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
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.
Jennifer Jones PhotosClick 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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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
- 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 ValdÃ©s
- 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
1947----"Duel in the Sun"
1956----"Love is a Many Splendored Thing"
Paris Film Festival - Best Foreign Film Actress
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
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.
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
- Jennifer Jones on Wikipedia
A brief biography of Jennifer Jones
- Jennifer Jones on Answers.Com
Biography of Jennifer Jones with photos, filmography, and career highlights
- Jennifer Jones Obituary
Jones' obituary as it appeared in the New York Times
- Jennifer Jones (1919 - 2009) - Find A Grave Memorial