I saw the notice of Jean Simmons’ passing last night on Facebook, courtesy of Raquelle at Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog, and had planned to post something but I was getting a bit sleepy…so I figured I’d take care of it the next day. When I woke up this morning, I thought maybe it might have been something I dreamed…but I was in for a rude awakening. The Emmy Award-winning actress who played opposite Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls (1955) and Sir Laurence Oliver in Hamlet (1948), among many others, shuffled off this mortal coil yesterday at the age of 80 after a long struggle with lung cancer.
I’ve never been what one would call a musicals maven, but Guys and Dolls is high on my list of favorites and Simmons’ performance in that film is the cherry-on-top among a cast that includes the aforementioned Brando, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Robert Keith, Stubby Kaye, and a whole crop of TDOY character actor/actress stand-bys. I’m also partial to Simmons’ entertaining turns in films like Great Expectations (1946), Black Narcissus (1947—yowsah!), So Long at the Fair (1950), Angel Face (1952), The Actress (1953), Footsteps in the Fog (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Spartacus (1960). One of the blatant indignities of the Academy Awards is that despite Jean’s impressive body of work, she was only nominated twice for an Oscar—for her performance as Ophelia in Hamlet and for the role of Mary Wilson in Richard Brooks’ The Happy Ending (1969).
Fortunately, the folks in the television industry aren’t quite as short-sighted as their counterparts in cinema; Simmons begin to gravitate more and more toward the cathode ray tube in the twilight portion of her acting career, picking up an Emmy statuette for her role as Fiona “Fee” Clary in The Thorn Birds (1983). Among her other noteworthy television appearances: The Dain Curse (1978), North and South (1985), North and South, Book II (1986), and Great Expectations (1989), which allowed her to play the part of Miss Havisham (she was the young Estella in the 1946 original). She also frequented many a regularly-scheduled program including The Odd Couple, Hawaii Five-O, Hotel, Murder, She Wrote, and In the Heat of the Night…and played the role of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in both the 1990 TV pilot and short-lived 1991 revival of the classic Gothic TV soap Dark Shadows.
I’ll have to come clean here a bit and admit that I haven’t seen as many of Simmons’ movies as I should—but of the ones that it has been my pleasure to see, she was both a breathtaking presence and class act. (One of her films that has eluded me over the years is All the Way Home .)
R.I.P, Ms. Simmons. You shall be sorely missed.