American actress Jennifer Jones was born on March 2, 1919 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her first acting role in The Song of Bernadette (1943) garnered her an Academy Award. She continued to act in television and films during the 1940s-1970s and was Oscar nominated five times. Highlights from her career include Love Letters (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946) and Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (1955). Later in life she worked as the chairwoman at the Norton Simon Museum. Jones died December 17, 2009 in Malibu, California.
Actress Phyllis Flora Isley, better known as Jennifer Jones, was born on March 2, 1919, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jones studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where she met and married aspiring actor Robert Walker in 1939. Shortly after, she won a six-month contract from Republic Pictures and moved to California. In the early 1940s, she met Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick, who saw promise in Jones' work and signed her to a personal contract. Before long, Jones and Selznick, both married, were carrying on an affair, and in 1945, Jones divorced Walker.
Selznick and Jones were married from 1949 until his death in 1965.
Collaboration With Selznick
In general, Jones' professional and personal involvement with Selznick has been given a prominence that has colored assessments of her distinctive contribution to 1940s cinema. Interestingly, the central issue is not that Jones lacked talent or screen presence. The longstanding criticism is that Selznick, because of his commitment to Jones, had no critical distance and, with King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946), tried to fashion an erotic identity for her, making Jones into a ridiculous creation. Previously, her screen persona was as an innocent child/woman, an image established by her first starring role in Henry King's The Song of Bernadette (1943). She had also given an intense and emotionally charged performance as a girl making the transition from youth to maturity in John Cromwell's Since You Went Away (1944).
As the sensual half-breed Pearl in Duel in the Sun, Jones succeeded in giving an audaciously conceived performance. She employed a degree of physical gesture that had more in common with silent-screen acting technique than with the naturalistic behavioral mannerisms associated with the sound cinema. In addition, while her physical presence is intended to be provocative, she does not allow her physicality to undermine the complex psychological dimensions of the character. Thus, Duel in the Sun is a remarkable achievement but, like her performance, it has often been misinterpreted as degrading to female sexuality. Though conceived on a lesser scale, Ruby Gentry (1952) is equally successful in dealing with the same themes, and again Jones's sensuality is central to the expression of those concerns.
From the beginning, the screen persona of Jones was imbued with a degree of hysteria, and in Vincente Minnelli's underrated Madame Bovary (1949) this characteristic erupts with particular impact. Minnelli, a director very sensitive to the various aspects of Jones' sensibility, including her romantic indulgence, encouraged her to give a subtle performance without relinquishing the extravagant conception the character has of her identity. These same elements might have been fully articulated in the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger version of The Wild Heart (1952), but unfortunately Selznick's reworking of their footage does not present a rounded characterization.
No matter with what coloration one paints the envied Selznick-Jones collaboration, her status as melodramatic princess of the 1940s is indisputable. If adjectives such as ethereal and luminous became excess baggage with the passage of time, these qualities were responsible for Jones' realizing the evocative fantasy of Portrait of Jennie (1948), the fortunes fools romance of Love Letters (1945) and the valentine to homefront frustration in Since You Went Away (1944) - projects in which this actress's breathtaking vulnerability aroused the audience's protectiveness. If Selznick overproduced Portrait of Jennie, he stayed out of William Wyler's way long enough for Jones to hold her own against Laurence Olivier with her superb characterization of an unwittingly destructive demimonde in the underappreciated Carrie (1952).
Jones' career flourished in the 1950s, with the unexpected box-office bonanza Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), followed by Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957). Deftly imbricating the complexities in Jones' persona with F. Scott Fitzgerald themes, the flawed Tender Is the Night (1962) is the last film to resurrect her patented fragility to good effect. Afterwards, the neurotic mannerisms consume her performances in the unworthy The Idol (1966) and the cheesy Angel, Angel Down We Go (1970).
Jennifer Jones died on December 17, 2009 at age 90.
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