Starring Jean Simmons - Tuesdays in June
An articulate, elegant beauty with a distinctive presence, Jean Simmons has always had in her makeup something of the sprite as well as the ethereal angel. Although she has enjoyed a long and successful career, she never quite achieved the superstar status of Audrey Hepburn, an actress with whom she had much in common and with whom she sometimes competed for roles.
Born January 31 in London, Simmons made her debut in English films at age 14 in Give Us the Moon (1944) before making strong impressions as Estella in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) and as the lovely native girl in Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947). She earned an Oscar® nomination for her compelling Ophelia opposite Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), and emerged from that film a star.
In 1950 Simmons married British actor Stewart Granger and came with him to Hollywood, where she was unhappily under contract to Howard Hughes through the early 1950s. At Hughes' studio, RKO, she starred in such films as the George Bernard Shaw satire Androcles and the Lion (U.S. debut, 1953), playing Lavinia; the thriller Angel Face (1952), as a beautiful angel of death; and the comedies Affair With a Stranger (1953) and She Couldn't Say No (1954).
Simmons was assigned to more distinguished fare at MGM, where her roles included an aspiring actress in The Actress (1953), an adaptation of Ruth Gordon's autobiography with Spencer Tracy as the father; Young Bess (1953), in which Simmons shines as the young Queen Elizabeth I; and Until They Sail (1957), a romantic melodrama set in New Zealand in which she is well-teamed with Paul Newman.
She partnered with Marlon Brando in both the historical drama Desiree (1954), playing the title role to his Napoleon; and the musical Guys and Dolls (1955), as a sprightly Sarah Brown to Brando's Sky Masterson. She was charming as always in This Could Be the Night (1957), playing a prim schoolteacher who becomes involved with gangsters.
Under the direction of Richard Brooks, who would become her second husband, Simmons gives an outstanding performance in Elmer Gantry (1960) as the evangelist exploited by the title character (played by Burt Lancaster). She is equally fine in Brooks' domestic drama The Happy Ending (1969), for which she received a Best Actress Oscar® nomination. Other notable performances include those in The Big Country (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), Spartacus (1960) and All the Way Home (1963).
Simmons toured successfully in the stage musical A Little Night Music in the early 1970s, and won a Supporting Actress Emmy for her role in the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983). She has remained active in films and television; her last screen credit was the 2009 British drama Shadows in the Sun. She died on January 22, 2010 in Santa Monica, California at the age of 80.
by Roger Fristoe