OBE (January 31, 1929 – January 22, 2010) was an English actress. She appeared predominantly in motion pictures, beginning with films made in Great Britain during and after World War II – she was one of J. Arthur Rank's 'well-spoken young starlets' – followed mainly by Hollywood films from 1950.
Early life and careerSimmons was born in Lower Holloway, London, England, to Charles Simmons and his wife Winifred (Loveland) Simmons; Jean was the youngest of four children; her siblings were Edna, Harold and Lorna. She began acting at the age of 14. During World War II, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe in Somerset. Her father, a physical education teacher (who had represented Great Britain in the 1912 Summer Olympics), taught briefly at Sidcot School, and sometime during this period Simmons followed her elder sister on to the village stage and sang songs such as "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow". Returning to London and just enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance, she was spotted by the director Val Guest, who cast her in the Margaret Lockwood vehicle Give us the Moon. Prior to moving to Hollywood, she played the young Estella in David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946) and Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. It was the experience of working on Great Expectations that caused her to pursue an acting career more seriously:
Uncle Silas, and Black Narcissus (both 1947). Olivier offered her the chance to work and study at the Bristol Old Vic, advising her to play anything they threw at her to get experience; she was under contract to the Rank Organisation who vetoed the idea. In 1950 Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes, who then owned the RKO studio in Hollywood.
In 1950, she married the English actor Stewart Granger, with whom she appeared in several films, successfully making the transition to an American career. She made four films for Hughes, including Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger. 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." A court case freed her from the contract with Hughes in 1952. In 1953, she starred alongside Spencer Tracy in The Actress, a film that was one of her personal favourites. Among the many films she appeared in during this period were The Robe (1953), Young Bess (1953), Désirée (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955) – "in which she's delightfully proper (and improper) as the Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown" – The Big Country (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), (directed by her second husband, Richard Brooks), Spartacus (1960), All the Way Home (1963) – a film of James Agee's novel, A Death in the Family – and The Happy Ending (1969), again directed by Brooks and for which she received her second Oscar nomination. In the opinion of film critic Philip French , a film of 1958, Home Before Dark, saw her give , "perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn Leroy's psychodrama."
By the 1970s, Simmons turned her focus to stage and television acting. She toured the United States in Stephen Sondheim's well-reviewed musical A Little Night Music, then took the show to London, and thus originated the role of Desirée Armfeldt on the West End. Doing 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 Cleary, Cleary family matriarch, in the 1983 mini-series The Thorn Birds. Simmons won an Emmy Award for her role.
In 1985 and 1986, she appeared in North & South.
In 1988, she starred in The Dawning with Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant, and in 1989, she again starred in a mini-series, this time a version of Great Expectations, in which she played the role of Miss Havisham, Estella's adoptive mother. Simmons made a late career appearance in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead" as a hardened legal investigator who conducts a witch-hunt. From 1994 until 1998, Simmons narrated the A&E documentary television series, Mysteries of the Bible. In 2004, Simmons voiced the lead-role of Sophie in the English dub of Howl's Moving Castle.
Personal lifeJean Simmons was married and divorced twice: she married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona on December 20, 1950. In 1956 she and Granger became U.S. citizens; they divorced in 1960. On November 1, 1960, she married director Richard Brooks; they divorced in 1977. 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 sixteen but she said: "They were really nothing like my father at all. My father was a gentle, soft-spoken man. My husbands were 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 Yellow Pages, 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 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.'||”|
In 2005, Simmons signed a petition to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to a class B.
Her ashes were scattered at her home by her family.
Awards and nominations
- Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress - Series/Special, The Thorn Birds (1983)
- Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy Actress, Guys and Dolls (1956)
- Academy Award for Best Actress, The Happy Ending (1969)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Hamlet (1948)
- BAFTA for Best Actress, Guys and Dolls (1956)
- BAFTA for Best Actress, Elmer Gantry (1960)
- Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress - Drama Series, Murder, She Wrote (1989)
- Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress, Home Before Dark (1959)
- Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress, Elmer Gantry (1961)
- Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress, The Happy Ending (1970)
- Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy Actress, This Could Be the Night (1958)
- Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress - Miniseries, The Thorn Birds (1984)