Simmons, Jean (1929—)

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Simmons, Jean (1929—)

English actress. Born Jean Merilyn Simmons on January 31, 1929, in Crouch Hill, London, England; youngest of four children of Charles Simmons (a physical education teacher) and Winifred Ada (Loveland) Simmons; attended Orange Hill School for Girls; married Stewart Granger (an actor), on December 20, 1950 (divorced 1960); married Richard Brooks (a director), on November 1, 1960 (divorced 1977); children: (first marriage) Tracy Granger; (second marriage) Kate Brooks.

Selected filmography:

Give Us the Moon (UK, 1944); Mr. Emmanuel (UK, 1944); Kiss the Bride Goodbye (UK, 1944); Meet Sexton Blake (UK, 1944); The Way to the Stars (Johnny in the Clouds, UK, 1945); Caesar and Cleopatra (UK, 1945); Great Expectations (UK, 1946); Hungry Hill (UK, 1946); Black Narcissus (UK, 1947); Uncle Silas (The Inheritance, UK, 1947); The Woman in the Hall (UK, 1947); Hamlet (UK, 1946); The Blue Lagoon (UK, 1949); Adam and Evelyne (Adam and Evelyn, UK, 1949); So Long at the Fair (UK, 1950); Cage of Gold (UK, 1950); Trio (UK, 1950); The Clouded Yellow (UK, 1950); Androcles and the Lion (1953); Angel Face (1953); Young Bess (1953); Affair With a Stranger (1953); The Robe (1953); The Actress (1953); She Couldn't Say No (1954); The Egyptian (1954); A Bullet Is Waiting (1954); Desiree (1954); Footsteps in the Fog (UK, 1955); Guys and Dolls (1955); Hilda Crane (1956); This Could Be the Night (1957); Until They Sail (1957); The Big Country (1958); Home Before Dark (1958); This Earth Is Mine (1959); Elmer Gantry (1960); Spartacus (1960); The Grass Is Greener (UK, 1960); All the Way Home (1963); Life at the Top (UK, 1965); Mister Buddwing (1966); Divorce American Style (1967); Rough Night in Jericho (1967); The Happy Ending (1969); Say Hello to Yesterday (UK, 1971); Mr. Sycamore (1975); Dominique (UK, 1978); Yellow Pages (Going Undercover, UK, 1985); The Dawning (1988).

The youngest of four children, Jean Simmons was born in 1929 in Crouch Hill, London, England, and spent her childhood in the Golders Green section of that city until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when she and her siblings, along with many other London children, were evacuated to Somerset. She returned to the city at age 14, when she began lessons at the Aida Foster School of Dancing. It was there that she was spotted by a movie talent scout who asked her to audition for the role of Margaret Lockwood 's sister in the film Give Us the Moon (1944). Director Val Guest selected Simmons over 200 hopefuls, launching her movie career. Over the next two years, she played minor film roles while continuing her dance studies. At age 16, she was selected to play the young Estella in Great Expectations, a role that caught the attention of Laurence Olivier, who chose her to play Ophelia in his 1948 screen production of Hamlet.

Although inexperienced in Shakespeare, and guided line by line in the role by Olivier, Simmons turned in a remarkable performance. "Jean Simmons is extraordinarily enchanting and touching as Ophelia," wrote Howard Barnes. "Starting at a low pitch she builds to the famous mad scene with authority and eloquence." The reviewer for Time, while admitting that Simmons lacked experience, remarked on her "oblique, individual

beauty" and "trained dancer's continuous grace," adding that "she is the only person in the picture who gives every one of her lines the bloom of poetry and the immediacy of ordinary life." For her performance, Simmons won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Festival and a nomination for an Academy Award. Olivier also offered Simmons a chance to work with the Old Vic Company, which she declined in favor of a role in Blue Lagoon (1949), the drawing point being its location shots in the South Pacific. (Actress Brooke Shields fared little better in a remake of the film in 1980.)

In 1950, Simmons arrived in the United States on the arm of actor Stewart Granger, whom she married quietly on December 20, after his divorce from actress Elspeth March . It became necessary for Simmons to legally dissolve her contract with Howard Hughes before making her American film debut in Androcles and the Lion (1953); the complicated court battle lasted a year. The actress also made three other films in 1953—The Actress, Young Bess (in which she portrayed a youthful Queen Elizabeth I ), and The Robe—all considered to be among her best. They were followed by the historical dramas The Egyptian and Desiree (both 1954), in which Simmons played Desiree Clary (Désirée ) to Marlon Brando's Napoleon. She appeared opposite Bran-do once more in Guys and Dolls (1955), playing his love interest Sarah Brown in a musical role that was unlike anything she had done before. "She is surprisingly appealing in a part with almost no potential, and her Havana dance is a high point of the picture," wrote Stephen Sondheim in Films in Review (December 1955).

In June 1956, the Grangers became U.S. citizens, and Simmons gave birth to a daughter Tracy. The marriage ended in 1960, with charges of "outrageous cruelty" from the actress, who was now romantically involved with director Richard Brooks. Granger likened the split to a child breaking away from a parent: "The trouble with me is that I did everything for Jean in our marriage. I taught her how to read, how to talk, how to walk, how to carry herself. I taught her art, literature, current events. She was such a child. Our entire relationship was like Pygmalion." As for Simmons, she relinquished the Arizona Ranch on which the couple had lived, but got custody of Tracy. Soon after the divorce, Simmons married Brooks, who also provided her sensitive direction in Elmer Gantry (1960), one of the actress' most memorable films.

For the most part, Simmons was off the screen for three years following Elmer Gantry, during which time she and Brooks welcomed a daughter Kate. She made her return in All the Way Home (1963), in the role of a wife who loses her beloved husband in an automobile accident. "She is irresistibly heart-tearing," reported Bosley Crowther. Alvin Marill concurred, writing in Films in Review (February 1972) that none of Simmons' seven films after All the Way Home even warrant discussion. The actress, however, did receive a second Oscar nomination for The Happy Ending (1969), also directed by Brooks, in which she plays a wife who turns to alcohol and men after her 15-year marriage comes apart.

Taking a respite from movies in the early 1970s, Simmons toured for two years in the musical A Little Night Music, after which she returned to work in occasional film and television. The actress divorced Brooks in 1977, but not before crediting him with helping her mature. "I had nothing but filmmaking and an over-protected life until I met him. He helped me realize that there was more to life than standing in front of a camera. And he taught me not to be afraid of accepting myself as being human and vulnerable."

sources:

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Marill, Alvin H. "Jean Simmons," in Films in Review. February 1962.

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1952. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1952.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Simmons, Jean (1929—)

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