Out of the Past with actors Steve Brodie (left) and Robert Mitchum.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer, 1947.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer, 1947.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Jane Greer acting like drunken type, 1947.

Peter Stackpole/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jane Greer on set of The Company She Keeps, 1950.

Loomis Dean/Life Picture CollectionShutterstock

Jane Greer (left), with Jeff Bridges and Swoosie Kurtz, costars in the 1984 film Against All Odds, which was a remake of Greer’s 1947 classic Out of the Past.

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