Jean Simmons
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Jean Simmons
Jean Simmons
Studio publicity Jean Simmons.jpg
Jean Simmons in a 1955 studio publicity shot
Born Jean Merilyn Simmons
(1929-01-31)31 January 1929
Lower Holloway, London, England, UK
Died 22 January 2010(2010-01-22) (aged 80)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Nationality British-American
Alma mater Aida Foster School of Dance
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1944-2009
Stewart Granger
(m. 1950; div. 1960)

Richard Brooks
(m. 1960; div. 1980)
Children 2
Parent(s) Charles Simmons
Winifred Loveland Simmons

Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE (31 January 1929 - 22 January 2010) was an English actress and singer.[1][2] One of J. Arthur Rank's "well-spoken young starlets", she appeared predominantly in films, beginning with those made in Great Britain during and after the Second World War, followed mainly by Hollywood films from 1950 onwards.[3]

Simmons was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Hamlet (1948), and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for Guys and Dolls (1955). Other notable film appearances included Young Bess (1953), The Robe (1953), Elmer Gantry (1960), Spartacus (1960), and the 1969 film The Happy Ending, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won an Emmy Award for the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds.

Early life and career

Simmons was born in Islington, London,[4] to Charles Simmons, a bronze medallist 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.[5] During the Second World War, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe, Somerset.[6] Her father, a physical education teacher,[7] 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. [8]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.[9]

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. She played an Indian girl in the Powell-Pressburger film Black Narcissus (1947).[10]

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

I thought acting was just a lark, meeting all those exciting movie stars, and getting £5 a day which was lovely because we needed the money. But I figured I'd just go off and get married and have children like my mother. It was working with David Lean that convinced me to go on.[11]

Simmons with Victor Mature in Androcles and the Lion (1952)

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 Organisation, who vetoed the idea.[12] In 1949, Simmons starred with Stewart Granger in Adam and Evelyne. In 1950, she was voted the fourth-most popular star in Britain.[13] In 1951, Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes,[14] who then owned the RKO Pictures.[15]

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 by angrily telling Hughes over the phone: "Mr Howard bloody Hughes, you'll be sorry if you don't leave my wife alone."[16] She made four films for Hughes, including Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger. According to David Thomson, "if she had made only one film - Angel Face - she might now be spoken of with the awe given to Louise Brooks."[17] 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.[18] 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.[16] A court case freed her from the contract with Hughes in 1952.[17]

In 1953, she starred alongside Spencer Tracy in The Actress, a film that was one of her personal favourites. 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. In the opinion of film critic Philip French, Home Before Dark (1958) was "perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn LeRoy's psychodrama".[19]

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; "No matter how tired or 'off' you felt, the music would just pick you up."[20]

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.[10]

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.[10]

Personal life

Simmons was married and divorced twice. She married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona, on 20 December 1950.[21] In 1956, Granger and she became U.S. citizens;[22] in the same year, their daughter, Tracy Granger, was born. The couple divorced in 1960.[23]

On 1 November 1960, Simmons married director Richard Brooks;[24] their daughter, Kate Brooks, was born a year later in 1961. Simmons and Brooks divorced in 1980.[25] Although both men were significantly older than Simmons, she denied she was looking for a father figure. Her father had died when she was just 16, but she said: "They were really nothing like my father at all. My father was a gentle, softly spoken man. My husbands were much noisier and much more opinionated ... it's really nothing to do with age ... it's to do with what's there - the twinkle and sense of humour."[11] And in a 1984 interview, given in Copenhagen at the time she was shooting the film Yellow Pages, she elaborated slightly on her marriages, stating,

It may be simplistic, but you could sum up my two marriages by saying that, when I wanted to be a wife, Jimmy (Stewart Granger) would say: "I just want you to be pretty." And when I wanted to cook, Richard would say: "Forget the cooking. You've been trained to act - so act!" Most people thought I was helpless - a clinger and a butterfly - during my first marriage. It was Richard Brooks who saw what was wrong and tried to make me stand on my own two feet. I'd whine: 'I'm afraid.' And he'd say: 'Never be afraid to fail. Every time you get up in the morning, you are ahead.'

She had two daughters, Tracy Granger (who has worked as a film editor since 1990),[26] and Kate Brooks (a TV production assistant and producer),[27] one by each marriage - their names bearing witness to Simmons' friendship with Spencer Tracy[28] and Katharine Hepburn. Simmons moved to the East Coast of the US in the late 1970s, briefly owning a home in New Milford, Connecticut. Later, she returned to California, settling in Santa Monica, where she lived until her death.


She died from lung cancer at her home on 22 January 2010, nine days before her 81st birthday, surrounded by her family.[29][30][31]


Throughout her life, Simmons spoke out publicly about her struggle with addiction, and in 2003 became the patron of the British drugs and human rights charity Release. In 2005, she signed a petition to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to a class B.[32]


Year Film Role Notes
1944 Give Us the Moon Heidi[33]
Mr. Emmanuel Sally Cooper[34] Billed as Jean Simmonds
Sports Day Peggy[35]
1945 Kiss the Bride Goodbye Molly Dodd[36]
Meet Sexton Blake Eva Watkins[37]
The Way to the Stars A singer
Caesar and Cleopatra Harpist Uncredited
1946 Great Expectations Estella as a girl
1947 Hungry Hill Jane Brodrick
Black Narcissus Kanchi
Uncle Silas Caroline Ruthyn[38]
The Woman in the Hall Jay Blake
1948 Hamlet Ophelia Volpi Cup
Nominated -- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1949 The Blue Lagoon Emmeline Foster
Adam and Evelyne Evelyne Kirby
1950 So Long at the Fair Vicky Barton Bambi Award for Best Actress - International (2nd place)
Trio Evie Bishop (in segment Sanatorium), Bambi Award for Best Actress - International (2nd place)
Cage of Gold Judith Moray[39]
The Clouded Yellow Sophie Malraux
1952 Androcles and the Lion Lavinia
1953 Angel Face Diane Tremayne Jessup
Young Bess Princess Elizabeth National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for The Robe (film) and The Actress)
Affair with a Stranger Carolyn Parker[40]
The Robe Diana National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Actress)
The Actress Ruth Gordon Jones National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Robe (film))
1954 She Couldn't Say No
(AKA Beautiful but Dangerous )
Corby Lane
The Egyptian Meryt
A Bullet Is Waiting Cally Canham[41]
Désirée Désirée Clary
Demetrius and the Gladiators Diana Appeared in a clip from The Robe
1955 Footsteps in the Fog Lily Watkins
Guys and Dolls Sergeant Sarah Brown Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1956 Hilda Crane Hilda Crane Burns
1957 This Could Be the Night Anne Leeds Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Until They Sail Barbara Leslie Forbes
1958 The Big Country Julie Maragon
Home Before Dark Charlotte Bronn[42] Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (4th place)
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1959 This Earth Is Mine Elizabeth Rambeau[43]
1960 Elmer Gantry Sharon Falconer Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (3rd place)
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Spartacus Varinia
The Grass Is Greener Hattie Durant Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (5th place)
1963 All the Way Home Mary Follett
1965 Life at the Top Susan Lampton[44]
1966 Mister Buddwing The Blonde
1967 Divorce American Style Nancy Downes
Rough Night in Jericho Molly Lang
1968 Heidi Fräulein Rottenmeier TV
1969 The Happy Ending Mary Wilson Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1971 Say Hello to Yesterday Woman
1975 Mr. Sycamore Estelle Benbow
The Easter Promise Constance Payne [45] TV
1977 Hawaii Five-O Terri O'Brien TV
1978 The Dain Curse Aaronia Haldorn TV
Dominique Dominique Ballard
1979 Beggarman, Thief Gretchen Jordache Burke[46] TV
1981 A Small Killing Margaret Lawrence[47] TV
Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls Helen Lawson TV
1983 The Thorn Birds Fee Cleary TV, Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1984 December Flower Etta Marsh[48] TV
1985 Midas Valley Molly Hammond[49] TV
North and South Clarissa Gault Main TV
Yellow Pages Maxine de la Hunt[50]
1986 North and South Book II Clarissa Gault Main TV
1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love Laura Robertson [51] TV
1988 Inherit the Wind Lucy Brady TV
The Dawning Aunt Mary
1989 Great Expectations Miss Havisham TV
Murder, She Wrote
Episode: "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: "The Drumhead"
Rear Admiral Norah Satie
Dark Shadows Elizabeth Collins Stoddard/Naomi Collins
They Do It with Mirrors Carrie-Louise Serrocold TV
1994 In the Heat of the Night
Episode: "Chez and the Grand Lady"
Miss Cordelia TV
1995 How to Make an American Quilt Em Reed Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Daisies in December Katherine Palmer[52]
2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Council Member 2 Voice
2003 Winter Solstice Countess Lucinda Rhives[53] Released in Germany as Wintersonne
2004 Jean Simmons: Rose of England Herself
Howl's Moving Castle Grandma Sophie Voice, Uncredited
2005 Thru the Moebius Strip Shepway[54] Voice
2009 Shadows in the Sun Hannah [55] (final film role)

Box office ranking

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted her among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

  • 1949 - 4th[56] (9th most popular overall)[57]
  • 1950 - 2nd (4th most popular overall)[58]
  • 1951 - 3rd[59]

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1949 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Hamlet Nominated
1953 National Board of Review Best Actress The Actress / The Robe / Young Bess Won
1956 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Guys and Dolls Won
1957 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Guys and Dolls Nominated
1958 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy This Could Be the Night Nominated
1959 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Home Before Dark Nominated
1961 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Elmer Gantry Nominated
1961 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Elmer Gantry Nominated
1970 Academy Awards Best Actress The Happy Ending Nominated
1970 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama The Happy Ending Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie The Thorn Birds Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries or Television The Thorn Birds Nominated
1989 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Murder, She Wrote Nominated
1996 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture How to Make an American Quilt Nominated


  1. ^ Jean Simmons obituary, Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2010 [1].
  2. ^ Obituary The Independent, 26 January 2010 jean simmons actress who dazzled
  3. ^ Aljean Harmetz (23 January 2010). "Jean Simmons, Actress, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010. Jean Simmons, the English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major mid-century star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 80. The cause was lung cancer, according to Judy Page, her agent. 
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Jean Simmons, (Brian McFarlane) [2]
  5. ^ "Jean Simmons' Age Is Exposed". The Salina Journal. 116 (96). 26 April 1967. p. 20. Retrieved 2015 - via  open access publication - free to read
  6. ^ "Are They Being Fair To Jean Simmons?", Picturegoer, 2 August 1947.
  7. ^ Per Gloria Hunniford in Sunday, Sunday television interview LWT, Autumn 1985
  8. ^ TV Times, March22-28 1975, p.4
  9. ^ So You Want to be in Pictures? by Val Guest, p. 58; ISBN 1-90311-115-3
  10. ^ a b c Biography,; accessed 24 April 2014.
  11. ^ a b Woman's Weekly, Christmas 1989
  12. ^ French, Philip (24 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: an unforgettable English rose". The Observer. 
  13. ^ "Critics Praise Drama: Comedians Win Profits". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 2012. 
  14. ^ Howard Hughes, The Untold story, Peter Brown, Pat Broeske, p.241 Sphere 2005
  15. ^ The Guardian, interview with Peter Lennon, November 1999 [3]
  16. ^ a b Norman, Barry (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: The beauty who said no to Howard Hughes - and sabotaged her Hollywood career". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2018. 
  17. ^ a b Thomson, David (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons obituary". The Guardian. 
  18. ^ Bernstein, Adam (24 January 2010). "English actress was known for roles in the films 'Hamlet' and 'Elmer Gantry'". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018. 
  19. ^ French, Philip (6 April 2008). "Philip French's screen legends - No 11: Jean Simmons profile". The Observer. 
  20. ^ Sondheim Guide - A Little Night Music; accessed 24 April 2014.
  21. ^ "English Stars Married Here". Tucson Daily Citizen. 78 (304). Tucson, Arizona. 21 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 2015 - via  open access publication - free to read
  22. ^ "The Stewart Grangers Become Citizens of US". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Journal Company. Associated Press. 9 June 1956. p. 1. Retrieved 2015. 
  23. ^ "Jean Simmons Files To Divorce Stewart Granger". The Blade. Toledo, Ohio. United Press International. 8 July 1960. p. 7. Retrieved 2015. 
  24. ^ "Actress Weds Film Director". The Odessa American. 35 (263). Odessa, Texas. Associated Press. 2 November 1960. p. 27. Retrieved 2015 - via  open access publication - free to read
  25. ^ Daniel 2011, p. 210.
  26. ^ Tracy Granger's IMDB page
  27. ^ Kate Brooks' IMDB page
  28. ^ Picture Show and TV Mirror, 2 July 1960, p. 7. Simmons says her daughter was named after Spencer Tracy in interview, but adds, "Jimmy (Granger) says he got the name from the role Katharine Hepburn played in The Philadelphia Story."
  29. ^ "British-born Hollywood actress Jean Simmons dies at 80". BBC. 23 January 2010. Retrieved 2010. 
  30. ^ Jean Simmons obituary,; accessed 24 April 2014.
  31. ^ Jean Simmons obituary, The Telegraph; accessed 24 April 2014.
  32. ^ Goodchild, Sophie (2005-12-18). "Sting leads campaign against Blair's plan to reclassify cannabis". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 2010. 
  33. ^ "Give Us the Moon (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  34. ^ "Mr. Emmanuel (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  35. ^ "Sports Day (1944)". IMDb. 
  36. ^ "Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  37. ^ "Meet Sexton Blake (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  38. ^ "Uncle Silas (1947)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  39. ^ "Cage of Gold (1950))". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  40. ^ "Affair with a Stranger (1953)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  41. ^ "A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  42. ^ "Home Before Dark (1958)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  43. ^ "This Earth is Mine (1959)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  44. ^ "Life at the Top (1965)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  45. ^ "The Easter Promise (1975)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  46. ^ "Beggarman, Thief (1979)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  47. ^ "A Small Killing (1981)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  48. ^ "December Flower (1984)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  49. ^ "Midas Valley (1985)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  50. ^ "Yellow Pages (1988)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  51. ^ "Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  52. ^ "Katherine Palmer (1995)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  53. ^ "Winter Solstice (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  54. ^ "Through the Moebius Strip (2005)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  55. ^ "Shadows in the Sun (2009)". IMDb. Retrieved . 
  56. ^ "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity". Canberra Times. ACT: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 2012. 
  57. ^ "TOPS AT HOME". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 2012. 
  58. ^ "BOB HOPE BEST DRAW IN BRITISH THEATRES". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 2012. 
  59. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Queensland, Australia: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 2012. 


External links

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