Saturday, January 23, 2010

It was with sadness today I read of the death of Jean Simmons.

Although she never seemed to achieve a career-defining role, she made the transition from teenage to adult roles with ease and joined Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor in becoming one of the most successful English actresses working in Hollywood films during the 1950s.

Her early British films saw her working with some of the finest directors: from her eye-catching cameo in Anthony Asquith's THE WAY TO THE STARS to her haughty, tantalising Estelle in David Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS, from her bewitching Indian dancing girl in Michael Powell's BLACK NARCISSUS to her fragile Ophelia opposite Olivier's HAMLET for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

Her Hollywood career found her working with Otto Preminger in ANGEL FACE, Joseph L. Mankiewicz in GUYS AND DOLLS, George Cukor in THE ACTRESS and William Wyler in THE BIG COUNTRY.

She also made a big impression in three big costume epics as the doe-eyed love interest: THE ROBE with Richard Burton which was the first film shot in Cinemascope, Michael Curtiz' THE EGYPTIAN set during the upheaval of Akhnaten's reign and Stanley Kubrick's SPARTACUS with Kirk Douglas.

Along with Vivien Leigh, her delicate portrayals usually hinted at darker undercurrents and as she moved into the 1960s she played characters usually unhappy in marriage and wanting more from life.

She married twice - to Stewart Granger and then director Richard Brooks who directed her in ELMER GANTRY and THE HAPPY ENDING for which she was again nominated for an Academy Award. Both marriages ended in divorce.

Although her later years were troubled with an alcohol addiction, she continued to work in television and the occasional film role.

Jean originated the role of 'Desirée' in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in London at the Adelphi Theatre in 1975 after playing the role in an American tour and in fact, it is her performance that I prefer out of the three available cast recordings. Her dry, bittersweet vocals suit the songs to perfection.