Remembering Jennifer Jones

Classic film actress Jennifer Jones passed away today at the age of 90.

Though Jones only appeared in 27 film projects throughout her career (three of them under her birth name, Phyllis Isley), the actress left a large mark on Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s, landing five Oscar nominations and winning one, as Best Actress, for her first major role as the titular nun in 1943’s The Song of Bernadette. Her other major roles included the elder daughter in the war drama Since You Went Away (1944), the vampish temptress in 1946’s classic epic western Duel in the Sun (arguably the best performance of her career), the title role in 1949’s Madame Bovary, the mysterious artist’s muse in Portrait of Jennie (also 1949), and the Eurasian doctor in 1955’s tearjerker Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.

During her career, Jones was just as well-known for her romantic relationships as for her skill as an actress. Her marriage to actor Robert Walker (perhaps best known for his role as chilling villain Bruno Anthony in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) fell apart in the mid-1940s, as Jones fell in love with (and eventually married) her mentor, notoriously meddlesome producer David O. Selznick, who (unsurprisingly) exercised great control over his young starlet. Their marriage lasted until Selznick’s death in 1965, upon which Jones removed herself from the public eye and almost completely retired from film, only returning to the screen twice in later years. Her final role, in 1974, came in the blockbuster disaster film The Towering Inferno (alongside other classic stars such as Fred Astaire, William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman).

Though some critics point to her close relationship with Selznick as the reason behind her being cast in some of the biggest “prestige pics” of the 40s and 50s, Jones more than held her own as an actress in her films, matching step-for-step some of the best male co-stars of the day, among them Joseph Cotten (her most frequent co-star), Gregory Peck, Holden, Humphrey Bogart, and Rock Hudson. A seemingly shy demeanor disguised a fiery talent and a quick-witted grasp of even the most sentimental material offered her, and she transformed the most treacly of roles into indelible performances.

Jones (along with such luminaries as Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Gloria Stuart, Shirley Temple Black, and Sophia Loren) was one of the few remaining golden stars of the golden age of Hollywood. She will most definitely be missed.

TCM has not, as yet, scheduled a tribute to Jones, but her 1954 film with Bogart, Beat the Devil, is scheduled to air on December 30th at 11:30PM. It’s unlikely that a tribute of some sort won’t be aired in the near future, so check TCM for more information in the upcoming days.

Update: TCM has scheduled a four-film tribute to Jones on January 7th:
Duel in the Sun, 8PM
Beat the Devil, 10:30PM
Madame Bovary, 12:15AM
Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954), 2:15AM

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