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Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons British-American actress

British-American actress
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro British-American actress
A.K.A. Jean Merilyn Simmons
Countries United Kingdom United States of America
Occupations Actor Film actor Child actor Dancer Television actor Stage actor
Type Dancing Film, Television, Stage and Radio
Gender female
Birth 31 January 1929 (London)
Death 22 January 2010 (Santa Monica)
Star sign AquariusAquarius
Residence Crouch End, Santa Monica, London
Family
Father: Charles Simmons
Spouse: Stewart GrangerRichard Brooks
Stats
Height: 5' 6"
Education Aida Foster stage school
The details
Biography

Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE (31 January 1929 – 22 January 2010) was an English actress and singer. One of J. Arthur Rank's "well-spoken young starlets", she appeared predominantly in films, beginning with those made in Great Britain during and after the Second World War, followed mainly by Hollywood films from 1950 onwards.

Simmons was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Hamlet (1948), and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for Guys and Dolls (1955). Other notable film appearances included Young Bess (1953), The Robe (1953), Elmer Gantry (1960), Spartacus (1960), and the 1969 film The Happy Ending, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won an Emmy Award for the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds.

Biography

Early life

Simmons was born in Islington, London, to Charles Simmons, a bronze medallist in gymnastics at the 1912 Summer Olympics, and his wife, Winifred (née Loveland) Simmons. Jean was the youngest of four children, with siblings Lorna, Harold and Edna. She began acting at the age of 14.

During the Second World War, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe, Somerset. Her father, a physical education teacher, taught briefly at Sidcot School, and some time during this period, Simmons followed her eldest sister onto the village stage and sang songs such as "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow". At this point her ambition was to be an acrobatic dancer.

Early Films

On her return to London - Jean enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance. Simmons was spotted by the director Val Guest, who cast her in the Margaret Lockwood vehicle Give Us the Moon (1944). Small roles in several other films followed, including Mr. Emmanuel (1944), Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945), Meet Sexton Blake (1945), and the popular The Way to the Stars (1945), as well as the short, Sports Day (1945).

Simmons had a small part in the high-profile Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), produced by Gabriel Pascal and starring her later husband Stewart Granger. Pascal saw potential in Simmons, and in 1945, he signed her to a seven-year contract.

Great Expectations and Stardom

Simmons became a star in England when she was cast as the young Estella in David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946). The movie was the third most popular film at the British box office in 1947 and Simmons received excellent reviews.

The experience of working on Great Expectations caused her to pursue an acting career more seriously:

I thought acting was just a lark, meeting all those exciting movie stars, and getting £5 a day which was lovely because we needed the money. But I figured I'd just go off and get married and have children like my mother. It was working with David Lean that convinced me to go on.

Simmons had support roles in Hungry Hill (1947) with Margaret Lockwood and the Powell-Pressburger film Black Narcissus (1947), playing an Indian in the latter alongside Sabu.

Simmons was top-billed for the first time in a drama, Uncle Silas (1947). She followed it with The Woman in the Hall (1947).

Neither of those films were particularly successful. But Simmons was then in a huge international hit, playing Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. Olivier offered her the chance to work and study at the Bristol Old Vic, advising her to play anything they threw at her to get experience; she was under contract to the Rank Organisation, who vetoed the idea.

Simmons had the lead in The Blue Lagoon (1949), a project originally announced for Lockwood. It was a considerable financial success.

Stewart Granger

Simmons starred with Stewart Granger in a comedy Adam and Evelyne (1949). It was her first adult role and she and Granger became romantically involved; they would soon marry.

Simmons made two films which were popular at the local box office: So Long at the Fair (1950) with Dirk Bogarde, and Trio (1950), where she was one of several stars. She was then in Cage of Gold (1950) with David Farrar and Ralph Thomas' The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard'. In 1950, Simmons was voted the fourth-most popular star in Britain.

Howard Hughes

Simmons with Victor Mature in Androcles and the Lion (1952)

Granger had become a Hollywood star in King Solomon's Mines (1950) and was signed to a contract by MGM, so Simmons moved to Los Angeles with him. In 1951, Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes, who then owned the RKO Pictures.

Her first Hollywood film was Androcles and the Lion (1952), produced by Pascal, and co-starring Victor Mature. More liked was Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger with Robert Mitchum. According to David Thomson, "if she had made only one film – Angel Face – she might now be spoken of with the awe given to Louise Brooks." Smarting over his rebuff, Hughes instructed Preminger to treat Simmons as roughly as possible, leading the director to demand that co-star Mitchum repeatedly slap the actress harder and harder, until Mitchum turned and punched Preminger, asking if that was how he wanted it.

To further punish Simmons and Granger, Hughes refused to lend her to director William Wyler who wanted her for his film Roman Holiday, thereby depriving her of the career-making role that made a star of Audrey Hepburn. He also made her appear in a flop comedy with Mitchum, She Couldn't Say No (1954).

A court case freed Simmons from the contract with Hughes in 1952. They settled out of court; part of the final arrangement was Simmons would do one more film for no extra money. Also, Simmons agreed to make three more movies under the auspices of RKO, but not actually at that studio - she would be loaned out. She would make an additional picture for 20th Century Fox while RKO got the services of Victor Mature for one film.

MGM cast her in the lead of Young Bess (1953) playing a young Queen Elizabeth I alongside Granger. She went back to RKO to do the extra film under the settlement with Hughes, Affair with a Stranger (1953) with Mature; it flopped.

20th Century Fox

Simmons went over to 20th Century Fox to play the female lead in The Robe (1953) the first CinemaScope movie and an enormous financial success. Less popular was The Actress (1953) at MGM alongside Spencer Tracy, despite superb reviews; it was one of her personal favourites.

Fox asked Simmons back for another epic, The Egyptian (1954), but it was not as liked. She had the lead in Columbia's A Bullet Is Waiting (1954). More widely seen was Désirée (1954) at Fox where Simmons played Désirée Clary to Marlon Brando's Napoleon Bonaparte.

Simmons and Granger returned to England to make a thriller, Footsteps in the Fog (1955). Then Joseph Mankiewicz cast her opposite Brando in the big screen adaptation of Guys and Dolls (1955), playing a role turned down by Grace Kelly; it was a huge hit.

Simmons played the title role in a melodrama, Hilda Crane (1956) at Fox, a box office disappointment. So too was This Could Be the Night (1957) and Until They Sail (1957) both at MGM.

However Simmons had a big success in The Big Country (1958), directed by William Wyler. She starred in Home Before Dark (1958) at Warners and This Earth Is Mine (1959) with Rock Hudson at Universal. In the opinion of film critic Philip French, Home Before Dark was "perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn LeRoy's psychodrama."

Elmer Gantry and Richard Brooks

Simmons went into Elmer Gantry (1960), directed by Richard Brooks who became her second husband. It was a huge success as was Spartacus (1960), where she played Kirk Douglas' love interest. Simmons then did a comedy, The Grass Is Greener (1960) with Mitchum, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.

She took some years off screen before returning in All the Way Home (1963) with Robert Preston. She did Life at the Top (1965) with Laurence Harvey, Mister Buddwing (1966) with James Garner, Divorce American Style (1967) with Dick Van Dyke and Rough Night in Jericho (1967) with George Peppard and Dean Martin.

Simmons did Heidi (1968) for TV then Brooks wrote and directed a vehicle for her, The Happy Ending (1969), for which she received her second Oscar nomination.

1970s and 1980s

By the 1970s, Simmons turned her focus to stage and television acting. She toured the United States in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, then took the show to London, and thus originated the role of Desirée Armfeldt in the West End. Performing in the show for three years, she said she never tired of Sondheim's music; "No matter how tired or 'off' you felt, the music would just pick you up."

She portrayed Fiona "Fee" Cleary, the Cleary family matriarch, in the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds; she won an Emmy Award for her role. In 1985-86, she appeared in North and South, again playing the role of the family matriarch as Clarissa Main. In 1988, she starred in The Dawning with Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant, and in 1989, she appeared in a remake of Great Expectations, in which she played the role of Miss Havisham, Estella's adoptive mother.

She made a late career appearance in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead" (1991) as a retired Starfleet admiral and hardened legal investigator who conducts a witch hunt. In 1991, she appeared as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her ancestor Naomi Collins in the short-lived revival of the 1960s daytime series Dark Shadows, in roles originally played by Joan Bennett. From 1994 until 1998, Simmons narrated the A&E documentary television series, Mysteries of the Bible. In 2004, Simmons voiced the lead role of Sophie in the English dub of Howl's Moving Castle.

Personal life

Simmons was married and divorced twice. She married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona, on 20 December 1950. In 1956, Granger and she became U.S. citizens; in the same year, their daughter, Tracy Granger, was born. The couple divorced in 1960.

On 1 November 1960, Simmons married director Richard Brooks; their daughter, Kate Brooks, was born a year later in 1961. Simmons and Brooks divorced in 1980. Although both men were significantly older than Simmons, she denied she was looking for a father figure. Her father had died when she was just 16, but she said: "They were really nothing like my father at all. My father was a gentle, softly spoken man. My husbands were much noisier and much more opinionated ... it's really nothing to do with age ... it's to do with what's there – the twinkle and sense of humour." And in a 1984 interview, given in Copenhagen at the time she was shooting the film Yellow Pages, she elaborated slightly on her marriages, stating,

It may be simplistic, but you could sum up my two marriages by saying that, when I wanted to be a wife, Jimmy (Stewart Granger) would say: "I just want you to be pretty." And when I wanted to cook, Richard would say: "Forget the cooking. You've been trained to act – so act!" Most people thought I was helpless – a clinger and a butterfly – during my first marriage. It was Richard Brooks who saw what was wrong and tried to make me stand on my own two feet. I'd whine: 'I'm afraid.' And he'd say: 'Never be afraid to fail. Every time you get up in the morning, you are ahead.'

She had two daughters, Tracy Granger (who has worked as a film editor since 1990), and Kate Brooks (a TV production assistant and producer), one by each marriage – their names bearing witness to Simmons' friendship with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Simmons moved to the East Coast of the US in the late 1970s, briefly owning a home in New Milford, Connecticut. Later, she returned to California, settling in Santa Monica, where she lived until her death.

Death

Simmons died from lung cancer at her home on 22 January 2010, nine days before her 81st birthday, surrounded by her family.

Release

Throughout her life, Simmons spoke out publicly about her struggle with addiction, and in 2003 became the patron of the British drugs and human rights charity Release. In 2005, she signed a petition to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to a class B.

Filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1944 Give Us the Moon Heidi
Mr. Emmanuel Sally Cooper Billed as Jean Simmonds
Sports Day Peggy
1945 Kiss the Bride Goodbye Molly Dodd
Meet Sexton Blake Eva Watkins
The Way to the Stars A singer
Caesar and Cleopatra Harpist Uncredited
1946 Great Expectations Estella as a girl
1947 Hungry Hill Jane Brodrick
Black Narcissus Kanchi
Uncle Silas Caroline Ruthyn
The Woman in the Hall Jay Blake
1948 Hamlet Ophelia Volpi Cup
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1949 The Blue Lagoon Emmeline Foster
Adam and Evelyne Evelyne Kirby
1950 So Long at the Fair Vicky Barton Bambi Award for Best Actress – International (2nd place)
Trio Evie Bishop (in segment Sanatorium), Bambi Award for Best Actress – International (2nd place)
Cage of Gold Judith Moray
The Clouded Yellow Sophie Malraux
1952 Androcles and the Lion Lavinia
1953 Angel Face Diane Tremayne Jessup
Young Bess Princess Elizabeth National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for The Robe (film) and The Actress)
Affair with a Stranger Carolyn Parker
The Robe Diana National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Actress)
The Actress Ruth Gordon Jones National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Robe (film))
1954 She Couldn't Say No
(AKA Beautiful but Dangerous )
Corby Lane
The Egyptian Meryt
A Bullet Is Waiting Cally Canham
Désirée Désirée Clary
Demetrius and the Gladiators Diana Appeared in a clip from The Robe
1955 Footsteps in the Fog Lily Watkins
Guys and Dolls Sergeant Sarah Brown Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1956 Hilda Crane Hilda Crane Burns
1957 This Could Be the Night Anne Leeds Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Until They Sail Barbara Leslie Forbes
1958 The Big Country Julie Maragon
Home Before Dark Charlotte Bronn Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (4th place)
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1959 This Earth Is Mine Elizabeth Rambeau
1960 Elmer Gantry Sharon Falconer Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (3rd place)
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Spartacus Varinia
The Grass Is Greener Hattie Durant Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (5th place)
1963 All the Way Home Mary Follett
1965 Life at the Top Susan Lampton
1966 Mister Buddwing The Blonde
1967 Divorce American Style Nancy Downes
Rough Night in Jericho Molly Lang
1968 Heidi Fräulein Rottenmeier TV
1969 The Happy Ending Mary Wilson Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1971 Say Hello to Yesterday Woman
1975 Mr. Sycamore Estelle Benbow
The Easter Promise Constance Payne TV
1977 Hawaii Five-O Terri O'Brien TV
1978 The Dain Curse Aaronia Haldorn TV
Dominique Dominique Ballard
1979 Beggarman, Thief Gretchen Jordache Burke TV
1981 A Small Killing Margaret Lawrence TV
Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls Helen Lawson TV
1983 The Thorn Birds Fee Cleary TV, Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1984 December Flower Etta Marsh TV
1985 Midas Valley Molly Hammond TV
North and South Clarissa Gault Main TV
Yellow Pages Maxine de la Hunt
1986 North and South Book II Clarissa Gault Main TV
1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love Laura Robertson TV
1988 Inherit the Wind Lucy Brady TV
The Dawning Aunt Mary
1989 Great Expectations Miss Havisham TV
Murder, She Wrote
Episode: "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: "The Drumhead"
Rear Admiral Norah Satie
Dark Shadows Elizabeth Collins Stoddard/Naomi Collins
They Do It with Mirrors Carrie-Louise Serrocold TV
1994 In the Heat of the Night
Episode: "Chez and the Grand Lady"
Miss Cordelia TV
1995 How to Make an American Quilt Em Reed Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Daisies in December Katherine Palmer
2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Council Member 2 Voice
2003 Winter Solstice Countess Lucinda Rhives Released in Germany as Wintersonne
2004 Jean Simmons: Rose of England Herself
Howl's Moving Castle Sophie (Old) Voice
2005 Thru the Moebius Strip Shepway Voice
2009 Shadows in the Sun Hannah (final film role)

Box office ranking

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted her among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

  • 1949 – 4th (9th most popular overall)
  • 1950 – 2nd (4th most popular overall)
  • 1951 – 3rd

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1949 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Hamlet Nominated
1953 National Board of Review Best Actress The Actress / The Robe / Young Bess Won
1956 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Guys and Dolls Won
1957 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Guys and Dolls Nominated
1958 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy This Could Be the Night Nominated
1959 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Home Before Dark Nominated
1961 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Elmer Gantry Nominated
1961 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Elmer Gantry Nominated
1970 Academy Awards Best Actress The Happy Ending Nominated
1970 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama The Happy Ending Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie The Thorn Birds Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television The Thorn Birds Nominated
1989 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Murder, She Wrote Nominated
1996 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture How to Make an American Quilt Nominated
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References
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18193224
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26748158
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2759831
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27893195
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49700937
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55886550
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63371662
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63397098
http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=48279
http://www.britishpathe.com/results.php?search=%22jean+simmons%22
http://www.britishpathe.com/video/jean-simmons-in-motorboat
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