Jean Merilyn Simmons
31 January 1929
|Died||22 January 2010 (aged 80)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Aida Foster School of Dance|
(m. 1950; div. 1960)
(m. 1960; div. 1980)
Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE (31 January 1929 – 22 January 2010) was a British actress and singer. One of J. Arthur Rank's "well-spoken young starlets", she appeared predominantly in films, beginning with those made in Great Britain during and after World War II, followed mainly by Hollywood films from 1950 onwards.
Simmons was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Hamlet (1948), and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for Guys and Dolls (1955). Her other film appearances include Young Bess (1953), The Robe (1953), The Big Country (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), Spartacus (1960), and the 1969 film The Happy Ending, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won an Emmy Award for the miniseries The Thorn Birds (1983).
Simmons was born on 31 January 1929, in Islington, London, to Charles Simmons, a bronze medalist in gymnastics at the 1912 Summer Olympics, and his wife, Winifred Ada (née Loveland). Jean was the youngest of four children, with siblings Lorna, Harold, and Edna. She began acting at the age of 14.
During the Second World War, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe, Somerset. Her father, a physical education teacher, taught briefly at Sidcot School, and some time during this period, Simmons followed her eldest sister onto the village stage and sang popular songs such as "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow". At this point, her ambition was to be an acrobatic dancer.
On her return to London, Simmons enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance. She was spotted by director Val Guest, who cast her in the Margaret Lockwood vehicle Give Us the Moon (1944). Small roles in several other films followed, including Mr. Emmanuel (1944), Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945), Meet Sexton Blake (1945), and the popular The Way to the Stars (1945), as well as the short Sports Day (1945).
Simmons had a small part as a harpist in the high-profile Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), produced by Gabriel Pascal, starring Vivien Leigh, and co-starring her future husband Stewart Granger. Pascal saw potential in Simmons, and in 1945 he signed her to a seven-year contract.
Great Expectations and stardom
Simmons became a star in Britain when she was cast as the young Estella in David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946). The movie was the third-most popular film at the British box office in 1947, and Simmons received excellent reviews.
The experience of working on Great Expectations caused her to pursue an acting career more seriously:
I thought acting was just a lark, meeting all those exciting movie stars, and getting £5 a day which was lovely because we needed the money. But I figured I'd just go off and get married and have children like my mother. It was working with David Lean that convinced me to go on.
Simmons was top-billed for the first time in the drama Uncle Silas (1947). She followed it with The Woman in the Hall (1947). Neither was particularly successful; but Simmons was then in a huge international hit, playing Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. Olivier offered her the chance to work and study at the Bristol Old Vic, advising her to play anything they offered her to get experience; but she was under contract to the Rank Organisation, which vetoed the idea.
Simmons made two films that were popular at the local box office: So Long at the Fair (1950) with Dirk Bogarde and Trio (1950), where she was one of several stars. She was then in Cage of Gold (1950) with David Farrar and Ralph Thomas' The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard. In 1950, Simmons was voted the fourth-most popular star in Britain.
Howard Hughes and Victor Mature
Granger became a Hollywood star in King Solomon's Mines (1950) and was signed to a contract by MGM, so Simmons moved to Los Angeles with him. In 1951, Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes, who then owned RKO Pictures.
Hughes was eager to start a sexual relationship with Simmons, but Granger put a stop to his advances by angrily telling Hughes over the phone: "Mr Howard bloody Hughes, you'll be sorry if you don't leave my wife alone." Her first Hollywood film was Androcles and the Lion (1952), produced by Pascal and co-starring Victor Mature. It was followed by Angel Face (1953), directed by Otto Preminger with Robert Mitchum. According to David Thomson, "If she had made only one film—Angel Face—she might now be spoken of with the awe given to Louise Brooks." Smarting over his rebuff from Granger, Hughes instructed Preminger to treat Simmons as roughly as possible, leading the director to demand that costar Mitchum repeatedly slap the actress harder and harder, until Mitchum turned and punched Preminger, asking if that was how he wanted it.
To further punish Simmons and Granger, Hughes refused to lend her to director William Wyler, who wanted to cast her in the female lead for his film Roman Holiday; the role made a star of Audrey Hepburn. He also made her appear in She Couldn't Say No (1954), a comedy with Mitchum.
A court case freed Simmons from the contract with Hughes in 1952. They settled out of court; part of the arrangement was that Simmons would do one more film for no additional money. Simmons also agreed to make three more movies under the auspices of RKO, but not actually at that studio—she would be lent out. She would make an additional picture for 20th Century Fox while RKO got the services of Victor Mature for one film.
MGM cast her in the lead of Young Bess (1953) playing a young Queen Elizabeth I with Granger. She went back to RKO to do the extra film under the settlement with Hughes, titled Affair with a Stranger (1953) with Mature; it flopped.
20th Century Fox
Simmons went over to 20th Century Fox to play the female lead in The Robe (1953), the first CinemaScope movie and an enormous financial success. Less popular was The Actress (1953) at MGM alongside Spencer Tracy, despite superb reviews; it was one of her personal favorites.
Fox asked Simmons back for The Egyptian (1954), another epic, but it was not especially popular. She had the lead in Columbia's A Bullet Is Waiting (1954). More widely seen was Désirée (1954), where Simmons played Désirée Clary to Marlon Brando's Napoleon Bonaparte.
Simmons and Granger returned to England to make the thriller Footsteps in the Fog (1955). Then, Joseph Mankiewicz cast her opposite Brando in the screen adaptation of Guys and Dolls (1955), playing a role turned down by Grace Kelly; it was a big hit.
Simmons had a big success, though, in The Big Country (1958), directed by William Wyler. She starred in Home Before Dark (1958) at Warner Bros. and This Earth Is Mine (1959) with Rock Hudson at Universal. In the opinion of film critic Philip French, Home Before Dark was "perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn LeRoy's psychodrama."
Elmer Gantry and Richard Brooks
Simmons went into Elmer Gantry (1960), directed by Richard Brooks, who became her second husband. It was successful, as was Spartacus (1960), where she played Kirk Douglas' love interest. Simmons then did The Grass Is Greener (1960) with Mitchum, Cary Grant, and Deborah Kerr.
She took some years off screen, then returned in All the Way Home (1963) with Robert Preston. She did Life at the Top (1965) with Laurence Harvey, Mister Buddwing (1966) with James Garner, Divorce American Style (1967) with Dick Van Dyke, and Rough Night in Jericho (1967) with George Peppard and Dean Martin.
1970s and 1980s
By the 1970s, Simmons turned her focus to stage and television acting. She toured the United States in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, then took the show to London, thus originated the role of Desirée Armfeldt in the West End. Performing in the show for three years, she said she never tired of Sondheim's music; "No matter how tired or 'off' you felt, the music would just pick you up."
She portrayed Fiona "Fee" Cleary, the Cleary family matriarch, in the miniseries The Thorn Birds (1983); she won an Emmy Award for her role. She appeared in North and South (1985–86), again playing the role of the family matriarch as Clarissa Main, and starred in The Dawning (1988) with Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant. Simmons appeared in a remake of Great Expectations (1989), this time playing the role of Miss Havisham, Estella's adoptive mother.
She made a late-career appearance in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead" (1991) as a retired Starfleet admiral and hardened legal investigator who conducts a witch hunt. As matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her ancestor Naomi Collins, she appeared in the short-lived revival of the 1960s daytime series Dark Shadows (1991), in roles originally played by Joan Bennett. From 1994 until 1998, Simmons narrated the A&E documentary television series Mysteries of the Bible. She voiced the lead role of Sophie in the English dub of Howl's Moving Castle (2004).
Simmons was married and divorced twice. At 21, she married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona on 20 December 1950. She and Granger became U.S. citizens in 1956; in the same year, their daughter, Tracy Granger, was born. They divorced in 1960.
On 1 November 1960, Simmons married director Richard Brooks; their daughter, Kate Brooks, was born a year later in 1961. Simmons and Brooks divorced in 1980. Although both men were significantly older than Simmons, she denied she was looking for a father figure. Her father had died when she was just 16, but she said: "They were really nothing like my father at all. My father was a gentle, softly spoken man. My husbands were both much noisier and much more opinionated ... it's really nothing to do with age ... it's to do with what's there – the twinkle and sense of humour." And in a 1984 interview, given in Copenhagen at the time she was shooting the film Going Undercover (1988, aka, Yellow Pages, completed 1985) she elaborated slightly on her marriages, stating,
It may be simplistic, but you could sum up my two marriages by saying that, when I wanted to be a wife, Jimmy (Stewart Granger) would say: "I just want you to be pretty." And when I wanted to cook, Richard would say: "Forget the cooking. You've been trained to act – so act!" Most people thought I was quite helpless – a clinger and a butterfly – during my first marriage. It was Richard Brooks who saw what was wrong and tried to make me stand on my own two feet. I'd whine: 'I'm afraid.' And he'd say: 'Never be afraid to fail. Every time you get up in the morning, you are ahead.'
Simmons had two daughters, Tracy Granger (a film editor since 1990), and Kate Brooks (a TV production assistant and producer), one by each marriage – their names bearing witness to Simmons' friendship with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Simmons moved to the East Coast of the US in the late 1970s, briefly owning a home in New Milford, Connecticut. She returned to California, settling in Santa Monica, California, where she lived until her death.
In 2003, she became the patron of the British drugs and human rights charity Release. In 2005, she signed a petition to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to class B.
Box office ranking
For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted Simmons among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.
- 1949 – 4th (9th most popular overall)
- 1950 – 2nd (4th most popular overall)
- 1951 – 3rd
Awards and nominations
- Nelson, Valerie J. (23 January 2010). "Jean Simmons dies at 80; radiant beauty was known for stunning versatility". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
- Vallance, Tom (26 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: Actress who dazzled opposite the likes of Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier". The Independent. London.
- Harmetz, Aljean (23 January 2010). "Jean Simmons, Actress, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
Jean Simmons, the English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major mid-century star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 80. The cause was lung cancer, according to Judy Page, her agent.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Jean Simmons, (Brian McFarlane) 
- "Jean Simmons' Age Is Exposed". The Salina Journal. 116 (96). 26 April 1967. p. 20. Retrieved 14 March 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Are They Being Fair to Jean Simmons?", Picturegoer, 2 August 1947.
- Per Gloria Hunniford in Sunday, Sunday television interview LWT, Autumn 1985
- TV Times, March 22–28, 1975, p.4
- Guest, Val (2001). So You Want to be in Pictures?. Reynolds & Hearn. p. 58. ISBN 978-1903111154.
- "Anna Neagle Most Popular Actress". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 3 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- Woman's Weekly, Christmas 1989
- Biography, reelclassics.com; accessed 24 April 2014.
- French, Philip (24 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: an unforgettable English rose". The Observer. London.
- "and From". The Mail. 35 (1, 806). Adelaide. 4 January 1947. p. 9 (Sunday Magazine). Retrieved 10 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "JEAN SIMMONDS TO FACE F/LIGHTS (sic)". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Queensland. 16 November 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 20 June 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Critics Praise Drama: Comedians Win Profits". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. Australian Associated Press. 29 December 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- Brown, Peter; Broeske, Pat (1997). Howard Hughes, The Untold Story. Penguin. p. 241. ISBN 978-0451180285.
- Lennon, Peter (12 November 1999). "The Year of the Flirt". The Guardian. London.
- "Stewart Granger Jean Simmons and Claire Bloom – adventures of two north London girls". aenigma. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
- Thomson, David (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons obituary". The Guardian.
- Bernstein, Adam (24 January 2010). "English actress was known for roles in the films 'Hamlet' and 'Elmer Gantry'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- Hopper, Hedda (18 July 1952). "Looking at Hollywood: Story of Talking Animals Bought for Movie". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. A4.
- "Jean Simmons Suit Settled by Hughes: British Actress Wins on Points; Producer to Pay All Costs of Trial". Los Angeles Times. 18 July 1952. p. A1.
- French, Philip (6 April 2008). "Philip French's screen legends – No 11: Jean Simmons profile". The Observer.
- "A Little Night Music: 1974 Touring Production; 1975 London Production". The Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
- "English Stars Married Here". Tucson Daily Citizen. 78 (304). 21 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 16 March 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "The Stewart Grangers Become Citizens of US". The Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. 9 June 1956. p. 1. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- "Jean Simmons Files To Divorce Stewart Granger". The Blade. Toledo, Ohio. United Press International. 8 July 1960. p. 7. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- "Actress Weds Film Director". The Odessa American. 35 (263). Associated Press. 2 November 1960. p. 27. Retrieved 1 April 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Daniel 2011, p. 210.
- "Going Undercover (1988)". BFI. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
- Wilmington, Michael (20 June 1988). "Going Undercover—the Gags, Ideas Get Lost in the Chase". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
- "Yellow Pages (1985)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
- Picture Show and TV Mirror, 2 July 1960, p. 7. Simmons says her daughter was named after Spencer Tracy in interview, but adds, "Jimmy (Granger) says he got the name from the role Katharine Hepburn played in The Philadelphia Story."
- Goodchild, Sophie (18 December 2005). "Sting leads campaign against Blair's plan to reclassify cannabis". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
- "British-born Hollywood actress Jean Simmons dies at 80". BBC News. 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- "Obituary: Jean Simmons". BBC News. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
- "Obituary: Jean Simmons". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
- "Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
- "Meet Sexton Blake (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
- Brown, David (2001). "James Kenelm Clarke". In Allon, Yoram; Cullen, Del; Patterson, Hannah (eds.). Contemporary British and Irish Film Directors. Wallflower Press. p. 60, viii. ISBN 9781903364215.
- "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity". Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Tops At Home". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Bob Hope Best Draw In British Theatres". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Queensland, Australia: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- Daniel, Douglass K. (2011). Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 66, 141, 233. ISBN 978-0299251239.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Jean Simmons|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jean Simmons.|
- Jean Simmons at IMDb
- Jean Simmons and Claire Bloom at aenigma
- Jean Simmons at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Jean Simmons at the TCM Movie Database
- The Jean Simmons Memorial YouTube Page
- Jean Simmons – A Fan Resource
- Jean Simmons 1946 newsreel footage from British Pathe (newsreel search)
- Jean Simmons in motorboat Britlsh Pathe
- Obituary in The New York Times (23 January 2010)
- In Appreciation of Jean Simmons (1929–2010)
- Photographs and literature