Jayne Meadows Biography

Theater Actress, Film Actor/Film Actress, Television Personality, Television Actress, Film Actress, Actress (1920–2015)
Jayne Meadows was an American actress best known for her television work on I’ve Got a Secret (1952-'59). She was the wife of comedian Steve Allen.


Jayne Meadows was an American actress born on September 27, 1920, in Wu-ch'ang, Heilongjiang, China. Born to missionary parents, her family returned to the U.S. a few years later. Meadows pursued an acting career as a teen before making her Broadway debut in 1941 then moving into films in 1946. She gained notoriety for her roles in television, including appearing as a panelist on the game show I’ve Got a Secret (1952-'59) where she met and eventually married comedian Steve Allen. During her career, Meadows received five Emmy nominations, an Emmy win, a Grammy nomination and numerous other awards. On April 26, 2015, Meadows died of natural causes at the age of 95.


Early Life

Actress Jayne Cotter, better known as Jayne Meadows, was born on September 27, 1920, in Wu-ch’ang, China. Intelligent and funny, Jayne Meadows is a versatile actress who has appeared in both dramatic and comedic roles. While she is often best known as the wife of comedian Steve Allen, she has had a long and varied career, including serving as a longtime panelist on the popular 1950s television quiz show, I’ve Got a Secret, and playing a leading role on the dramatic series Medical Center.

One of four children born to missionary parents, Meadows spent her early years in China. Later, after returning to the United States with her family, she started her theatrical career while in her teens and made her Broadway debut in Spring Again in 1941. Two years later, Meadows had another Broadway role in the comedy Another Love Story.

Entry into Showbiz

Making the leap to the big screen, Meadows first appeared in the noir thriller Undercurrent (1946) with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum. She tackled another thriller, Lady in the Lake (1947), this time with Robert Montgomery and appeared in The Song of the Thin Man (1947), with William Powell and Myrna Loy. She also recorded some records with her younger sister, Audrey, as the Meadows Sisters. But she found her greatest acclaim for her work on the small screen.

From 1952 to 1959, Meadows appeared as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret. The show featured four panelists who tried to guess the contestant’s secret by asking him or her questions. This format showcased Meadows’ wit and intelligence. During her long run on the show, the bright redhead met and fell in love with comedian Steve Allen. When they first met, Meadows was recovering from a bad breakup while Allen was still married to his first wife, as the couple told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. He got divorced and the two married in 1954. It was a wondrous partnership with the two often working together.

Allen, the original host of what is now called The Tonight Show, had his own self-titled comedy series and Meadows made several guest appearances on his program in the late 1950s. She also had roles on a slew of other programs such as General Electric Theater and Studio One. Also around this time, Meadows returned to Broadway to star in the popular comedy, The Gazebo.M

Television Roles

In the late 1960s, Meadows showed television audiences her dramatic side. For three years, she appeared as Nurse Chambers on Medical Center with James Daly and Chad Everett. But it was her work in the 1970s on the series created by her husband, Meeting of Minds, that led to her first Emmy Award nomination. Presented on public television, the show was a historical twist on the television talk show. Steve Allen played host to a variety of legendary people, including Plato, Thomas Jefferson and Marie Antoinette. Meadows often played the female characters, including Cleopatra and Florence Nightingale, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for one of her appearances in 1978. Truly a team, she co-wrote much of her material for the show with Allen. Later, Meadows added other writing credits to her extensive creative resumé. She wrote a play entitled The Eternal Bed, which was produced in Los Angeles, and authored a column for Carte Blanche magazine for several years.

Continuing her career as an actress, Meadows tried her hand at series television with the comedy It’s Not Easy in 1983, playing Ken Howard’s mother. While the series failed to take off, she continued to delight audiences with numerous guest appearances on such shows as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote and more. She and Allen appeared as the parents of Ed Begley, Jr., on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. This guest spot garnered her another Emmy Award nomination in 1987.

Partnership with Steve Allen

Meadows and Allen made quite a team and often appeared together in concert and on stage. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, they did several performances of A. R. Gurney’s two-person play, Love Letters. Meadows also toured with a one-woman show, Powerful Women in History, revisiting some of the characters she played on Meeting of Minds. On television, she scored her most recent Emmy Award nomination for her turn as Mary McConnell’s outlandish mother on the short-lived comedy High Society in 1996.

In 2000, Meadows suffered a tremendous loss when Steve Allen died from complications related to a car accident. Since then, she has kept out of the public eye. Meadows has one son, William “Bill” Allen.

On April 26, 2015, Meadows died peacefully at the age of 95 in her home in Encino, California. 

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