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Jennifer Jones

Updated on July 11, 2018

Ethereal Beauty of the Silver Screen

Jennifer Jones, a popular American actress of the 1940s and '50s, brought eloquence and a rare sensitivity to her roles. Her touching performances encompassed a diverse variety of characters and garnered much notice.

In a movie career that spanned thirty-five years, Jones received five Oscar nominations, and won an Academy Award for Best Actress in "The Song of Bernadette."

Many of the roles Jones portrayed reflected her own tumultuous life, which was evident in her endearingly poignant renditions.

There is something about Jennifer Jones that personally speaks to my soul. That is why I am drawn to every single movie I have the pleasure of seeing her in. Because of this, Jennifer Jones will always be one of my favorite actresses of all time.

"Jennifer represented a woman of mystery. Her sui generis performances captured compassionate, vulnerable and sometimes bitter heroines who were also--though they did not mean to be--femme fatales, because her feminine drive challenged the guy in question."--Joanna Ney

Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette - A beautiful movie about a French peasant girl (Jennifer Jones) who sees a vision of the virgin Mary

Based on a true story, the winner of four Academy Awards--including best actress and best score. A tribute to faith, courage, and the human spirit.

Her Early Life

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 2, 1919, the only child of Flora Mae and Phillip Ross Isley entered the world. She was given the birth name, Phylis Lee Isley (which would later be changed to Jennifer Jones).

Phylis was introduced to show business at a young age--her parents owned and operated a traveling theatrical tent show called the Isley Stock Company, where Phylis helped out by acting and selling tickets and candy. At the age of five, she made her stage debut playing a peppermint candy.

When her parents tired of traveling in a tent show, they bought a theatre to show moving pictures in. Business soon grew into a successful chain of Isley movie palaces in Texas and Oklahoma, the income from which enabled the Isleys to weather the depression years very well.

Poised on Stardom

Jennifer Jones in 1946
Jennifer Jones in 1946 | Source

Phylis was raised as a Roman Catholic and educated at a private Catholic High school. After graduating, she attended Monte Cassino Junior College in Tulsa and then Northwestern University, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Her father wanted her to be a lawyer, but Phylis had other ideas. In 1938, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where she met and married fellow student Robert Walker (on January 2, 1939). The Union produced two sons, Robert Walker, Jr., and Michael Walker.

While on the lookout for any acting jobs that might come up, they got jobs to support themselves. Walker found work in radio, while Phylis worked part time modeling hats for the Powers Agency. Both managed to pick up bit parts in movies. Phylis got parts in "New Frontier" (with John Wayne, 1939), and "Dick Tracy's G-Men" (1939), credited as Phyllis (with two "Ls") Isley.

Phylis got word of auditions for David O. Selznick's production of "Claudia." After auditioning for the lead role, she ended up fleeing in tears, thinking herself a failure. But, she was mistaken: Selznick, who had overheard the audition, was captivated by the "big-eyed girl" (as he called her). Although Phylis didn't get the role (it went to Dorothy McGuire), she did land a seven-year contract with Selznick.

Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones
Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size

"Actually, every time I stop to think about it, I'm really amazed. I think I've had an extraordinary life. And lots of times I can hardly believe it's me."--Jennifer Jones

The Transformation of Phylis Isley into Jennifer Jones

With Phylis now under contract to Selznick Studios, her life began to undergo a major transformation. Her name was changed to Jennifer Jones, and she put herself in the hands of Selnick, who molded her career and made all her business decisions for her.

Jones underwent a screen test for Bernadette Soubirous for "The Song of Bernadette" (1943), and landed the part, edging out hundreds of applicants. The movie was a hit, and propelled her to stardom. Her performance won rave reviews, and she won an Oscar for Best Actress. Unfortunately, with her success in movies also came the demise of her marriage; the day after winning her Oscar, she sued Robert Walker for divorce.

Jennifer Jones in "The Song of Bernadette"
Jennifer Jones in "The Song of Bernadette"

The emotionally fragile Jones, who claimed she didn't know what she was doing while filming "The Song of Bernadette," began to suffer from anxiety whenever she acted, brought about from insecurity and feelings of self-doubt.

In her next movie, "Since You Went Away" (1944), her estranged husband, Robert Walker, played her sweetheart, and a teenage Shirley Temple played her sister. The wartime epic was an instant hit, and Jones was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Jones, who had become personally involved with Selznick, married him in 1949. After marriage, he became even more controlling of Jones' life, and frequently turned down good movie roles on her behalf (the film noir classic "Laura"), while accepting bad roles (mentally ill Nicole Diver in "Tender is the night"). Her first child with Selznick ended in miscarriage in 1951. In 1954, their daughter, Mary Jennifer, was born.

Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in "Since You Went Away"
Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in "Since You Went Away"

In her role as Victoria Morland Singleton in "Love Letters" (1945), Jones received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in her role as an amnesiac who is cured by the love of a good man (Joseph Cotton).

Many critics consider comedy to be Jones' best element. In "Cluny Brown" (1946), Jones drew laughs in her role as a plumber's niece with a bad Cockney accent. "Beat the Devil" (1954), co-starring Humphrey Bogart, was another film role that offered Jones a chance to display her comedic side, as well as providing her with a much needed break from her customary dramatic roles.

Jennifer Jones in "Love Letters"
Jennifer Jones in "Love Letters"

In stark contrast to her saintly role of Bernadette in "The Song of Bernadette," Jones portrayed a lustful, half-caste woman whose unbridled passion destroys two men (Gregory Peck, and Joseph Cotton) in "Duel in the Sun" (1946).

Jones acted in a variety of diverse roles during her movie career, some of which included: a wealthy adulteress in "indiscretion of an American Wife" (1954), a Eurasian doctor in "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" (1955), and poet Elizabeth Barrett (Browning) in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1957).

Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck in "Duel in the Sun"
Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck in "Duel in the Sun"

Duel in the Sun Trailer

The Indiscretion of an American Wife Trailer

Love is a Many Splendored Thing Trailer

"Most interviewers probe and pry into your personal life, and I just don't like it. I respect everyone's right to privacy, and I feel mine should be respected, too."--Jennifer Jones

Jones' Later Years

Jennifer Jones and Fred Astaire in "The Towering Inferno"
Jennifer Jones and Fred Astaire in "The Towering Inferno"

Jones remained married to Selznick until his death in 1965, after which her movie career began to fizzle.

Her last movies were "The Idol" (1966), in which she played a mother sleeping with her daughter's boyfriend, "Angel, Angel, Down We Go" (1969), in which she played an ex-prostitute, and the disaster movie, "The Towering Inferno" (1974), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1967, Jones was found near death in the Malibu surf after an attempted suicide. Depressed after the death of close friend, Charles Bickford, she had swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills, and remained in a coma for days, but eventually recovered.

In 1971, Jones married for a third time, to multimillionaire Norton Simon, a retired industrialist, and art collector. His extensive collection is housed at the Norton Simon Museum.

Overcoming Tragedy

In 1976, Jones' daughter, twenty-one-year-old Mary Selznick, leaped to her death from a building in Los Angeles. A few weeks later, Phil Isley died. Intent on helping others overcome mental health issues such as her daughter had endured, Jones founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation For Mental Health and Education in 1980. The Mary Jennifer Selznick Workshop Program was named in honor of her late daughter.

When Simon was stricken by Guillain-Barre syndrome (a paralyzing neurological disorder), he resigned as president of the Norton Simon Museum, and Jones stepped in, becoming Chairman of the Board of Trustees, President, and Executive Officer. Simon's health continued to worsen, and he died June 1, 1993.

In 1996, Jones assisted in the renovation of the museum and gardens, and remained active as museum director until 2003, when she was given emeritis status.

A Long Life

In 1997, Jones made a rare public appearance when she traveled to Germany to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the German Film Awards.

Jones was a breast cancer survivor. In the last six years of her life, she lived with son, Robert Walker, Jr. and his family in Malibu. A shy woman who valued her privacy, Jones shunned interviews and rarely appeared in public.

Jones lived to the ripe old age of 90, surviving her son, Michael Walker, who died in 2007. After passing away on December 17, 2009, Jones was cremated. Her survivors include: her son Robert Walker, Jr., eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor.”--Jennifer Jones

Filmography

Source
  • 1939----New Frontier----as Celia Braddock (as Phyllis Isley)
  • 1939----Dick Tracy's G-Men----as Gwen Andrews (as Phyllis Isley)
  • 1943----The Song of Bernadette----as Bernadette Soubirous----Academy Award for Best Actress Golden Globe
  • 1944----Since You Went Away----as Jane Deborah Hilton----Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
  • 1945----Love Letters----as Victoria Morland Singleton----Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
  • 1946----Cluny Brown----as Cluny Brown
  • 1946----Duel in the Sun----as Pearl Chavez----Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
  • 1948--Portrait of Jennie----as Jennie Appleton
  • 1948----We Were Strangers----as China Valdés
  • 1949----Madame Bovary----as Emma Bovary
  • 1949----Gone to Earth----as Hazel Woodus
  • 1952----Carrie----Carrie Meeber
  • 1952----Ruby Gentry----as Ruby Gentry
  • 1953----Beat the Devil----as Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm
  • 1953----Terminal Station----as Mary Forbes
  • 1954----Indiscretion of an American Wife----as Mary Forbes
  • 1955----Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing----as Dr. Han Suyin----Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
  • 1955----Good Morning Miss Dove----as Miss Dove
  • 1956----The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit----as Betsy Rath
  • 1957----The Barretts of Wimpole Street----as Elizabeth Barrett
  • 1957----A Farewell to Arms----as Catherine Barkley
  • 1962----Tender Is the Night----as Nicole Diver
  • 1966----The Idol----as Carol
  • 1969----Angel, Angel, Down We Go----as Astrid Steele (a.k.a Cult of the Damned)
  • 1974----The Towering Inferno----as Lisolette Mueller----Nominated-Golden Globe

Academy Awards and Nominations

Academy Award - Best Actress

1944----"Song of Bernadette"

Academy Award Nonimations - Best Supporting Actress

1945----"Since You Went Away"

1975----"The Towering Inferno"

Academy Award Nominations - Best Actress

1946----"Love Letters"

1947----"Duel in the Sun"

1956----"Love is a Many Splendored Thing"

Other Awards

Paris Film Festival - Best Foreign Film Actress

1950----"Madame Bovary"

David di Donatello Award-Special David

1975----Shared award with Fred Astaire

Golden Globe - Best Actress

1944----"The Song of Bernadette"

Golden Globe Nominations - Best Supporting Actress

1975----"The Towering Inferno"

Photoplay Award - Most Popular Female Star

1955----"Love is a Many Splendored Thing"

1997----German Film Award - Lifetime Achievement Award

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Service Awards

1951----American Red Cross Citation

For showing compassion to wounded American soldiers.

1951----Gold Medal from United Nations

For boosting morale of wounded American soldiers.

1951----Patriotic Award

For visiting American soldiers in Japan and Korea.

1985----Pennsylvania School of Nursing Honoree

For promoting a fairer, more compassionate society.

Some Interesting Jennifer Jones Links

Do You Have a Favorite Jennifer Jones Movie? - No? Talk to me, anyway! :)

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    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 

      5 years ago

      What an interesting biography! While I loved her in films, I had no idea of her personal life. Very enjoyable reading.

    • PatriciaJoy profile image

      PatriciaJoy 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      I adore her. The Portrait of Jennie and The Song of Bernadette are two of my all-time favorite films. You've introduced me to a few more to add to my must see list. Great lens.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      thanks for introducing jennifer jones and her movies. one more interesting read from you.

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 

      6 years ago from Canada

      She was pretty sexy when she was young.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 

      6 years ago

      Great reading

    • profile image

      MintySea 

      6 years ago

      thanks for this lens I think I've only seen one of her films The Song of Bernadette a long time ago.

    • profile image

      artdecoco 

      7 years ago

      Love those actresses from by gone days

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