She used to be in pictures
by Trish Gannon
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 its 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.
Jean Austin on the left as a child with the Little Rascals cast
Austin hasnt 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 didnt 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 Nights 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 couldnt 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 didnt want to do.
Music and dance grab you spiritually. Acting didnt do that for me.
She feels that same spirit at LPOHS, the alternative high school, where shes 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. Theyre tagged with the term losers, but theyre 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.