Saturday, January 30, 2010
RIP:Jenny and Jean
I’ve been dog sick (for real), and soul sick, thus the blog has laid moribund, gathering electronic dust and perhaps losing whatever miniscule (but committed) readership I have. A bug of sorts may have physically splayed me, and the political landscape around us has continually sickened me, yet I’ve vowed to keep politics out of it and stay within the pleasure confines of the culture zone. A place where one can opine with delicacy, an actual thought process, and with ready theorems and even actual supportive facts and examples.
I’ve also been kicking myself for not somehow finding the time to toss off a few words about the recent passing of Hollywood beauty Jennifer Jones, and now that the one and only Jean Simmons has joined her in the astral dressing rooms, I am compelled to make up for it. Jones and Simmons shouldn’t be consigned to one general mini-tribute, but, in fact, they did indeed share certain big screen qualities, and both had equally difficult times landing resonating roles and both had rather strange careers.
Jennifer Jones was born Phylis Isley in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1919, the daughter of a local showbiz type, and she eventually found her way to Hollywood as an ingénue in the late 30’s and married the troubled young actor Robert Walker. She soon came under the penetrative gaze of the all powerful David O. Selznick, and found herself contracted to him and eventually engaged in an affair which helped break up both of their marriages, leading to their own legal coupling. Renamed, she made her official debut, in 1943’s The Song of Bernadette, and won a thoroughly unexpected Oscar for best actress. After snatching the coveted crown so early into her career, it would be forever debated by both industry and critical mavens whether her undeniably big screen glow emanated from the pure magic of perfect casting or an acting sense that wasn’t quite formed or shaped. Jones continually conveyed a deep-seated earnestness in her work.
Selznick was obsessed with Jones and her burgeoning career, eventually causing both directors and production types to hope against her landing a role in their upcoming production, fearing the flurry of memos and continual suggestive interference that was sure to come from Selznick. Ironically enough, despite his purest desires, he also seemed devoid of good judgment when choosing her roles. She is so magnificently miscast in 1946’s Duel in the Sun, that her misplaced ferocity as a tempestuous bad girl, in a luridly technicolored western sudser, made it one of the greatest Hollywood camp pleasures of all time, and a pivotal film for such latter-day biggie directors as Pedro Almodovar and Marty Scorsese. She is memorable in Carrie (’52), Ruby Gentry (’52), Beat the Devil (’54), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (’55), A Farewell to Arms (57), and faded out in rather high ((and campy) style in The Towering inferno (’74). Ethereal, severely limited in range, she was, for a time, one of those unadorned 40’s screen goddesses, yet she always stood out as a slightly off-the-mark type, one whom emanated definite vibes of peculiarity.
Jean Simmons, born in London in 1929, was a successful and extremely popular actress before she entered her twenties. A porcelain vision throbbing with inner vibrancy she couldn’t be missed in Great Expectations (’46), Black Narcissus (’47), and Hamlet (’48), all exemplary British films. She wound up in Hollywood at the tender age of 22, signed to a contract with the notorious producer and skirt-chaser Howard Hughes, who seemed not to care that Simmons was newly betrothed to British matinee macho man Stewart Granger. Punished by a petulant Hughes after she (one of the few it seems) turned him away, he forced her into a role that seemed ill-suited for her, as the angelic psychopath opposite tough guy/ patsy Robert Mitchum in Otto Preminger’s 1952 Angel Face, in which she turned in perhaps one of the most hypnotic and memorable woman’s roles in all of film noir, and forever created her own little filmic undercurrent. She was strong in The Actress('53), good in The Robe ('53), stood up to a grandstanding Brando in Desiree('54), and absolutely hit the mark, both singing and partnering again with Brando as Sister Sarah in Guys and Dolls (’55).
By now she had turned into an absolutely versatile leading lady, the aging process melting her otherworldly air of perfection by maturing into an unexpected vivacious, even salacious side. She did noteworthy work in The Big Country ('58),Elmer Gantry ('60), and The Grass is Greener('61) and then never again regained her spot at the top as the tumultuous (for the movie industry also) decade tumbled on. Simmons was indeed a radiant beauty but onscreen she learned to convey a decidedly feminine luminosity and sharpened sense of inner being, with nary a drop of sweat ever showing.