Jean Simmons in a 1955 studio publicity shot
|Born||Jean Merilyn Simmons
31 January 1929
Lower Holloway, London, England, UK
|Died||22 January 2010
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
|Alma mater||Aida Foster School of Dance|
(m. 1950; div. 1960)
(m. 1960; div. 1980)
Winifred Loveland Simmons
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.
Early life and career
Simmons was born in Lower Holloway, 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. 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.
Small roles in several other films followed, including the high-profile Caesar and Cleopatra, produced by Gabriel Pascal. Pascal saw potential in Simmons, and in 1945, he signed her to a seven-year contract. Prior to moving to Hollywood, she played the young Estella in David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946) and Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. She played an Indian girl in the Powell-Pressburger film Black Narcissus (1947).
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.
Playing Ophelia to Olivier's Hamlet made her a star while still in her teens, although she was already well known for her work in other British films, including her first starring role in the film adaptation of Uncle Silas, and Black Narcissus (both 1947). 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. In 1949, Simmons starred with Stewart Granger in Adam and Evelyne. In 1950, she was voted the fourth-most popular star in Britain. In 1951, Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes, who then owned the RKO Pictures.
In 1950, she married Stewart Granger, with whom she appeared in several films, and the transition to an American career began. Hughes was eager to start a sexual relationship with Simmons, but Granger put a stop to his advances by angrily telling Hughes over the phone: "Mr Howard bloody Hughes, you'll be sorry if you don't leave my wife alone." She made four films for Hughes, including Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger. 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 Robert 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. A court case freed her from the contract with Hughes in 1952.
In 1953, she starred alongside Spencer Tracy in The Actress, a film that was one of her personal favourites. Among the many films in which she appeared during this period were The Robe (1953), Young Bess (1953), Désirée (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Big Country (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), (directed by her second husband, Richard Brooks), Spartacus (1960), All the Way Home (1963), and The Happy Ending (1969), for which she received her second Oscar nomination. In the opinion of film critic Philip French, Home Before Dark (1958) was "perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn LeRoy's psychodrama".
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.
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.
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.
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 over all)
- 1950 – 2nd (4th most popular over all)
- 1951 – 3rd
Awards and nominations
- Jean Simmons obituary, Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2010 .
- Obituary The Independent, 26 January 2010 jean simmons actress who dazzled
- Aljean Harmetz (23 January 2010). "Jean Simmons, Actress, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
Jean Simmons, the English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major mid-century star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 80. The cause was lung cancer, according to Judy Page, her agent.
- "Jean Simmons' Age Is Exposed". The Salina Journal. 116 (96). 26 April 1967. p. 20. Retrieved 14 March 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Are They Being Fair To Jean Simmons?", Picturegoer, 2 August 1947.
- Per Gloria Hunniford in Sunday, Sunday television interview LWT, Autumn 1985
- TV Times, March22-28 1975, p.4
- So You Want to be in Pictures? by Val Guest, p. 58; ISBN 1-90311-115-3
- Biography, reelclassics.com; accessed 24 April 2014.
- Woman's Weekly, Christmas 1989
- French, Philip (24 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: an unforgettable English rose". The Observer.
- "Critics Praise Drama: Comedians Win Profits". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- Howard Hughes, The Untold story, Peter Brown, Pat Broeske, p.241 Sphere 2005
- The Guardian, interview with Peter Lennon, November 1999 
- Norman, Barry (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: The beauty who said no to Howard Hughes - and sabotaged her Hollywood career". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- Thomson, David (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons obituary". The Guardian.
- Bernstein, Adam (24 January 2010). "English actress was known for roles in the films 'Hamlet' and 'Elmer Gantry'". Washington Post. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- French, Philip (6 April 2008). "Philip French's screen legends – No 11: Jean Simmons profile". The Observer.
- Sondheim Guide – A Little Night Music; accessed 24 April 2014.
- "English Stars Married Here". Tucson Daily Citizen. 78 (304). Tucson, Arizona. 21 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 16 March 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "The Stewart Grangers Become Citizens of US". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Journal Company. Associated Press. 9 June 1956. p. 1. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- "Jean Simmons Files To Divorce Stewart Granger". The Blade. Toledo, Ohio. United Press International. 8 July 1960. p. 7. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- "Actress Weds Film Director". The Odessa American. 35 (263). Odessa, Texas. Associated Press. 2 November 1960. p. 27. Retrieved 1 April 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Daniel 2011, p. 210.
- Tracy Granger's IMDB page
- Kate Brooks' IMDB page
- Picture Show and TV Mirror, 2 July 1960, p. 7. Simmons says her daughter was named after Spencer Tracy in interview, but adds, "Jimmy (Granger) says he got the name from the role Katharine Hepburn played in The Philadelphia Story."
- "British-born Hollywood actress Jean Simmons dies at 80". BBC. 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- Jean Simmons obituary, BBC.co.uk; accessed 24 April 2014.
- Jean Simmons obituary, The Telegraph; accessed 24 April 2014.
- Goodchild, Sophie (2005-12-18). "Sting leads campaign against Blair's plan to reclassify cannabis". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
- "Give Us the Moon (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Mr. Emmanuel (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Sports Day (1944)". IMDb.
- "Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Meet Sexton Blake (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Uncle Silas (1947)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Cage of Gold (1950))". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Affair with a Stranger (1953)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Home Before Dark (1958)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "This Earth is Mine (1959)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Life at the Top (1965)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "The Easter Promise (1975)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Beggarman, Thief (1979)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "A Small Killing (1981)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "December Flower (1984)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Midas Valley (1985)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Yellow Pages (1988)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Katherine Palmer (1995)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Winter Solstice (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Through the Moebius Strip (2005)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Shadows in the Sun (2009)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
- "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity". Canberra Times. ACT: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "TOPS AT HOME". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "BOB HOPE BEST DRAW IN BRITISH THEATRES". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Queensland, Australia: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- Daniel, Douglass K. (2011). Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299251241.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Jean Simmons|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jean Simmons.|
- Jean Simmons on IMDb
- Jean Simmons and Claire Bloom at aenigma
- Jean Simmons at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Jean Simmons at the TCM Movie Database
- The Jean Simmons Memorial YouTube Page
- Jean Simmons – A Fan Resource
- Jean Simmons 1946 newsreel footage from British Pathe (newsreel search)
- Jean Simmons in motorboat Britlsh Pathe
- Obituary in The New York Times (23 January 2010)
- In Appreciation of Jean Simmons (1929–2010)
- Photographs and literature