Classic Hollywood #138 – Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons – Early 1950s

If you say the name Jean Simmons most people under a certain age will think of the outrageous singer and bass player for KISS, Gene Simmons.

And as big of a rock fan as I may be, I will always think first of the actress whose first name is spelled Jean, not Gene.

Jean Simmons (1929-2010) had a 65 year career as an actress full of interesting and prominent roles. The one role she did not get, helped bring about another successful career.

A Part Meant For Simmons Goes To A Future Star

The J. Arthur Rank organization sold Simmons contract in 1950 to Howard Hughes who controlled RKO studios. Though Simmons was married to actor Stewart Granger, this did not stop Hughes from sexually pursuing Simmons.

Simmons was not interested and Granger told Hughes to stay away from his wife. When director William Wyler wanted Simmons for the lead in Roman Holiday, Hughes refused to lend her to Paramount to punish the rebellious, monogamous actress. The role instead went to Audrey Hepburn and it made her a star.

There is something about Jean Simmons that came through in all of her parts and transcended her roles. Maybe it was her soft speaking voice with a lilting British accent. Or maybe it was strength with vulnerability she was able to convey in many of the parts she played. Obviously she was strikingly beautiful, but so are hundreds of other actresses.

I believe what it was, is that off-screen Jean Simmons would be a nice person if you met her. Even when she was playing women who were not very nice, there was some kindness beneath the surface coming through. At least that was how she seemed to me. I guess that is the sign of a really good actress.

Some Great Parts

Simmons versatility gained her a wide variety of roles in some legendary movies including Great Expectations; Black Narcissus; Hamlet; The Blue Lagoon (the original, not the Brooke Shields version); The Actress; Guys and Dolls; Spartacus; and her terrific performance in Elmer Gantry.

While she was nominated for many awards, Jean Simmons never won an Academy Award.  Simmons was nominated twice for Oscars. One in 1948 for Best Actress In A Supporting Role (Hamlet) and again in 1969 for Best Actress in A Leading Role (The Happy Ending).

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