Friday, January 22, 2010

Jean Simmons Dies at Age 80

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.


Blogger gillyoc said...

I was about to be Mrs Granger No 2
but Des Oconnor whisked me away

10:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's an amazing story, must be Gillian Vaughan? Thanks for stopping by.

Best wishes,

10:31 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Jean Simmons was probably in more "epics" than any other actress in Hollywood history.
"The Robe" (the first film to be released in the widescreen process CinemaScope) "The Egyptian" "The Big Country" "Spartacus" "Elmer Gantry".....I saw her many years ago in a stage production of "A Little Night Music"....a very great lady and a FABULOUS actress....

2:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

My dad saw Jean Simmons and Charlton Heston on stage in LOVE LETTERS...what I wouldn't give to seen that myself!

Thanks for sharing your memories!

Best wishes,

5:45 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Oh, they were in Love Letters together? How neat, the two of them.

9:24 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

One of my favorite Jean Simmons American films is "Home Before Dark". Co-starring Dan O'Herlihy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Rhonda Fleming. It's not very happy, but it has a hopeful ending when Jean Simmons character begins to pull herself together. It's not in print, but it's out there.
TCM is showing three Jean Simmons films this Friday - wish it was more!

2:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for mentioning TCM's tribute. I have updated my post with the information.

TCM is also currently running a nice "TCM Remembers" minute-long tribute in between movies.

Best wishes,

2:43 PM  

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