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Jennifer Jones

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Jennifer Jones
Jones in 1953
Phylis Lee Isley

(1919-03-02)March 2, 1919
DiedDecember 17, 2009(2009-12-17) (aged 90)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
Alma materNorthwestern University
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1939–1974
(m. 1939; div. 1945)
(m. 1949; died 1965)
(m. 1971; died 1993)
Children3, including Robert Walker, Jr.

Jennifer Jones (born Phylis Lee Isley; March 2, 1919 – December 17, 2009), also known as Jennifer Jones Simon, was an American actress and mental-health advocate. Over the course of her career that spanned more than five decades, she was nominated for an Academy Award five times, including one win for Best Actress, and a Golden Globe Award win for Best Actress in a Drama.

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jones worked as a model in her youth before transitioning to acting, appearing in two serial films in 1939. Her third role was a lead part as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943), which earned her the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress. She went on to star in several films that garnered her significant critical acclaim and a further three Academy Award nominations in the mid-1940s, including Since You Went Away (1944), Love Letters (1945) and Duel in the Sun (1946).

In 1949, Jones married film producer David O. Selznick and appeared as the eponymous Madame Bovary in Vincente Minnelli's 1949 adaptation. She appeared in several films throughout the 1950s, including Ruby Gentry (1952), John Huston's adventure comedy Beat the Devil (1953) and Vittorio De Sica's drama Terminal Station (1953). Jones earned her fifth Academy Award nomination for her performance as a Eurasian doctor in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955).

After Selznick's death in 1965, Jones married industrialist Norton Simon and entered semiretirement. She made her final film appearance in The Towering Inferno (1974).

Jones suffered from mental-health problems during her life. After her daughter took her own life in 1976, Jones became deeply involved in mental health education. In 1980, she founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education. Jones enjoyed a quiet retirement, living the last six years of her life in Malibu, California, where she died of natural causes in 2009 at the age of 90.



1919–1939: Early life


Jones was born[1] in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the daughter of Flora Mae (née Suber) and Phillip Ross Isley.[2] Her father was originally from Georgia, and her mother was a native of Sacramento, California.[2] She was an only child, and she was raised Catholic. Her parents, both aspiring stage actors, toured the Midwest in a traveling tent show that they owned and operated. Jones accompanied them, performing on occasion as part of the Isley Stock Company.[3]

Jones with Ray Corrigan (left) and John Wayne (right) in New Frontier (1939)

In 1925, Jones enrolled at Edgemere Public School in Oklahoma City, then attended Monte Cassino, a Catholic girls school and junior college in Tulsa.[4] After graduating, she enrolled as a drama major at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority before transferring to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in September 1937.[5] It was there that she met and fell in love with fellow acting student Robert Walker, a native of Ogden, Utah.[5] They married on January 2, 1939.[6]

Jones and Walker returned to Tulsa for a 13-week radio program arranged by her father and then moved to Hollywood. She landed two small roles, first in the 1939 John Wayne Western New Frontier, which she filmed in the summer of 1939 for Republic Pictures.[7] Her second project was the serial titled Dick Tracy's G-Men (1939), also for Republic.[8] In both films, she was credited as Phylis Isley.[9] After failing a screen test for Paramount Pictures, she became disenchanted with Hollywood and returned to New York City.[10]

1940–1948: Career beginnings


Shortly after Jones married Walker, she gave birth to two sons: Robert Walker Jr. (1940–2019), and Michael Walker (1941–2007). While Walker found steady work in radio programs, Jones worked part-time modeling hats for the Powers Agency, and posing for Harper's Bazaar while looking for acting jobs.[11] When she learned of auditions for the lead role in Rose Franken's hit play Claudia in the summer of 1941, she presented herself to David O. Selznick's New York office but fled in tears after what she thought was a bad reading.[12] However, Selznick had overheard her audition and was impressed enough to have his secretary call her back. Following an interview, she was signed to a seven-year contract.[13]

Jones as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943)

She was carefully groomed for stardom and given a new name: Jennifer Jones. Director Henry King was impressed by her screen test as Bernadette Soubirous for The Song of Bernadette (1943), and she won the coveted role over hundreds of applicants.[14] In 1944, on her 25th birthday, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bernadette, her third screen role.[15]

Simultaneous to her rise to prominence for The Song of Bernadette, Jones began an affair with producer Selznick. She separated from Walker in November 1943, co-starred with him in Since You Went Away (1944), and formally divorced him in June 1945.[16] For her performance in Since You Went Away, she was nominated for her second Academy Award, this time for Best Supporting Actress.[17] She earned a third successive Academy Award nomination for her performance with Joseph Cotten in Love Letters (1945).[18]

Jones's saintly image from her first starring role was starkly contrasted three years later when she was cast as a biracial woman in Selznick's controversial Duel in the Sun (1946), in which she portrayed a mixed-race indigenous (mestiza) orphan in Texas who falls in love with a white man (Gregory Peck).[19] Also in 1946, she starred as the title character in Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy Cluny Brown as a working-class English woman who falls in love just before World War II.[20] She next appeared in the fantasy film Portrait of Jennie (1948), again costarring with Cotten. The film was based on the novella of the same name by Robert Nathan.[21][22] However, it was a commercial failure, grossing only $1.5 million against a $4 million budget.[23]

1949–1964: Marriage to Selznick

Jones and second husband David O. Selznick in 1957

Jones married Selznick at sea on July 13, 1949, en route to Europe after a five-year relationship.[24] Over the following two decades, she appeared in numerous films that he produced, and they established a working relationship.[25] In 1949, Jones starred opposite John Garfield in John Huston's adventure film We Were Strangers.[26] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt that Jones's performance was lacking, noting: "There is neither understanding nor passion in the stiff, frigid creature she achieves."[27] She was subsequently cast as the title character of Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary (1949), a role originally intended for Lana Turner that Turner declined.[28] Variety deemed the film "interesting to watch, but hard to feel," although it noted that "Jones answers to every demand of direction and script."[29] In 1950, Jones starred in the Powell and Pressburger-directed fantasy Gone to Earth as a superstitious gypsy woman in the English countryside.[30]

Jones next starred in William Wyler's drama Carrie (1952) with Laurence Olivier.[31] Crowther criticized her performance, writing: "Mr. Olivier gives the film its closest contact with the book, while Miss Jones' soft, seraphic portrait of Carrie takes it furthest away."[32] Also in 1952, she costarred with Charlton Heston in Ruby Gentry, playing a femme fatale in rural North Carolina who becomes embroiled in a murder conspiracy after marrying a local man.[33] The role was previously offered to Joan Fontaine, who felt that she was "unsuited to play backwoods."[34] In its review, Variety deemed the film a "sordid drama [with] neither Jennifer Jones nor Charlton Heston gaining any sympathy in their characters."[35]

Jones and Montgomery Clift in Terminal Station (1953)

In 1953, Jones was cast opposite Montgomery Clift in Italian director Vittorio De Sica's Terminal Station (Stazione termini), a drama set in Rome about a romance between an American woman and an Italian man.[36] The film, produced by Selznick, had a troubled production history, and Selznick and De Sica clashed over the screenplay and tone of the film.[37] Clift sided with De Sica and reportedly called Selznick "an interfering fuck-face" on set.[38] Aside from the tensions between cast and crew, Jones was mourning the recent death of her first husband Robert Walker, and also missed her two sons, who were staying in Switzerland during production.[39] Terminal Station was screened at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival[40] and was released in a heavily truncated form in the United States with the title Indiscretion of an American Wife.[41] Also in 1953, Jones teamed again with director John Huston to star in his film Beat the Devil (1953), an adventure comedy costarring Humphrey Bogart.[42] The film was a box-office flop and was critically panned upon release, and Bogart distanced himself from it.[42] However, it was reevaluated in later years by critics such as Roger Ebert, who included it in his list of "Great Movies" and cited it as the first "camp" film.[43] In August 1954, Jones gave birth to her third child, daughter Mary Jennifer Selznick.[44]

Jones was cast as Chinese-born doctor Han Suyin in the drama Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), a role that brought her fifth Academy Award nomination.[45] Crowther lauded her performance as "... lovely and intense. Her dark beauty reflects sunshine and sadness."[46] Next, she starred as a schoolteacher in Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955),[47] followed by a lead role in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a drama about a World War II veteran.[48]

In 1957, she starred as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the historical drama The Barretts of Wimpole Street, based on the 1930 play by Rudolf Besier.[49] She next played the lead role in the Ernest Hemingway adaptation A Farewell to Arms (1957).[50] The film received mixed reviews,[51] with Variety noting that "the relationship between Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones never takes on real dimensions."[52] Jones's next project came five years later with the F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation Tender Is the Night (1962).[53]

1965–2009: Later life and activities


Selznick died at age 63 on June 22, 1965, and after his death, Jones semiretired from acting. Her first role in four years was a lead part in the British drama The Idol (1966) as the mother of an adult son in Swinging Sixties London who has an affair with his best friend. [54]

In 1966, Jones made a rare theatrical appearance in the revival of Clifford Odets' The Country Girl, costarring Rip Torn, at New York's City Center. On November 9, 1967, the same day on which her close friend Charles Bickford died of a blood infection, Jones attempted suicide. Informing her physician of her intention to jump from a cliff overlooking Malibu Beach, she swallowed barbiturates before walking to the base of the cliff, where she was found unconscious amidst the rocky surf.[55] According to biographer Paul Green, it was news of Bickford's death that triggered Jones's suicide attempt.[55] She was hospitalized in a coma from the incident.[56][57] She returned to film with Angel, Angel, Down We Go in 1969, about a teenage girl who uses her association with a rock band to manipulate her family.[58]

Jones with husband Norton Simon after their marriage, May 1971

On May 29, 1971, Jones married her third husband Norton Simon, a multimillionaire industrialist, art collector and philanthropist from Portland, Oregon.[6] The wedding took place aboard a tugboat five miles off the English coast and was conducted by Unitarian "minister" Eirion Phillips.[6] Years before, Simon had attempted to buy the portrait of Jones that was used in the film Portrait of Jennie. Simon later met Jones at a party hosted by fellow industrialist and art collector Walter Annenberg.[59] Jones' last film appearance came in the disaster film The Towering Inferno (1974).[60] Her performance as a doomed guest in the building earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[61] Early scenes in the film showed paintings lent to the production by the art gallery of Jones' husband Simon.[62]

On May 11, 1976, Jones' 21-year-old daughter Mary, a student at Occidental College, committed suicide by jumping from the roof of a 22-floor apartment hotel in downtown Los Angeles.[63] This led to Jones' interest in mental health issues. In 1979, with husband Simon (whose son Robert died by suicide in 1969[64]), she founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education, which she ran until 2003.[65] One of Jones's primary goals with the foundation was to destigmatize mental illness.[66] In 1980, Jones said: "I cringe when I admit I've been suicidal, had mental problems, but why should I? I hope we can reeducate the world to see there's no more need for stigma in mental illness than there is for cancer." She also divulged that she had been a psychotherapy patient since age 24.[66]

Jones spent the remainder of her life outside of the public eye. Four years before the death of her husband Simon in June 1993, he resigned as president of Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and Jones was appointed chairman of the board of trustees, president and executive officer. In 1996, she began working with architect Frank Gehry and landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power to renovate the museum and gardens. She remained active as the director of the museum until 2003, when she was awarded emerita status.[citation needed]

Personal life


Jones was a registered Republican who supported Dwight Eisenhower's campaign in the 1952 presidential election.[67]

Jones suffered from shyness for much of her life and avoided discussing her past and personal life with journalists. She was also averse to discussing critical analysis of her work.[1] Public discussion of her working relationship with Selznick often overshadowed her career. Biographer Paul Green contends that, while Selznick helped facilitate her career and sought roles for her, "Jones excelled because she not only possessed outstanding beauty but she also possessed genuine talent."[25]


Jones' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6429 Hollywood Boulevard

Jones enjoyed a quiet retirement, living with her eldest child, son Robert Walker Jr., and his family in Malibu for the last six years of her life. Jones's younger son, actor Michael Ross Walker, died from cardiac arrest on December 23, 2007, at age 66, while Robert Jr. died on December 5, 2019, at age 79.[68]

Jones participated in Gregory Peck's AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony in 1989 and appeared at the 70th (1998) and 75th (2003) Academy Awards as part of the shows' tributes to past Oscar winners. In the last six years of her life, she granted no interviews and rarely appeared in public. She died of natural causes on December 17, 2009, at age 90.[69] She was cremated and her ashes were interred with her second husband in the Selznick private room at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Minor planet 6249 Jennifer is named in her honor.[70]


Year Title Role Notes
1939 New Frontier Celia Braddock As Phyllis Isley; film debut[71]
Dick Tracy's G-Men Gwen Andrews As Phyllis Isley; 15-chapter serial
1943 The Song of Bernadette Bernadette Soubirous Academy Award for Best Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Locarno International Film Festival - Best Actress
1944 Since You Went Away Jane Deborah Hilton Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1945 Love Letters Singleton / Victoria Morland Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1946 Cluny Brown Cluny Brown Locarno International Film Festival - Best Actress
Duel in the Sun Pearl Chavez Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1948 Portrait of Jennie Jennie Appleton
1949 We Were Strangers China Valdés
Madame Bovary Emma Bovary
1950 Gone to Earth Hazel Woodus Released as The Wild Heart (heavily edited) in the U.S.
1952 Carrie Carrie Meeber
Ruby Gentry Ruby Gentry
1953 Terminal Station Mary Forbes Released as Indiscretion of an American Wife in the U.S.
Beat the Devil Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm
1955 Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Dr. Han Suyin Nominated — New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (3rd place)

Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress

Good Morning, Miss Dove Miss Dove
1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Betsy Rath
1957 The Barretts of Wimpole Street Elizabeth Barrett
A Farewell to Arms Catherine Barkley
1962 Tender Is the Night Nicole Diver
1966 The Idol Carol
1969 Angel, Angel, Down We Go Astrid Steele a.k.a. Cult of the Damned
1974 The Towering Inferno Lisolette Mueller Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture

Awards and nominations


Academy Awards

Year Category Work Result
1956 Best Actress Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Nominated
1947 Duel in the Sun Nominated
1946 Love Letters Nominated
1945 Best Supporting Actress Since You Went Away Nominated
1944 Best Actress The Song of Bernadette Won

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Work Result
1975 Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture The Towering Inferno Nominated
1944 Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama The Song of Bernadette Won

See also



  1. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 7.
  2. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 11.
  3. ^ Green 2011, p. 12.
  4. ^ Green 2011, p. 13.
  5. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 14.
  6. ^ a b c Green 2011, p. 198.
  7. ^ Green 2011, p. 17.
  8. ^ Green 2011, p. 19.
  9. ^ Green 2011, pp. 17–19.
  10. ^ Green 2011, pp. 18–22.
  11. ^ Green 2011, p. 22.
  12. ^ Green 2011, pp. 22–3.
  13. ^ Green 2011, pp. 23–24.
  14. ^ Green 2011, p. 32.
  15. ^ Green 2011, p. 39.
  16. ^ Watters, Sam (October 2, 2010). "Lost L.A.: Time for tea — and spin control: When Jennifer Jones' affair with David Selznick sank their marriages, the actress played tea party for a magazine spread". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
  17. ^ Green 2011, p. 53.
  18. ^ Green 2011, p. 57.
  19. ^ Green 2011, pp. 74–76.
  20. ^ Green 2011, pp. 67–68.
  21. ^ Green 2011, pp. 88, 235.
  22. ^ Green 2011, pp. 88–90.
  23. ^ Green 2011, p. 88.
  24. ^ Green 2011, p. 105.
  25. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 9.
  26. ^ Green 2011, p. 96.
  27. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 28, 1949). "'We Were Strangers,' Starring Jennifer Jones and Garfield, Is New Feature at Astor". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Green 2011, p. 98.
  29. ^ "Madame Bovary". Variety. December 31, 1948. Archived from the original on November 22, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  30. ^ Green 2011, pp. 110–114.
  31. ^ Green 2011, pp. 116–119.
  32. ^ Crowther, Bosley (July 17, 1952). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ' Carrie,' With Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones, Is New Feature at the Capitol". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Green 2011, p. 126.
  34. ^ Green 2011, p. 127.
  35. ^ Variety Staff (December 31, 1951). "Ruby Gentry". Variety. Archived from the original on November 22, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  36. ^ Green 2011, pp. 132–135.
  37. ^ Green 2011, pp. 132–136.
  38. ^ Green 2011, p. 133.
  39. ^ Bosworth 1978, pp. 245–246.
  40. ^ Bazin 2014, p. 135.
  41. ^ Green 2011, p. 130.
  42. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 139.
  43. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 26, 2000). "Beat the Devil". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2013. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  44. ^ Morton, Hortense. "Additional Re-release Planned by Selznick". The San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco, California. p. 82 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  45. ^ Green 2011, p. 246.
  46. ^ Crowther, Bosley (August 19, 1955). "Love' Is a Few Splendors Shy; Patrick's Adaptation of Suyin Novel Opens". The New York Times.
  47. ^ Green 2011, pp. 151–152.
  48. ^ Green 2011, p. 157.
  49. ^ Green 2011, p. 159.
  50. ^ Green 2011, pp. 165–169.
  51. ^ Green 2011, p. 169–170.
  52. ^ Variety Staff (December 31, 1956). "A Farewell to Arms". Variety. Archived from the original on November 22, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  53. ^ Green 2011, p. 191.
  54. ^ Green 2011, p. 182.
  55. ^ a b Green 2011, p. 184.
  56. ^ Luther, Claudia (December 18, 2009). "Jennifer Jones dies at 90; Oscar-winning actress". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 6, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
  57. ^ Coppersmith, Scott (December 17, 2009). "Oscar-Winning Actress Jennifer Jones Dies at 90". KCOP-TV. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on March 7, 2012.
  58. ^ Green 2011, p. 186.
  59. ^ Maltin, Leonard. "Biography for Jennifer Jones". Turner Classic Movies. Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  60. ^ Green 2011, p. 195.
  61. ^ "The Towering Inferno". Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on November 22, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  62. ^ Green 2011, p. 193.
  63. ^ Kirk, Christina (June 6, 1976). "Tragic curse haunts film star Jennifer Jones". San Antonio Express. San Antonio, Texas – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  64. ^ Muchnic 1998, p. 398.
  65. ^ Green 2011, p. 247.
  66. ^ a b Battelle, Phyllis (June 26, 1980). "Team For Mental Health". Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. Lancaster, Ohio. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  67. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  68. ^ Mike Barnes (December 6, 2019). "Robert Walker Jr., 'Star Trek' Actor and Son of Hollywood Superstars, Dies at 79". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on December 7, 2019. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  69. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (December 17, 2009). "Jennifer Jones, Postwar Actress, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 19, 2018.
  70. ^ (6249) Jennifer In: Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Springer. 2003. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_5751. ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7.
  71. ^ "New Frontier". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-11-13.



Further reading