Biography

Remembering Jennifer Jones

Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Jones was born 95 years ago today on March 2, 1919, as Phylis Lee Isley.

jennifer jones 1946, american actress, 1940s movie star, 1940s movies, 1940s westerns, duel in the sun(Jennifer Jones 1946 Duel in the Sun Screenshot)

Jennifer Jones married first husband Robert Walker in 1939 and they moved to Hollywood where she landed a couple of minor roles. When she failed a screen test for Paramount Pictures they went back to New York, and Robert Walker worked steadily in radio. Robert and Jennifer's two sons, Robert Walker Jr. (b. 1940) and Michael Walker (b. 1941), both became actors.

Jennifer auditioned for a role in a play for producer David O. Selznick's (Gone With the Wind) office. She didn't get the role but Selznick had overheard the audition and signed her to a seven-year contract in 1941. David O. Selznick controlled her career for the next seven years, selecting her roles carefully, overseeing her wardrobe, grooming, and her name change to Jennifer Jones. 

The break-out movie role for Jennifer Jones was as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943). Among her co-stars in The Song of Bernadette were Vincent Price and Lee J. Cobb. jennifer jones 1943, best actress, academy award, american actress, 1940s movie star, 1940s movies, the song of bernadette 1943, march 2nd birthday, born on march 2 1919 (Jennifer Jones 1943 The Song of Bernadette Screenshot)

The cast of Since You Went Away (1944) included Jennifer Jones, her husband Robert Walker, Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched). In 1943 while filming Since You Went Away (1944), the married David Selznick (17 years her senior) and Jennifer Jones fell in love, and began an affair - which must have been awkward on the set, with her husband Robert Walker in attendance.

Jennifer Jones filed for divorce from Robert Walker the day after being presented with the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Song of Bernadette on her 25th birthday in 1944. 

Jennifer Jones co-starred several more times with her Joseph Cotton, her co-star in 1944's Since You Went Away: Love Letters (1945); Duel in the Sun (1946) with Gregory Peck; and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Both Duel in the Sun and Portrait of Jennie were produced by her manager and now lover David O. Selznick. 

David O. Selznick and Jennifer Jones were married in 1949 after his divorce was finalized. David Selznick and Jennifer Jones had one child together, daughter Mary Selznick (b. 1954) and remained a couple until his death in 1965.

Other movies, roles, and notable co-stars for Jennifer Jones during the 1940's and 1950's included:

  • Emma Bovary in the biographical movie Madame Bovary (1949). Madame Bovary cast: James Mason, Van Heflin, Louis Jourdan, Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H), and Ellen Corby (The Waltons).
  • Carrie Meeber in the romantic drama Carrie (1952). Carrie cast: Laurence Olivier, and Eddie Albert (Green Acres).
  • Ruby Corey/Ruby Gentry in the romantic drama Ruby Gentry (1952). Ruby Gentry cast: Charlton Heston and Karl Malden (Streets of San Francisco).
  • Mary Forbes in the romantic drama Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953). Indiscretion of an American Wife cast: Montgomery Clift and Richard Beymer.
  • Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm in the comedy Beat the Devil (1953). Beat the Devil cast: Humphrey Bogart and Gina Lollabrigida.
  • Miss Dove in Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955). Good Morning, Miss Dove cast: Robert Stack, Robert Douglas, and Chuck Connors.
  • Betsy Rath in the war drama The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit cast: Gregory Peck, Fredric March, and Lee J. Cobb (her co-star in 1943's The Song of Bernadette). The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was also Gregory Peck's second movie with Jennifer Jones, after their co-starring turn in 1946's Duel in the Sun.
  • Catherine Barkley in the WWI Hemingway drama A Farewell to Arms (1957). Her A Farewell to Arms love interest was Rock Hudson.

Jennifer Jones was Dr. Han Suyin, a Eurasian doctor who falls in love with white American Mark Elliott (William Holden), in the inter-racial biographical romance, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955). Jennifer Jones was nominated for another Academy Award for her performance in Love is Many-Splendored Thing. Below, Jennifer Jones and William Holden in the trailer for Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Jennifer Jones played Nicole Diver in the drama Tender is the Night (1962), starring Jason Robards, Joan Fontaine, Tom Ewell, Cesare Danova, Jill St. John, and Alan Napier (Batman). Below, the movie trailer for Tender is the Night features Jennifer Jones and Jason Robards. 

Upon hearing of close friend Charles Bickford's death in 1967, Jennifer Jones was found unconscious on Malibu Beach (the result of combining sleeping pills and wine), and was hospitalized. Jones married third husband Norton Simon, a millionaire art collector and philanthropist in 1971. Norton Simon's son Robert had committed suicide in 1969, and in 1976 Jennifer's daughter Mary Selznick jumped from a 20th floor window in L.A. These incidents combined with her personal experience of depression and mental illness led to Norton Simon and Jennifer Jones founding the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education in 1980.

Jennifer Jones came out of retirement in her 50 plus years to appear in the star-studded disaster movie The Towering Inferno (1974). Her co-stars in The Towering Inferno included Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Susan Flannery, Gregory Sierra, and Dabney Coleman. The Towering Inferno was the last film for Jennifer Jones, and re-united her onscreen with William Holden - her co-star from 1955's Love is Many-Splendored Thing 20 years earlier.

Below, the trailer for The Towering Inferno, featuring Jennifer Jones, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, and others.

In her senior years, Jennifer Jones became became more reclusive. She took over leadership of the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena in 1989 at age 70 and remained as a director until 2003 (Norton died in 1993). Jones lived with her only surviving child, son Robert Walker Jr. and his family, in Malibu for the last six years of her life until her death from natural causes/old age, on December 17, 2009

Updated March 2, 2017: Additional content.

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

Baby boomer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family and 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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