Arthur Jean Wilker Yarbrough (1900–1975)

Jean Yarbrough was a film and television director and producer who worked on numerous low-budget films, or “B-movies,” mostly for Hollywood’s so-called “Poverty Row” studios beginning in the 1930s. In the 1950s, he transitioned successfully to television, directing many episodes of several popular TV series, including The Addams Family, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, The Life of Riley, McHale’s Navy, and Petticoat Junction. Known more for his efficiency than his artistry, he may be best remembered for his directorial work with the Abbott and Costello comedy team on feature films as well as their 1952–1954 television series.

Arthur Jean Wilker Yarbrough was born on August 22, 1900, in Marianna (Lee County). He was the only child of William T. Yarbrough and Vinnie Dollie Yarbrough, both of whom also were native Arkansans. His father farmed, and his mother was a homemaker.

Sometime after attending the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, he moved to California, where, in 1922, he began work as a production assistant in the silent film industry. In 1926, he received his first credit as assistant director for the film short What’s the World Coming To?, the first of nine such projects released that same year. He continued directing film shorts throughout the 1920s and 1930s, although his film career seems to have been disrupted for a period of time by the onset of the Great Depression. He has no film credits from 1929 through 1931, and the 1930 U.S. Census lists his occupation as unemployed real estate salesman. In 1938, he directed his first feature-length film, Rebellious Daughters, for Progressive Pictures. Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Dixon (Dick) Hogan (1917–1995), who was a singer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and subsequently appeared in many films throughout the 1940s, was cast in a minor role.

If nothing else, Yarbrough’s output during the decade or so following his directorial debut was prodigious. He directed eight films in 1941, nine in 1942, and seven in 1943. From 1944 until the end of the decade, he directed twenty-eight additional features. He kept up this pace in the early years of the 1950s before moving into television, although he directed a few more films later in the decade. His last feature film was the forgettable Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967), although he directed a successful television movie, The Over-the-Hill Gang, which first aired in late 1969. He continued directing television series into the early 1970s.

Details about Yarbrough’s personal life are sketchy. He was a draft registrant for both world wars but did not serve. He was married at least twice. His first marriage ended in divorce sometime before 1940; he had a stepdaughter from that marriage, Joan Yarbrough, who was born in 1922. His second marriage was to Deloris Thelma Wisser (1917–1997); their daughter, Janice Dale Yarbrough, was born in 1944. Janice Yarbrough also worked in the film industry as an actress and producer, most notably as a production associate and associate producer, respectively, for two Sally Field movies, Murphy’s Romance (1985) and Punchline (1988).

Yarbrough died on August 2, 1975, in Los Angeles, California.

For additional information:
“Jean Yarbrough.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed January 29, 2020).

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia, 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Greg A. Phelps
Lindsey Wilson College


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