I’ll repost what I said on David Cairns’s blog, Shadowplay:
A real classy lady. Vivid in each film
mentioned so far; I’ll cite her ‘immovable object’ in ELMER GANTRY, opposite Burt Lancaster’s ‘irresistible force.’ And she’s great in the now-underrated GUYS AND DOLLS.
Her final lead role was actually pretty recent: the English-language dub of Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. (Frequently opposite the American cinema’s ambassador of class: Lauren Bacall.) When I saw the film in 2005, I kept thinking, well I knew Mrs. Bogart was going to be in it, but as for the heroine…I *know that voice*, but who could it be? Surprised and delighted it was Simmons.
Like Jennifer Jones, another star has gone, also capable of playing so many diverse roles. As well as the heroine of ANGEL FACE, I remember her as the embittered and frustrated wife of Laurence Harvey’s Joe Lampton in LIFE AT THE TOP who now fully comprehends the emptiness of her marital relationship as well as one of her later supporting roles as a Star Fleet commander in an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEW GENERATION. She will be sadly missed.
How about the final scene in SPARTACUS ? Great and very moving moment: “Spartacus, this is your son.”.
As a big fan of British cinema of the 40s, I’ve seen many of Jean Simmons’s early films, from THE WAY TO THE STARS (or JOHNNY IN THE CLOUDS) and onwards, and I’ve loved both them and her, although I was also a bit scared of her when I was young, because she was so cruel in GREAT EXPECTATIONS. The one film of hers I haven’t seen but really really want to, is THE ACTRESS.
Ridiculously, the Telegraph’s obituary says that she was miscast in possibly the two best movies she performed in (if not her two best roles), ANGEL FACE and BLACK NARCISSUS.
James Mitchell has also died. I always knew him as Paul Byrd in THE BAND WAGON, but many students recognized him (with delight) from his work on TV soap opera.
My wife saw Jean Simmons in person a couple of years ago — she was very gracious.
Perhaps because I saw her so much at a crucial time in my formative moviegoing years, and she was so beautiful and also so personally appealing, Jean Simmons was always special in the iconography of the cinema to me. I’ve seen so many of her movies through the years and always thought she was a wonderful actress, everything the best of her movies could ask for but lifting the lesser ones too.
That crucial time was perhaps 1953, when she appeared in three of her very best, all different roles and she is equally great in all three–ANGEL FACE (Preminger), YOUNG BESS (Sidney) and THE ACTRESS (Cukor). So she became very vivid to me in a short period of time.
Of the earlier British ones, I’d single out GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Lean) and BLACK NARCISSUS (Powell/Pressburger)–great poster btw, Dave. And after 1953, GUYS AND DOLLS (Mankiewicz), UNTIL THEY SAIL (Wise), THIS EARTH IS MINE (H. King), ELMER GANTRY (Brooks) and THE HAPPY ENDING (Brooks). That’s ten–proably her ten best movies for me, but I hasten to add again that I enjoyed many of the others, and many of her other performances are no less than in the ones I named. It’s an outstanding filmography, and she could not have given more.
A sad day.
Again I get to refer to the only actor whom I’ve know personally, Rex Thompson. He told me that among the people he worked with in films, his two favorites were Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons both in YOUNG BESS. He said that he wasn’t old enough at the time to fully appreciate the warmth and generosity Jean Simmons showed in’ giving him the run of her dressing room to play in or how she came to his defense when the studio wanted to throw his big scene to her. As always, it was great to hear that someone whose work you admire is also a wonderful human being.
It is a sad day indeed, but it would be a fitting postscript if somebody could finally come up with a scope print of THE HAPPY ENDING.
Is HOME BEFORE DARK available from Warner Archives, or will it be? That’s another one that’s been hard to come by. I saw it on TV many moons ago and was of course very impressed by Simmons, as always.
James Mitchell was quite good I thought in his substantial role in STARS IN MY CROWN.
I’m hoping if TCM changes the schedule to give her a tribute day (or even part of a day) that they will show THE HAPPY ENDING. That’s the one I have most been wanting to see it again but won’t watch it flat (the only way it’s available). Maybe it will come up in Warner Archive but I hope they show it now. It would be an appropriate time because it was one of her best roles.
HOME BEFORE DARK is one I’d like to see again too.
James Mitchell was always good and n other good movies along with the BAND WAGON and STARS IN MY CROWN. COLORADO TERRITORY was certainly a standout and he is also in two Anthony Manns DEVIL’S DOORWAY and BORDER INCIDENT. He was also a dancer but didn’t get to dance much on screen (he does dance in the dream ballet in OKLAHOMA and may have originated that role on stage though I’m not sure about this). As someone who took an interest in daytime soap opera at one time I’ll add he was really excellent in that long recurring role on ALL MY CHILDREN.
MGMHD has shown Happy Ending over the past few months, likely will in the future – they show films proper AR always. I was glad to get to see it fully.
It was a UA film, so TCM doesn’t have it in its library, only as a special deal, so I doubt they’d pay to include it when they have plenty of MGM and RKO films to show.
I was truly blessed to work beside Jean Simmons during an episode of In The HEat of The Night backi n the early 90’s. We clicked from day one. She invited me to visit her in California. Idid several times. I remember staying in her poolhouse. One time her poolhouse was occupied. I slept in her room right beside her. Her bathroom has pictures of her and all of her Hollywood legend co-stars including Rock Hudson! She had original telegraphs from Hollywood legends! I would walk her dog “Mr. Gaits” down her street. Of course everyone would stare at a young black woman walking down the street with her dog and wonder who I was. Yes, they probably thought that I was the maid, but I was a friend and one that was welcome to come to her home anytime I wanted. I will miss you Jean! Thank you for opening up your world to me!
“MGMHD has shown Happy Ending over the past few months…”
What is MGMHD, Tom? Sorry for my ignorance…I haven’t heard of this.
Some of my favorite Simmons performances are from the 60s: as the WWI-era widow/single mother in ALL THE WAY HOME (based on James Agee’s memoir), and very much against type as the wild mystery blonde in MISTER BUDDWING.
Simmons also did a couple of interesting TV roles on the CHRYSLER THEATER, as the rich girlfriend of a temperamental modern artist in S. Lee Pogostin’s “Crazier Than Cotton,” and in Peckinpah’s “The Lady Is My Wife” (the last thing he directed for TV). I barely remember the latter, but I know I thought it was great the first time I saw it.
I wish I had MGM-HD (and, a way to actually record movies in HD), because I’ve never seen THE HAPPY ENDING. Maybe it’ll turn up among MGM’s burn-on-demand offerings.
MGMHD is a high-definition cable network that Time-Warner has carried for some time. I imagine it is available on most/all satellite outlets; not sure if other cable providers have it. T/W has carried it for some time.
Ironically, they show virtually no MGM films – they mostly have United Artists, AIP/Orion, recent UA Classics, some vintage Goldwyn
Their films in the next couple days include Love and Death, Pumpkin, Art School Confidential, Priscella Queen of the Desert, Yellowbeard, Osama, Sayonara, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (78), The Magnificent Seven and sequels, Moby Dick, Marty, Mr Majestyk, Desperate Hours, Midnight Cowboy, Blown Away, Cotton Club, Bound for Glory, Bowling for Concubine, The Honey Pot, The Party, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, The Pride of the Yankees, The Bride Wore Black, A Song Is Born, Paris Blues.
They likely will have The Happy Ending on again sometime.
I don’t have HD, so maybe this is unavailable to me. You don’t need to answer this, Tom, because I’ll check with Time/Warner myself. I appreciated your reply.
I also can’t afford to load up with too many stations I have to pay for so would have to think about it. Also, in fact TCM has shown a lot of UA including many of the above titles, some of them often. I know they showed THE HAPPY ENDING too–and missed it–but it seems that was sometime ago.
It does seem possible also that Warner Archive will offer it at some point.
I wonder if we can expect L.A. Times to do an obituary for James Mitchell. It wasn’t in today. As usual, the one they did for Simmons left out way too many credits to suit me, including some of the films I mentioned earlier in the thread and plenty of others. I guess one has to get used to the fact that this is how they do it there.
Thanks for the wonderful story about one of our favorite actresses and stars. Sometimes people are as good as they seem from the screen. Yes she played wonderful crazies but I do not think that it was ever a part of her off screen image.
TCM is airing THE HAPPY ENDING on March 25th (or early on the 26th).
While I love Simmons in several films, notably Angel Face, her best performance may be in December Flower, a 1984 Stephen Frears TV film. Despite the maudlin plot summary given at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397051, it’s quite moving, with Simmons and the great Mona Washbourne playing well off each other.
Re THE HAPPY ENDING on 3/25. Thanks for the good word, Skelly. Even if they don’t put it on a tribute to her in the next few weeks, that’s soon enough for me, and I believe what several of us here were hoping for.
The Happy Ending is part of TCM’s 3 film tribute this Friday night/Saturday AM, shown at 12:45 AM ET/9:45 PM PT. (Elmer Gantry and Great Expectations are the other two).
Hey, that’s great, Tom. And they made a great choice of the three.
Was an extra on her film Mr. Sycamore, in a scene shot at the old Venice library. She was indeed a nice person.
THE ACTRESS is also on TCM soon, on February 7th.
Graceful, delicate, beautiful but with strength and iron. Like many of the screen’s greatest stars she could play light or dark or blend them with equal facility.
My favourite ten Jean Simmons performances are: Home Before Dark, The Actress, Angel Face, Elmer Gantry, Black Narcissus, Great Expectations, The Happy Ending, Guys and Dolls,Young Bess, So Long at the Fair.
I spoke to Jean Simmons just last spring as I gathered information for a biography of her husband of many years, the writer-director Richard Brooks. She could not have been sweeter or more helpful to me. We chatted for an hour on the phone, and she called me back twice to pass along some things she had meant to mention. (Though they divorced in 1980, she still loved the guy.) She also lent to me a videotape of a making-of short film shot in Cambodia while Richard Brooks directed “Lord Jim.” She was both generous and thoughtful, and I have to admit it was a thrill to hear her voice on my answering machine: “Hello, Doug, it’s Jean. Darling, thank you so much for the note …” Sigh.
Sometimes I wonder where my head goes. I blogged about Jennifer Jones and Erich Segal, but missed Jean Simmons and JD Salinger. Seriously…priorities, woman!
I knew it would happen one day, and that she was approaching 80 but when it happened I was still shocked. I grew up watching Jean Simmons. She’s been my favorite actress since I was 8 and saw her in Blue Lagoon. I had to be satisfied with her rare appearance in the local cinemas when i was young, but in the 60’s in NY I could sometimes catch her on the Million Dollar Movie and watch her again and again for many hours in one day! Now with cable, dvds, tivo, etc. I can see her at will. And do.
I always hoped to meet her, but never wrote a fan letter. Once,a a handful of years ago I scraped together the money and sent her a bouquet on her birthday. I remember scouting for her address and calling it in to the florist…but when my boss made a trip to Santa Monica and checked out the address I had, she reported back that the house looked uninhabited. I hope before she died she knew how many people loved her work and admired her.
As a kid I was totally disinterested in school, and somewhat feckless. Jean Simmons became my role model, my fairy godmother–I took from her performances strength, humor, endurance, sympathy– and was often comforted by her beauty. I read everything I could find about characters she played from DesireeNapoleonic Age, Young Bess/Elizabethan Age, Merit/18th DyYnasty Egypt, and came to love history. Because of her. I shall miss her very much.