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Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

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Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Old 01-23-10, 12:14 AM
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Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Very sad to hear of her passing. She was in quite a few good films over the years. A few of my favorites were the Big Country, Spartacus, and the Robe.


Jean Simmons, 80; beguiling, durable film actress

By Adam Bernstein
Friday, January 22, 2010; 11:18 PM


Jean Simmons, 80, a beguiling actress of quiet emotional power, notably as Ophelia opposite Laurence Olivier in "Hamlet" (1948) and a revivalist preacher in "Elmer Gantry" (1960), died Jan. 22 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She had lung cancer.

Ms. Simmons, an auburn-haired beauty, was still in her teens when she emerged as one of England's leading box office draws.

Her breakthrough came in a cluster of three remarkably different supporting roles. In 1946, she played the young, stuck-up Estella in David Lean's "Great Expectations," regarded as one of the best Charles Dickens adaptations ever made.

The next year, she was an Indian princess capable of a wordless seduction in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Black Narcissus." Then came her portrayal of the doomed Ophelia in "Hamlet," which brought her an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role.

Olivier, who directed and played the title role intuitively cast Ms. Simmons, despite her professed ignorance of Shakespeare. Time film critic James Agee called Ms. Simmons "the only person in the picture who gives every one of her lines the bloom of poetry and the immediacy of ordinary life."

The next phase of Ms. Simmons's career was desperately unhappy. Her contract with the Rank film studio, which had made her a star in England, had been sold to American producer Howard Hughes, whose eccentric, often controlling behavior caused her a great deal of anguish.

She was married at the time to British actor Stewart Granger, who was being promoted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios as a hunky action star. But over at Hughes's RKO studios, Ms. Simmons was wildly miscast in a series of lurid dramas and second-rate adventure and historical films such as "Androcles and the Lion" (1952), with Victor Mature, a satire about ancient Rome.

Hughes reportedly refused to lend her to another studio for the leading female role in "Roman Holiday" (1953), which made a star and Oscar-winner of Audrey Hepburn. Granger later wrote in his memoir that Ms. Simmons relationship with Hughes deteriorated so badly that the producer cast her as a murderess in the drama "Angel Face" (1952), with Robert Mitchum, and reportedly ordered director Otto Preminger to be rough with her.

Preminger demanded repeated takes of Mitchum's character slapping Ms. Simmons, and the actress's face became redder and redder. Finally, according to Granger, Mitchum punched Preminger, asking how that take was, or "Would you like another, Otto?"

Ms. Simmons fulfilled her contract with Hughes, whom she had sued for release, and she went on to star in costume dramas of varying quality, including "The Robe" (1953), with Richard Burton, and "Desirée" (1954), in which she was Josephine to Marlon Brando's Napoleon. Ms. Simmons called these "poker-up-the-behind parts," in which she was seldom more than decorative.

Playing a Salvation Army missionary, she reunited with gangster Brando in the musical "Guys and Dolls" (1955) in a cast that included Frank Sinatra. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that Ms. Simmons, who had dance training as a young woman, was "wonderfully ideal" in an otherwise mediocre adaptation of the popular Broadway musical.

Over the next several years, she continued appearing in big-budget productions with major stars: a war widow romanced by Marine Paul Newman in "Until They Sail" (1957); a schoolteacher in the western "The Big Country" (1958), with Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston; and a former slave in "Spartacus" (1960), in which she found love with Kirk Douglas as the famed gladiator. She also was a temptress in the Cary Grant comedy "The Grass Is Greener" (1960).

Ms. Simmons won praise as the hopeful actress-writer Ruth Gordon in "The Actress" (1953), with Spencer Tracy as her disapproving father, and in "All the Way Home" (1963) as a grief-stricken widow who struggles to keep her family together.

"Elmer Gantry," based on the Sinclair Lewis novel, proved one of her most enduring films. Film critic Pauline Kael called her "quietly commanding" as an itinerant 1920s evangelist who is torn between her devotion to the Bible and her love of a con man portrayed by Burt Lancaster.

Jean Merilyn Simmons was born near London on Jan. 31, 1929. While attending the Aida Foster stage school in London, she was noticed by a talent scout and successfully auditioned for the role of Margaret Lockwood's younger sister in the comedy "Give Us the Moon" (1944).

She said that in her earliest film roles, she was asked to play scenes far advanced for her years, not only performing in Shakespeare opposite Olivier but also portraying an exotic seductress in "Black Narcissus," in which she crawls up the leg of actor Sabu.

"I didn't quite know what . . . I was doing," she told the London Guardian, adding that Powell told her to use her instinct. "But they had stuck a ring in my nose, and it was driving me crazy. Every time I smiled it fell off. I was giggling half of the time."

Ms. Simmons went on to star a wide range of British films, including the romance "The Blue Lagoon" (1949) and the thriller "So Long at the Fair" (1950). She played a tuberculosis patient in love in "Trio" (1950), a sequence of three Somerset Maugham literary adaptations.

In 1960, her decade-long marriage to Granger ended in divorce. That same year, she married director Richard Brooks, who directed her in "Elmer Gantry" and in "The Happy Ending" (1969). In the second, she played a bored Denver housewife who becomes a suicidal alcoholic. The role brought Ms. Simmons an Oscar nomination for best actress, but it was otherwise met with critical derision.

Despite good notices in smaller parts, Ms. Simmons's career faltered in the 1960s, and she said she found it "depressing" to be out of work for long periods. She began drinking heavily, her marriage to Brooks ended in divorce and she admitted herself for treatment at the Betty Ford Center in the mid-1980s. Survivors include a daughter from each marriage and a grandson.

Ms. Simmons managed to stay in demand as an actress, touring the United States in the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical "A Little Night Music" and appearing in the 1983 miniseries "The Thorn Birds" as the forbidding "Fee" Cleary. She appeared in several made-for-television films, including a 1989 remake of "Great Expectations" as the embittered Miss Havisham, and she did voice-over work on the English-language release of "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

In her sixth decade of work, Ms. Simmons said that she continued to receive fan mail but that younger writers often confused her with Gene Simmons, the flamboyant singer with the rock band KISS.

One day a letter arrived from a 10-year-old.

"It was the usual fan letter, saying things like, 'I think you're wonderful,' " she said. "Then I got to the P.S.: 'I love it when you spit blood!' That's when I realized the letter wasn't for me."

Last edited by Laser Movies; 01-23-10 at 12:30 AM.
Old 01-23-10, 12:40 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Sad news, I thought she was fantastic in Howls Moving Castle.
Old 01-23-10, 12:42 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Love the last part. lol.
Old 01-23-10, 12:49 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

RIP. She was great in what I saw her in, Desiree', Guys and Dolls, and Elmer Gantry.
Old 01-23-10, 01:52 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Watched Black Narcisuss for the first time during the Criterion Challenge. What a beauty.
Old 01-23-10, 09:13 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

So long, Angel Face.
Old 01-23-10, 10:10 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Old 01-23-10, 10:14 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

That last part was pretty damn funny, though.
Old 01-23-10, 10:57 AM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

If only.
Old 01-24-10, 12:45 PM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

She was a wonderful actor dam at this rate Mickey Rooney is next!
Old 01-24-10, 12:50 PM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Jean Simmons was not only a very good actress and a beautiful woman, but one of the few British actresses to make it BIG in America.

Old 01-24-10, 03:06 PM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Originally Posted by Washington Post
Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical "A Little Night Music"

Old 01-25-10, 12:44 PM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Should someone tell B5Erik?
Old 01-25-10, 03:43 PM
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Re: Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

"I've brought down bigger men than you, Picard!"

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