January 2, 2017


Jean Simmons (1929-2010) b. London, England.

Jean Simmons

British actress, who became a major star in Hollywood after moving there in the early 1950s. Jean Merilyn Simmons was born on January 31 1929 in Crouch Hill, London, and was brought up in Golders Green, where she attended the Orange Hill School for Girls. Showbusiness ran in the family. Her grandfather had been a music hall performer but was adamant that his own family should not follow suit. So his son (Jean’s father) became a teacher. Evacuated to Somerset during the Second World War, the young Jean Simmons hankered after a stage career and, at the age of 14, enrolled with the Ada Foster School of Dancing.

Simmons made her debut at the age of 14 as Margaret Lockwood‘s sister in Give Us the Moon (1944). Following a brief but effective appearance as a singer in The Way to the Stars (1945), she made a considerable impact as the young destructive Estella in David Lean‘s Great Expectations (1946) before Estella grew up and became Valerie Hobson. Michael Powell put her into slightly embarrassing make-up to play an Indian seductress in Black Narcissus (1947), but at least he recognised the power of her sexuality, just as Laurence Olivier recognised the power of her vulnerability when he cast her as Ophelia in his Hamlet (1948), a role for which she won an Oscar nomination and a Best Actress award at Venice.

She starred in The Blue Lagoon (1949), one of J. Arthur Rank‘s many attempts to break into the American market, and appeared with Dirk Bogarde in So Long at the Fair (1950). But Hollywood beckoned and Howard Hughes bought out her contract from the Rank Organisation. A succession of roles made her famous and respected; Angel Face (1953), The Rob (1953), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Big Country (1958), Spartacus (1960) and Elmer Gantry (1960). She returned to Britain to play Susan Lampton in the not very distinguished Life at the Top (1965).

The Dean Martin film, Rough Night in Jericho (1967), brought Simmons fresh acclaim for her performance as a hard-nosed businesswoman, and she secured her second Oscar nomination three years later for the role of alienated housewife Mary Wilson in The Happy Ending. The following two decades proved less fruitful for the actress, and she found refuge in a number of television movies and mini-series. As well as appearing in North and South, Simmons won an Emmy for her role in the 1983 epic The Thorn Birds, but she had long been depressed by the paucity of good parts coming her way and, in 1986, eventually sought treatment for alcohol addiction.

She made a triumphant comeback to film starring alongside Winona Ryder, Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft in How to Make an American Quilt (1995), and was awarded an OBE in the 2003 New Year Honours List.

Jean Simmons continued to do voiceover work into her seventies. She lived in Santa Monica, just below the Hollywood Hills that she had, half a century earlier, taken by storm.

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