The beautiful British actress Jean Simmons passed away earlier today.
She was a few days short of her 81st birthday.
Simmons was married for a decade to dashing actor Stewart Granger, and she later married writer-director Richard Brooks.
I'm sure the first movie I ever saw Simmons in was the TV-movie HEIDI (1968). HEIDI became famous as the program which knocked an exciting football game off the air before it had ended, but as a very young child I was oblivious to that controversy. My memories are vague, but I remember being deeply affected by the film. Simmons played Fraulein Rottenmeier, the governess.
When I was a young teenager I saw Simmons in the musical GUYS AND DOLLS (1955) and the Cary Grant comedy THE GRASS IS GREENER (1960), but when I was a bit older it was her Emmy-winning role in TV's THE THORN BIRDS (1983) which I particularly admired. She was also memorable in another TV miniseries, starring as Clarissa Main, the mother of Patrick Swayze, in NORTH AND SOUTH (1985) and NORTH AND SOUTH, BOOK II (1986).
Simmons was moving as the New Zealand girl who falls in love with conflicted U.S. soldier Paul Newman in the absorbing WWII drama UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957). More recently I enjoyed the young Simmons in the charming ADAM AND EVLEYNE (1949), which also starred Stewart Granger.
My favorite Simmons film of all is probably THE BIG COUNTRY (1958), a long, beautifully made William Wyler Western which has all the page-turning characteristics of a good novel; it also happens to have one of the best film scores of all time. Simmons' Julie is a reserved but gutsy young woman who proves to be a far better match for Gregory Peck's sea captain than his fiancee, Carroll Baker.
There are far too many Simmons films I have not yet seen; happily, I have quite a large collection of her films available on DVD and videotape which I look forward to enjoying in the months and years to come. Among the Simmons titles still ahead of me to see for the first time are HAMLET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, ANGEL FACE, YOUNG BESS, THE ACTRESS, HILDA CRANE, and THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT.
That list alone gives some idea of the scope and quality of her work. And there was more, much more, including BLACK NARCISSUS, SO LONG AT THE FAIR, THE ROBE, ELMER GANTRY, and SPARTACUS.
We are fortunate indeed that this lovely, memorable actress graced so many classic films.
Monday Update: Turner Classic Movies honors Jean Simmons this Friday night, January 29th, with a three-film tribute consisting of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, ELMER GANTRY, and THE HAPPY ENDING.