Jean Simmons


Actor
Jean Simmons

About

Also Known As
Jean Merilyn Simmons
Birth Place
London, England, United Kingdom
Born
January 31, 1929
Cause of Death
Lung Cancer

Biography

A graceful leading lady of British and American film for over six decades, Jean Simmons was an Oscar-winning actress whose outward fragility belied an emotional power wielded with skill and precision in such film as "Great Expectations" (1946), "Hamlet" (1948), "Spartacus" (1960) and countless others. A novice when she made her debut in 1943, she quickly blossomed into a talented dramati...

Photos & Videos

The Actress - Publicity Stills
The Robe - Movie Posters
Desiree - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Stewart Granger
Husband
Actor. Married 1950, divorced 1960.
Richard Brooks
Husband
Director, screenwriter, novelist. Married 1960, separated 1977; died March 11, 1992.

Biography

A graceful leading lady of British and American film for over six decades, Jean Simmons was an Oscar-winning actress whose outward fragility belied an emotional power wielded with skill and precision in such film as "Great Expectations" (1946), "Hamlet" (1948), "Spartacus" (1960) and countless others. A novice when she made her debut in 1943, she quickly blossomed into a talented dramatic performer under the direction of such noted filmmakers as David Lean. After leaving the UK for America, she starred in a wide variety of features, ranging from musicals like "Guys and Dolls" (1956) to stark dramas like "The Happy Ending" (1969), directed by her second husband, Richard Brooks. Though her screen appearances diminished in the 1970s, she remained active on television, where her star power illuminated productions like the epic miniseries "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983). Still active in films and television in her eighth decade, she remained an enduring talent from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.

Born Jean Merilyn Simmons on Jan. 31, 1929, she was raised in the London suburb of Cricklewood by her father, former Olympic gymnast Charles Simmons, and his wife, Winifred. During World War II, the family was evacuated to the village of Winscombe in Somerset, where her father taught physical education and Simmons received her first taste of performing by joining her sister in singing for local audiences. After returning to London, her father helped her enroll in the Aida Foster School of Dance, where she was discovered by director Val Guest, who was looking for new talent to star in his upcoming feature, "Give Us the Moon" (1943). Her big break came as Estella, the headstrong love interest to Charles Dickens' hero Pip in "Great Expectations" (1946). Some four decades later, Simmons would return to the novel for a UK television adaptation (Harlech Television/Walt Disney Television, 1989) that cast her as Estella's tragic guardian, Miss Havisham.

Prior to "Great Expectations," Simmons had not regarded her acting career with much seriousness, but praise from the film's director, the legendary David Lean, spurred her to take a deeper interest in her craft. The change in focus seemed to have had a positive impact on her, as she soon began landing more substantive roles in features, starting with Michael Powell's "Black Narcissus" (1946), where she played a young Indian girl who seduces Sabu's naïve Young General at a nun's cloister in a remote part of the Himalayas.

Two years later, she won the greatest praise of her early career as the doomed Ophelia opposite Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet" (1948). Olivier had spotted the 18-year-old in "Great Expectations" and committed to casting her in the film, despite the fact that she had never read the play, much less had any experience with Shakespearean text. He arranged for her to be privately trained, which resulted in a remarkably delicate, nuanced performance that yielded her an Oscar nomination and a Volpi Cup from the 1948 Venice Film Festival. However, not all the press swirling around her breakthrough performance was positive; rumors began circulating that a rift between Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh, had been created because she believed he was having an affair with Simmons. Gossip wags were quick to point out that Olivier had spurned Leigh's interest in playing Ophelia due to her age - she was 33 at the time of filming - and replaced her with a much younger woman who looked remarkably like her. Though no actual romance occurred between Simmons and Olivier, his marriage to Leigh began to falter soon after the release of the film.

The scandal appeared to have little effect on Simmons' career. By the following year, she was top-billed in a wide variety of British product, from adventure-romances like the 1949 version of "The Blue Lagoon" to thrillers like "So Long at the Fair" (1950) and "Cage of Gold" (1950). She was also caught up in a romance with actor Stewart Granger, who was best known for his athletic roles in swashbucklers like "Scaramouche" (1952), and was some 15 years older than Simmons. Both actors were under contract to producer J. Arthur Rank, who did his best to dissuade the relationship on the grounds that Granger was still married, which turned out to be false. The pair was forced to keep their love secret until 1950, when Simmons and Granger were married in Tucson, AZ. The event took place at the home of a lawyer friend of producer and industrialist Howard Hughes, who developed an interest in the young actress that was motivated by his twin interests - profit and attractive actresses.

Hughes bought Simmons' contract from the Rank Organisation and immediately began hatching plans to make her the toast of Hollywood. Simmons' introduction to American filmmaking came via the overwrought historical epic "Androcles and the Lion" (1952) with Victor Mature. Simmons immediately made plans to evade Hughes' clutches, but found that his influence carried greater weight than expected. After refusing to sign a new contract that would extend her connection to Hughes for seven years, he blocked her chance to appear in "Roman Holiday" (1951) in the role that would win Audrey Hepburn an Oscar. She eventually completed the number of pictures Hughes required of her in the original contract, including the semi-classic noir "Angel Face" (1952) with Robert Mitchum. Hughes reportedly told director Otto Preminger to spare her no quarter on the film, which included a scene in which Mitchum was required to repeatedly slap Simmons across the face. After several bruising takes, Mitchum turned and belted the notoriously difficult filmmaker, asking "Would you like another take?" Not surprisingly, Preminger stopped.

Eventually, Simmons refused to sign Hughes' second contract, which resulted in him announcing to Hollywood that anyone who hired her for a film would essentially be entering into a legal conflict with him. Her career in Hollywood seemed doomed, but Simmons and Granger sued Hughes and won in an out of court settlement. She quickly returned to work in a string of notable roles: Queen Elizabeth I in George Sidney's "Young Bess" (1953), which earned her the National Board of Review's top acting honor; Richard Burton's beloved in the epic "The Robe" (1953), and as actress-writer Ruth Gordon in a 1953 adaptation of her play "The Actress," opposite Spencer Tracy. Some of her efforts were more critically acclaimed than others - few had good things to say about "The Egyptian" (1954), which reunited Simmons with her "Robe" co-star Victor Mature, or "Desiree" (1954), which cast her as Josephine opposite Marlon Brando's Method-driven Napoleon - but the success of both films at the box office was a testimony to her popularity among moviegoers.

In 1955, Simmons and Brando made for the unlikeliest of movie musical duos in "Guys and Dolls," based on the hit Broadway musical. But both shined in their respective roles as Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army worker who falls for Brando's gambler with a heart of gold, and Simmons impressed by using her own singing voice in a cast filled with heavyweight vocalists; most notably Frank Sinatra. She won a Golden Globe for her performance, which was only topped by the personal joy of giving birth to a daughter, Tracy Granger, born that same year.

However, her personal happiness would be short-lived. Though her career was going strong with Golden Globe-nominated performances as a virginal new employee at a flashy New York nightclub in "This Could Be the Night" (1957) and as a woman struggling with her mental health in "Home Before Dark" (1958), as well as box office hits like the William Wyler-helmed Western "The Big Country" (1958), her marriage to Granger was on the rocks. Money troubles and schedule conflicts were the source of the friction, which came to a head when Granger nixed the couple's chance to appear together in Wyler's adaptation of "Ben-Hur" (1959).

The following year, Simmons was cast as the love interest to Kirk Douglas' "Spartacus" (1960) for director Stanley Kubrick. Though not Douglas' first choice for the role - he had intended for English actors to handle all the Roman roles, and Simmons' character was a slave - her powerful turn as the proud Varina was a clear indication that she was made to play the part. Its success at the box office was followed by another hit, "Elmer Gantry" (1960), where she earned numerous nominations, including the BAFTA and Golden Globe for her portrayal of an ambitious and seductive female preacher. Though praised for her performance, she was shut out of the Oscars, which instead went to star-producer Burt Lancaster and co-star Shirley Jones.

Simmons did walk away from the production with more than just another hit film - she also fell in love with its director, Richard Brooks. Despite his reputation as one of the toughest filmmakers in Hollywood, the 30-year-old Simmons saw through his rough exterior. She asked Granger for a divorce in 1960 prior to both departing to work on features - she to England to make the comedy "The Grass is Always Greener" with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr; he to northern California to make "North to Alaska" (1961) with John Wayne. When both pictures were completed, the divorce was final and Simmons married Brooks that same year.

Following her marriage, Simmons would begin to appear less frequently on screen. After "The Grass is Greener," she was completely absent from features until 1963's "All the Way Home," an adaptation of James Agee's A Death in the Family. The films that followed in its wake could be charitably described as colorless - "Life at the Top" (1965) was an inferior sequel to "Room at the Top" (1959), while "Mister Buddiwing" (1966), "Divorce American Style" (1967) and "Rough Night in Jericho" (1967) were passable entries in the thriller, comedy and Western genres, respectively. More successful was the Emmy-winning TV version of "Heidi" (NBC, 1968), though its reputation was overshadowed by the network's notorious decision to pre-empt a Jets-Raiders game in overtime with the film.

In 1969, Simmons enjoyed her strongest part in over a decade courtesy of Brooks, who wrote and directed her in "The Happy Ending," a marital drama about a middle-aged woman who struggles to escape the confines of her loveless marriage. Summoning the full bore of her talents, she raged beautifully in the feature, and foreshadowed the many features about independent women that would follow in the 1970s. She received Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for her work, as well as the renewed respect of audiences and critics alike. Sadly, her own marriage to Brooks would come to an end just seven years after the film's release, though by her own admission, they remained friendly until his death in 1992.

The role would prove to be her last major lead on film, and for much of the 1970s and 1980s, Simmons could be seen on television in countless miniseries, TV movies and episodic dramas. The most significant of these was the monster miniseries success, "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), which made excellent use of her aristocratic bearing by casting her as Fee Cleary, a former woman of means whose child out of wedlock has consigned her to a dreary fate in an arranged marriage to a Irish sheep farmer. She earned an Emmy for her powerful performance, and soon found herself a regular in major TV miniseries and productions like "North and South" (ABC) and a remake of "Inherit the Wind" (NBC, 1989), which reunited her with her "Spartacus" co-star Kirk Douglas. During this period, Simmons also went public with her treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1983, and spoke about how she hoped her admission would serve as inspiration for others struggling with addiction.

In 1989, Simmons was cast in a US/UK production of "Great Expectations" as Miss Havisham, the melancholy caretaker of Estella, whom she had played some four decades before. She again earned lavish praise for her performance, which focused as much on the character's ruined dignity as her spiteful nature. More television followed in its wake, including some turns in offbeat productions like the short-lived revival of "Dark Shadows" (NBC, 1991) and an impressive turn as a race-baiting Admiral on a 1991 episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994). She also enjoyed a fine supporting role in the 1995 all-star feature "How To Make an American Quilt," which cast her alongside Winona Ryder, Alfre Woodard, Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn. Simmons made the most of her part, a long-suffering wife of an unfaithful artist. She later shared a Screen Actors Guild nomination with the film's cast in 1996.

As the 20th century passed into the new millennium, Simmons was still active in features and television, and even made in-roads into a new medium - voice-over work in several animated projects. She lent her distinctive voice to "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" (2001) and to the English dub of "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) by acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Her long and distinguished career received its proper respect in 2003 when she was made an OBE (Officer of the British Empire), as well as a Fellow of the British Film Institute for her outstanding contributions to film culture.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Shadows in the Sun (2008)
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Voice (Usa)
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Voice
Barbara Taylor Bradford's "Her Own Rules" (1998)
Kate Stratton
Daisies in December (1995)
How To Make An American Quilt (1995)
One More Mountain (1994)
Laker Girls (1990)
Inherit The Wind (1988)
Going Undercover (1988)
Maxine De La Hunt
The Dawning (1988)
Aunt Mary
Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987)
Midas Valley (1985)
Golden Gate (1981)
A Small Killing (1981)
Beggarman, Thief (1979)
Dominique (1979)
Dominique Ballard
Mr. Sycamore (1974)
Estelle Benbow
Say Hello to Yesterday (1971)
Woman
The Happy Ending (1969)
Mary Wilson
Rough Night in Jericho (1967)
Molly Lang
Divorce American Style (1967)
Nancy Downes
Mister Buddwing (1966)
The blonde
Life at the Top (1965)
Susan Lampton
All the Way Home (1963)
Mary Follet
The Grass Is Greener (1961)
Hattie Durrant
Spartacus (1960)
Varinia
Elmer Gantry (1960)
Sister Sharon Falconer
This Earth Is Mine (1959)
Elizabeth Rambeau
Home Before Dark (1958)
Charlotte Bronn
The Big Country (1958)
Julie Maragon
Until They Sail (1957)
Barbara Leslie Forbes
This Could Be the Night (1957)
Anne Leeds
Hilda Crane (1956)
Hilda Crane
Footsteps in the Fog (1955)
Lily Watkins
Guys and Dolls (1955)
[Sergeant] Sarah Brown
She Couldn't Say No (1954)
Corby Lane, also known as Corby Johnson
A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)
Cally Canham
The Egyptian (1954)
Merit
Désirée (1954)
Désirée Clary Bernadotte
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
Diana
Young Bess (1953)
Young Bess [Queen Elizabeth I]
Androcles and the Lion (1953)
Lavinia
Affair with a Stranger (1953)
Carolyn Parker Blakeley
The Actress (1953)
Ruth Gordon Jones
Angel Face (1953)
Diane Tremayne
The Robe (1953)
Diana
Trio (1950)
Evie Bishop
Cage Of Gold (1950)
Judith Moray
The Clouded Yellow (1950)
So Long at the Fair (1950)
The Blue Lagoon (1949)
Adam And Evelyne (1949)
Hamlet (1948)
Ophelia
Black Narcissus (1947)
Hungry Hill (1947)
Jane Brodrick
Uncle Silas (1947)
Caroline Ruthyn
The Woman In The Hall (1947)
Jay Blake
Great Expectations (1946)
The Way to the Stars (1945)
Singer
Caesar And Cleopatra (1945)
Girl
Mr. Emmanuel (1944)
Give Us the Moon (1944)
Heidi

Cast (Special)

Scarlet Women of the Bible (2001)
Heaven and Hell (2001)
Host
Lost Years of Jesus (2001)
Host
Deborah Kerr: Getting to Know Her (2000)
On Cukor (2000)
Narrator
Spencer Tracy: Triumph and Turmoil (1999)
Alien Voices (1999)
The 19th Annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Salute to Kirk Douglas (1991)
Performer
Sensibility and Sense (1990)
December Flower (1987)
The Home Front (1980)
The Easter Promise (1975)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

They Do It With Mirrors (1992)
Dark Shadows (1991)
People Like Us (1990)
Great Expectations (1989)
A Friendship in Vienna (1988)
Narrator
North and South: Book II (1986)
North and South (1985)
Valley Of The Dolls (1981)
The Dain Curse (1978)
Aaronia Haldorn

Life Events

1944

Screen debut, "Give Us the Moon"

1952

First US films, "Androcles and the Lion" and "Angel Face"

1967

First notable US TV appearance, in the NBC TV-movie, "Soldier in Love"

1984

Returned to feature films after a seven-year absence to play a role in "Going Undercover"

1989

Revisited Dickens's "Great Expectations" when she acted in a TV miniseries production; played the role of Miss Havisham

1991

Played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the short-lived TV series, "Dark Shadows" (a remake of the 1960s cult series)

Photo Collections

The Actress - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from MGM's The Actress (1953), starring Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy, and Anthony Perkins. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Robe - Movie Posters
The Robe - Movie Posters
Desiree - Movie Poster
Desiree - Movie Poster
Elmer Gantry - Movie Poster
Here is an original American 1-Sheet movie poster from United Artists' Elmer Gantry (1960), starring Burt Lancaster. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
So Long at the Fair - British Lobby Cards
Here are a few original-release British Lobby Cards from So Long at the Fair (1950), starring Dirk Bogarde and Jean Simmons. British lobby cards were printed on slick paper stock and were also known as "Front of House Cards."
Guys and Dolls - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release American movie posters for MGM's Guys and Dolls (1955), starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, and Frank Sinatra.
Moonfleet - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Moonfleet (1955), starring Stewart Granger, Viveca Lindfors, and George Sanders, and directed by Fritz Lang.
Until They Sail - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Until They Sail (1957), starring Paul Newman and Jean Simmons and directed by Robert Wise.
Angel Face - Publicity Art
Here is art created to publicize RKO's Angel Face (1953), starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

Videos

Movie Clip

Robe, The (1953) - We'll Both Need Friends Sent on a hurried mission to Palestine, having offended the emperor's heir, Roman officer Gallio (Richard Burton) with new slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) and Diana (Jean Simmons), the childhood sweetheart with whom he's just re-united, in the landmark wide-screen hit The Robe, 1953.
Black Narcissus - Kanchi Outcast and bored native girl Kanchi (Jean Simmons) amuses herself with a dance until the "Little General," (Sabu), also taken in by the convent, intrudes, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, 1947.
Black Narcissus (1947) - You're Slipping Going about business in their Himalayan convent, Sister Superior Ruth (Deborah Kerr) is surprised when local agent Dean (David Farrar) springs Kanchi (Jean Simmons) on her, recruiting Sister Briony (Judith Furse) for support, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, 1947.
Angel Face (1953) - My Little Plot Didn't Succeed We infer here that wealthy mysterious Diane (Jean Simmons), who may have tried to gas her rich stepmother, took it upon herself to invite Mary (Mona Freeman) to lunch, explaining how she diverted her ambulance driver boyfriend (Robert Mitchum) the night before, with mixed results, in Otto Preminger’s Angel Face, 1953.
Angel Face (1953) - I Told Her About Last Night Maybe failed-murderess Diane (Jean Simmons) again finds Frank (Robert Mitchum) at the diner, explaining that she's now told his girlfriend that she wants to donate to his business start-up fund, in Otto Preminger's Angel Face, 1953.
Angel Face (1953) - Let's Just Say It's The Altitude Robert Mitchum (as chauffeur Frank) is comfortable explaining why he's leaving, even as he grabs tempestuous heroine Diane (Jean Simmons) by her Angel Face, 1953, directed by Otto Preminger.
Great Expectations (1946) - I Sometimes Have Sick Fancies Delivered by socially ambitious "Uncle" Pumblechook (Hay Petrie), lowly-born Pip (Anthony Wager) meets Estella (Jean Simmons) and Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), the odd local lady who's summoned him, in David Lean's Great Expectations, 1946, from the Charles Dickens novel.
Great Expectations (1946) - She Would Coldly Tolerate Me Young Pip (Anthony Wager) with Biddy (Eileen Erskine), now a fixture in the household of blacksmith Joe, seeking counsel before visits to Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) and her ward Estella (Jean Simmons), his apprenticeship approaching, John Mills narrating, in David Lean’s Great Expectations, 1946.
Home Before Dark (1958) - Come Back And See Us First scene for Charlotte (Jean Simmons), collected by husband Arnold (Dan O'Herlihy) after a year's stay at the asylum, a nurse (Lillian Culver) not helping, early in Mervyn LeRoy's Home Before Dark, 1958.
Home Before Dark (1958) - Never Mention It Again Home from her year's stay in the mental hospital, husband Arnold (Dan O'Herlihy) recommends a nap for Charlotte (Jean Simmons), who's worried that she may have insulted step-sister Joan (Rhonda Fleming), in Home Before Dark, 1958.
Home Before Dark (1958) - When I Was Ill Sleepless New Englander Charlotte (Jean Simmons), recently released from the mental hospital, encounters new boarder, her husband's colleague, professor Diamond (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) down on the docks, in Mervyn LeRoy's Home Before Dark, 1958.
Mister Buddwing (1966) - Wanna Be A Trophy? One hour and thirteen minutes into the picture, the first appearance for second-billed Jean Simmons, with James Garner, the amnesiac title character, not sure he wants to be picked up for a scavenger hunt, in Mister Buddwing, 1966.

Trailer

Egyptian, The (1954) Original Trailer Original trailer for the 20th Century-Fox early CinemaScope epic The Egyptian, 1954, from producer Darryl Zanuck, with Jean Simmons, Michael Wilding, Gene Tierney, Victor Mature, Edmund Purdom, Peter Ustinov and Bella Darvi.
This Could Be the Night - (Original Trailer) A schoolteacher (Jean Simmons) gets a secretarial job at a gangster-run nightclub in This Could Be the Night (1957).
Guys And Dolls - (Original Trailer) Ed Sullivan hosts the trailer for the movie version of the Broadway musical Guys And Dolls (1955) starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
Footsteps in the Fog - (Original Trailer) An ambitious housemaid (Jean Simmons) learns her employer (Stewart Granger) murdered his wife in Footsteps in the Fog (1955).
Bullet Is Waiting, A - (Original Trailer) A plane crash strands a policeman and his prisoner in the wilderness in A Bullet Is Waiting (1954) starring Jean Simmons and Rory Calhoun.
Desiree - (Original Trailer) A young woman (Jean Simmons) wins the heart of Napoleon (Marlon Brando), though the two can never be together in Desiree (1954).
Big Country, The - (Original Trailer) Feuding families vie for water rights in the old West in William Wyler's epic drama, The Big Country, starring Gregory Peck. Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Jean Simmons (Telluride Film Festival honoree 2008).
Angel Face - (Original Trailer) Jean Simmons goes to the dark side playing an unscrupulous woman who murders her loved ones for profit in Otto Preminger's Angel Face (1952).
Robe, The - (Original Trailer) A Roman military tribune wins The Robe (1953) of Jesus Christ in the first CinemaScope feature.
Demetrius and the Gladiators - (Original Trailer) Victor Mature is sentenced to be a gladiator in the sequel to The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954).
Affair With a Stranger - (Original Trailer) Married playwright Victor Mature considers an Affair With A Stranger (1953).
She Couldn't Say No (1954) - (Original Trailer) An heiress decides to pass out anonymous gifts in a small town in She Couldn't Say No (1954), starring Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum.

Family

Charles Simmons
Father
Winifred Ada Loveland
Mother
Tracy Granger
Daughter
Born 1956.
Kate Brooks
Daughter
Born 1961.
James Granger
Step-Son
Lindsay Granger
Step-Daughter
Agent.

Companions

Stewart Granger
Husband
Actor. Married 1950, divorced 1960.
Richard Brooks
Husband
Director, screenwriter, novelist. Married 1960, separated 1977; died March 11, 1992.

Bibliography