Monday, January 25, 2010

Jean Simmons- I'm Getting Older

I know I’m getting older. All of the actresses that I had crushes on when I was a kid are passing away. Last year it was Olivia DeHavilland – (“Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn) and then Betty Hutton – (“Miracle at Morgan's Creek” and “Annie Get Your Gun”). Now, with 2010 barely begun, Jean Simmons, forever Sister Sarah in “Guys and Dolls” to me, has passed away. She died last Friday in Santa Monica, California at the age of 80. The cause of death was lung cancer.

Standing on the edge of a fountain at midnight in Havana with Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls”, belting out “If I Were a Bell” is how I will always see her. But her story is so much more.

Originally studying dance she was taken out of school and contracted to David Lean and J Arthur Rank in Britain during the 1930’s. There she appeared in many films, including the classic David Lean production of Charles Dickens “Great Expectations.” She played Estella, the young girl used as revenge against the world by her bitter Grandmother.

Other hits followed, “Black Narcissus” and “Hamlet” with Laurence Olivier are just a few of the timeless classics she was turning out prior to the 1950’s.

Howard Hughes bought her contract and she came to Hollywood in 1951. It was not love at first sight. Hughes had amorous intentions, knowing she was a married woman. Her husband, Stewart Granger, no shrinking violet, confronted Hughes on the phone one evening and demanded he leave her alone. As a result Hughes torpedoed her next few films in an effort to destroy her career.

But good talent always rises back up and with the 1952 production of “Guys and Dolls” starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, her career was once again on top. Other hits and awards followed- notably the 1960 classic “Elmer Gantry.” In this one she plays the opposite of innocent Sister Sarah from “Guys and Dolls.” Rather she portrays a cunning and ruthless woman evangelical preacher who falls for another scam artist played by Burt Lancaster.

Her career was on top again where it would remain until she retired in the late 1990’s. Her retirement came after a successful run in the remake of “Dark Shadows”, where she reprised Joan Bennetts original role as matriarch of the Collins family.

Always very much the lady, she was regarded with much respect in film circles the world over. Her quiet struggles with alcohol and depression led her to disclose her problems in 1983. She said at the time that she did this “so other women would know it is okay to seek treatment.” She was a class act and we shall not see the likes of her again anytime soon.

And as her passing means I’m getting older, I miss her already.

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