Jean Engstrom was born Flora Jean Bovie, in Michigan on July 25, 1920, the eldest of two children born to Clarence Augustus Bovie (1892-1928), an artist and commercial illustrator, and Nona Iola Cochrun (1895-1976) After her father’s death due to a cerebral hemorrhage in 1928, 1930 census records show that she and her mother and younger brother were living with her father’s mother (paternal grandmother) in Augusta, Michigan. In 1935 they were living in Battle Creek, Michigan. When Flora Jean was 16 the family moved to Southern California and lived for a while with her mother’s mother (maternal grandmother), and it is there that she completed high school. On February 14, 1940, Flora Jean Bovie married Richard Harold Moon (1916-1989) in Baldwin Park, California. On June 30, 1942, their only child, daughter Liana Jeanne Moon (later to be actress Jena Engstrom) was born. Flora Jean and Richard Moon would divorce and in about 1947 she married her second husband, Elliott E. Engstrom (1920- ), who would later adopt her daughter. They would remain married until her death. In the mid-1980s she developed breast cancer, had a mastectomy performed in July 1985, and would die of breast cancer on March 20, 1997, in a convalescent hospital in Hemet, California. She is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. Flora Jean Bovie originally wanted to become a singer, but a crushed breast plate suffered in an automobile accident affected her vocal chords and she turned to modeling. A 1958 TV Guide article states that she began acting in 1940 while a 1962 syndicated news articles states that she began acting in 1951. Whenever her acting career started, she began acting with little theater groups in and around the Hollywood area. She later moved to work in movies and in television and during this time studied with Francis Lederer’s improvisation group. She used the name Jean Engstrom professionally and during her career she appeared in over 50 plays, in at least 8 movies, and in about 40 television programs before leaving acting.
A theatrical appearance with a stock company in Tucson, Arizona led to a short-lived contract with Paramount Pictures. Most of Jean Engstrom’s movie appearances were in bit parts and her first recorded appearances begin in 1954 with roles as party guests in Drive a Crooked Road starring Mickey Rooney and in A Star Is Born (1954 film) starring Judy Garland and James Mason. In 1956 she used the name Flora Jean Engstrom for the only time when she appeared in a small role in The Search for Bridey Murphy starring Teresa Wright. Her larger roles came in more modest productions, receiving featured billing in the 1957 production Voodoo Island and the 1958 production The Space Children which are now cult classics. Her character Claire Winter in Voodoo Island is presented as a lesbian with a crush on the leading lady played by Beverly Adams, a theme that was unusual for its time. She also appeared as a party guest in the 1958 film The Party Crashers , Bobby Driscoll’s last movie appearance. Her final movie appearance was a starring role in the 1965 Billy Graham produced The Restless Ones in which she played Mrs. Harris, the alcoholic mother of the girl April played by Kim Darby.
- July, 25, 1920
- March, 20, 1997
- Hemet, California
- Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
- San Diego, California