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Jean Simmons

Best known as Sister Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (1955) and as Varinia in Spartacus (1960)

Jean Simmons

Filmography

1944      

Give Us the Moon

Mr. Emmanuel

Sports Day

 

1945      

Kiss the Bride Goodbye

Meet Sexton Blake

The Way to the Stars

Caesar and Cleopatra

 

1946      

Great Expectations

 

1947      

Hungry Hill

Black Narcissus

Uncle Silas

The Woman in the Hall

 

1948      

Hamlet

 

1949      

The Blue Lagoon

Adam and Evelyne

 

1950      

So Long at the Fair

Trio

Cage of Gold

The Clouded Yellow

 

1952      

Androcles and the Lion

 

1953      

Angel Face

Young Bess

Affair with a Stranger

The Robe

The Actress

 

1954      

She Couldn’t Say No

The Egyptian

A Bullet Is Waiting

Désirée

Demetrius and the Gladiators

 

1955      

Footsteps in the Fog

Guys and Dolls

 

1956      

Hilda Crane

 

1957      

This Could Be the Night

Until They Sail

 

1958      

The Big Country

Home Before Dark

 

1959      

This Earth Is Mine

 

1960      

Elmer Gantry

Spartacus

The Grass Is Greener

 

1963      

All the Way Home

 

1965      

Life at the Top

 

1966      

Mister Buddwing

 

1967      

Divorce American Style

Rough Night in Jericho

 

1969      

The Happy Ending

 

1971      

Say Hello to Yesterday

 

1975      

Mr. Sycamore

 

1978      

Dominique

Yellow Pages

 

1988      

The Dawning

 

1995      

How to Make an American Quilt

 

2001      

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

 

2004      

Jean Simmons: Rose of England

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

2005      

Thru the Moebius Strip

 

2009      

Shadows in the Sun

Awards

Jean Simmons was nominated for two Academy Awards

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Hamlet (1948)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role for The Happy Ending (1969)

Every actress has to face the facts there are younger, more beautiful girls right behind you. Once you’ve gone beyond the vanity of the business, you’ll take on the tough roles. ~ Jean Simmons

Jean Merilyn Simmons, was born January 31, 1929 in Lower Holloway, London, to Charles Simmons, a bronze medalist in gymnastics at the 1912 Summer Olympics and his wife, Winifred (née Loveland) Simmons. Jean was the youngest of four children, with siblings Lorna, Harold and Edna. She began acting at the age of 14. During the Second World War, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe, Somerset. Her father, a physical education teacher, taught briefly at Sidcot School, and some time during this period, Simmons followed her eldest sister onto the village stage and sang songs such as “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow Wow”. At this point her ambition was to be an acrobatic dancer. On her return to London Jean enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance. Simmons was spotted by the director Val Guest, who cast her in the Margaret Lockwood vehicle Give Us the Moon.

Small roles in several other films followed, including the high-profile Caesar and Cleopatra, produced by Gabriel Pascal. Pascal saw potential in Simmons, and in 1945, he signed her to a seven-year contract. 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.  

The experience of working on Great Expectations caused her to pursue an acting career more seriously.

Playing Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet made her a star while still in her teens, although she was already well known for her work in other British films, including her first starring role in the film adaptation of 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 Organization, who vetoed the idea. In 1949, Simmons starred with Stewart Granger in Adam and Evelyne. In 1950, she was voted the fourth-most popular star in Britain. In 1951, Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes, who then owned the RKO Pictures.

In 1950, she married Stewart Granger, with whom she appeared in several films, and the transition to an American career began. Hughes was eager to start a sexual relationship with Simmons, but Granger put a stop to his advances.

She made four films for Hughes, including Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger. Smarting over his rebuff, Hughes instructed Preminger to treat Simmons as roughly as possible, leading the director to demand that co-star Robert Mitchum repeatedly slap the actress harder and harder, until Mitchum turned and punched Preminger, asking if that was how he wanted it. To further punish Simmons and Granger, Hughes refused to lend her to director William Wyler who wanted her for his film Roman Holiday, thereby depriving her of the career-making role that made a star of Audrey Hepburn. 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 favorites. Among the many films in which she appeared during this period were The Robe (1953), Young Bess (1953), Désirée (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Big Country (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), (directed by her second husband, Richard Brooks), Spartacus (1960), All the Way Home (1963), and The Happy Ending (1969), for which she received her second Oscar nomination.

By the 1970s, Simmons turned her focus to stage and television acting. She toured the United States in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, then took the show to London, and thus originated the role of Desirée Armfeldt in the West End. Performing in the show for three years, she said she never tired of Sondheim’s music

She portrayed Fiona “Fee” Cleary, the Cleary family matriarch, in the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds; she won an Emmy Award for her role. In 1985-86, she appeared in North and South, again playing the role of the family matriarch as Clarissa Main. In 1988, she starred in The Dawning with Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant, and in 1989, she appeared in a remake of Great Expectations, in which she played the role of Miss Havisham, Estella’s adoptive mother.

She made a late career appearance in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead” (1991) as a retired Starfleet admiral and hardened legal investigator who conducts a witch hunt. In 1991, she appeared as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her ancestor Naomi Collins in the short-lived revival of the 1960s daytime series Dark Shadows, in roles originally played by Joan Bennett. 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.

Simmons was married and divorced twice. She married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona, on  December 20, 1950. In 1956, Granger and she became U.S. citizens; in the same year, their daughter, Tracy Granger, was born. Named after Spencer Tracy. The couple divorced in 1960.

On November 1, 1960, Simmons married director Richard Brooks; their daughter, Kate Brooks, was born a year later in 1961. Named after