Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jennifer Jones, 1919-2009


It is a recurrent irony of certain film artists' lives that upon their death, no matter what other accomplishments may have been theirs, if they won an Oscar the headline will read "Academy Award Winner Dies." It hurts the Siren to see this headline for Jennifer Jones, because The Song of Bernadette is not a film she ever took to her heart (to put it mildly). Consciously or subconsciously, the movie undermines the whole notion of religious fulfillment because it makes Bernadette's life seem so awful. The Sirens adds, though, that the movie has its admirers; for an eloquent appreciation of Bernadette, please see Marilyn Ferdinand here.

The movie uppermost in the Siren's thoughts isn't the one about the saint, but rather Portrait of Jennie, in which Jones' talent for creating odd and bewitching women reached its apogee. William Dieterle's ghost story was a perfect vehicle for Jones, whose spiritual quality always had a note of restless passion. When you meet her she's attired in her best fur-trimmed coat and muff, appearing among the ice skaters at Central Park as though she sprang complete from one of the glittering snow banks. Jones was a great child impersonator, as she had shown in Bernadette despite that movie's flaws, and yet there is something womanly in the way she makes eye contact with Joseph Cotten. Not sensuality yet, but its promise. It is a strange film, sweepingly romantic in that way that has vanished from American movies, the scenes moving through different tones as Jennie herself moves in and out of worlds. The Siren wasn't surprised to hear, from Dan Callahan, that Luis Bunuel loved Portrait of Jennie. What might Bunuel have done with a chance to direct its star?

An eeriness clings to Jones and every attempt to discuss her. You reach for the same adjectives: febrile, intense, jittery, instinctual. When she arrived in Hollywood she was married to the gifted but self-destructive Robert Walker, with whom she had two sons. In addition to having a bad drinking problem, it was Walker's profound misfortune to have David O. Selznick fall in love with his wife. The question that overhangs Jennifer Jones is whether Selznick's love was ultimately her misfortune, too. He is generally supposed to have slowly smothered her talent, rendering her less natural and more stilted the longer she remained under his influence. (Miriam Bale alludes to this in her excellent piece that accompanied last year's Jennifer Jones retrospective at Lincoln Center.)



This theory isn't so tidy, however. It's true that several of her best movies, including the Lubitsch masterpiece Cluny Brown and Michael Powell's Gone to Earth (which the Siren, alas, has yet to see) were made outside of Selznick's meddling. Cluny Brown shows a flair for comedy that Jones never got a chance to exploit, unless you count Beat the Devil, which the Siren doesn't find very funny. Cluny, we are told repeatedly, doesn't know her place, but of course she does. Her place is with Charles Boyer's Adam Belinski, the intellectual who alone appreciates her. "You must never become a victim of my circumstances, and, if you should ever seem romantic to me, don't hesitate. Just kick me," Cluny tells her true love (who responds, "Yes, let's kick each other"). No one but Jennifer Jones could have shown the right combination of physical enthusiasm and ardent innocence in explaining how to solve blocked-up pipes: "I would bang, bang, bang, all night long."



But Jones is good or excellent in other movies where Selznick either produced or hovered a great deal at the margins. There's Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun, of course, a valiant attempt to show carnality unmarked by civilization, with intermittently good scenes from the actress. Jones is a better creature of the body in King Vidor's Ruby Gentry.

But there's also her young girl in Since You Went Away, an underrated portrait of innocence yearning to grow up. The overall film is heavy-handed, it is true, but Jones isn't, and the Siren loves both her bright eagerness at the dance in the hangar, and the farewell scene at the train. She did a fine job with Madame Bovary's dual nature in Minnelli's film, especially in the ballroom scene, where Emma's sexual and class longings become too much for the room, or indeed the film, to contain. And the Siren is fond of Jones in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, even if few others are. This invalid Elizabeth still has a simmering physicality and some common sense; compare Jones' realization of the incestuous nature of her father's interest with the prim horror displayed by Norma Shearer, and see if you don't take the Siren's point. And although it is Laurence Olivier's movie, the Siren admires Jones in Carrie, where she makes the title character more interesting than she was in Dreiser's novel. Olivier admired Jones as well, later in life comparing her to Meryl Streep.

There certainly are films, however, where Selznick's influence can't be described as anything other than unfortunate--certain ludicrous passages in Duel in the Sun; the overcooked, overtinkered A Farewell to Arms; or the producer's butchering of de Sica's Terminal Station, complete with the most shudder-inducing re-titling ever, Indiscretion of an American Wife.

But if Selznick's obsession with Jones was in some ways detrimental to her career (and her mental stability) it didn't do much for Selznick, either, who did better work when still married to the shrewd and decidedly earthbound Irene Mayer. In Irene's autobiography, she tells a revealing story about the aftermath of the Selznicks' breakup. Jones pretended to be Dorothy Paley to get Irene on the phone, then waited outside a theatre for hours to confront the ex-wife. Irene had her driver take them on circle after circle of Central Park as Jones became hysterical, saying David didn't want her, he wanted Irene and his life was ruined unless he could have her back. Jones also tried to throw herself out of the car. "She talked as if I were responsible," Irene said.

Selznick's relationship with Jones is a particulary sad story of Hollywood folie à deux, and Walker's horrible death and the eventual suicide of Selznick's daughter with Jones turns it to tragedy. Jennifer Jones is like Marion Davies, in that we will always wonder what her career would have been without Svengali. And we'll never have a completely satisfying answer to whether Selznick's influence was imposed from without, or whether Jones was drawing it to herself. That ambiguity turns up in all of Jones' screen roles--is she being manipulated, or is she using her "weakness," whether social, mental or sexual, to manipulate?



It is comforting to note that Jones went on, after her own fight against mental illness and all that trauma during and after her years of stardom, to forge some apparent stability and contentment. Sometime around the late 70s-early 80s my father was at the front desk of a hotel (the St. Regis?) when he heard a voice at his elbow that sounded familiar, asking the clerk for something. He turned to see Jennifer Jones, still clearly recognizable after all those years. As Dad gaped the clerk asked her name (ah, how fame fades) and she said, "Mrs. Norton Simon."

A Star Is Born, played for a clueless clerk and an astonished audience of one.

88 comments:

gmoke said...

There's a looseness and ease to Jones in "Beat the Devil" that is very attractive and a lot of fun. It's a mess of a movie but most of the time the actors seem to be enjoying themselves.

Was it Dennis Hopper who chased Jennifer Jones down the beach at Malibu shouting he wanted to screw Bernadette?

It's a difficult thing to be a beautiful woman in this culture. It warps the woman as it warps the world around her.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

The Jones daughter, Mary-Jennifer, was in my junior-high class. (It was a San Fernando Valley school with a sprinkling of movie people, among them Natalie Cole.) I didn't know Mary-Jennifer particularly well, but I *was* aware of her mother. The closest I came to knowing the mother was being invited to a party and shaking the Jennifer Jones hand. This was, approximately, "Angel, Angel Down We Go" period.

I'm a bit surprised you don't mention "Beat The Devil." A charming performance. I'm also fond of "Love Letters," in spite of -- or because of -- all its neurotic oddness. A bit of a pre-"Marnie," that one.

Marilyn said...

I did love her in Portrait of Jennie, but you are far too hard on Song of Bernadette. I consider it one of the most faithful biopics and one of the best there is. Bernadette's life was hard, her belief unshakeable, and her fulfillment (whether you believe in the vision or not) attained at death, as promised. I don't know what flaws exist, aside from Vincent Price's speech about having cancer and yet resisting the swoon of religious fervor around him - just a bit too much speechifying for my taste.

The Siren said...

Gmoke, I hadn't heard that story but it uh, does sound like Hopper.

MrsHWV, I did mention Beat the Devil briefly, but I just don't get that movie, and I am a Huston fan. It isn't funny as it thinks it is. I will say that Jones is the best thing in it. Love Letters I saw too long ago to comment on in a meaningful way. With the tribute pieces I mostly just focus on the films I really liked.

The Siren said...

Marilyn, unfortunately my Farber on Film is still packed but when I was reading it last month I remember thinking he nailed Bernadette; I also thought Dan had some good thoughts. It could be that the theme is too far from my own mindset, but I found it a most unpleasant movie to sit through despite Jones' being quite good.

The Siren said...

MrsHWV - also wanted to say I wished you remembered more about Mary Selznick. Such a sad end for her. Did she look more like her mother or her father?

budda said...

The NY Hotel in question must have been the Pierre where the Simons' kept a penthouse for many years. I used to see them quite a bit there in the 70's-80's. It was their NY base.
Matter of fact, I believe the blog photo of the two was taken in the lobby. Furthermore, I think it was taken as they left the hotel for a 1982? Friar's roast of Cary Grant at the Waldorf. I say that because I attended that evening and I still remember Mrs. Simon's dress--and jewels-- which the pic does not do justice.

Mary Jennifer was extremely over-protected by David O. After his death, i think both mother and daughter had serious issues. I think I remember Maureen Stapleton commenting on what a control freak DOS was in regards to his family. Have to look it up.

Greg said...

There are several pictures of her in the eighties and she looked terrific, very recognizable and beautiful. I certainly would have recognized her and possibly stammered a "hello" or two. And Portrait of Jennie is a favorite TCM stopper for me, meaning whenever I turn to TCM and it's on I stop and watch it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm crazy about Portrat of Jennie too. Back in the 50's Channel 9 in New York had a show called "Million Dollar Movie." For a week the smae film would play once a night and twice on Saturdays and Sundays. Seeing films over and over again was essential to my becomign a critic. Mary first saw The Red Shoes -- in black and white -- on "millIon Dollar Movie." And that's why Michael powell titled volume II of his memoirs "Million Dollar Movie."

Isherwood got to know the Sleznicks quite well, as he and Don were invited over to the house for their many parties. They were
both crazy about her -- as was Gavin Lambert. For many years he tried to fashion a vehicle for her that was mor suitable that Robert Thom's wonderously insane Angel Angel Diw We Go He write about her a clef in "The Goodbye People."

Can't agree with you about Beat the Devil Love the film and her performance, in which she's basically playing Truman Capote.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Many years ago the AFI did a tribute to gregory Peck and she showed up -- looking great.

Her train station "ggodbye" sceen in Since You Went Away leaves me a sobbing wreck.

MikeT said...

Siren,

A typically excellent post, though, unlike you, I have to count myself a dissenter on "Beat the Devil." It has a wonderfully goofy, out-of-left-field quality, which Jones, in particular, was responsible for.

I had no idea of the mental anguish experienced by Jones over the years. I did see her, maybe 15 years ago, on Oscar night--and, as with other actors and actresses who've been out of the spotlight for awhile, only to reappear, I wondered what time had done to her.

Selznick may have done the most serious damage to Jones' career with "A Farewell to Arms" by sacking John Huston during production. Huston might have put the required grit into the Hemingway adaptation to offset the sentimentality about Jones' character Catherine. Instead, it all became rather sudsy.

It's very interesting that this emotionally fragile woman played Nicole Diver in the Henry King adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night."

This post of yours is a very, very fine gift to your loyal readers. Happy holidays!

Bob Westal said...

I totally agree with you about "Cluny Brown." I'm not a big fan of Boyer but it's a lovely and hilarious movie and Ms. Jones was perfect in it.

It's been too long since I've seen it to be clear, but I remember loving her in "Beat the Devil." I liked the movie as a teenager, but something tells me I might feel differently now, but I suspect I'll still like her performance.

"Duel in the Sun" though...not so much.

Frank Conniff said...

Cluny Brown is definitely my favorite of all of her movies. "Squirrels to the nuts!"

Arthur S. said...

J'adore Jennifer Jones beaucoup!

David O'Selznick for all his flaws had an eye for talent and Jennifer Jones was not only very beautiful but a damn good actress. But as is always the case with him, she did better away from him than with him - William Wyler's Carrie and her brilliant comic performance in Beat The Devil(a performance Julianne Moore channels very well in the Coens' shameless remake The Big Lebowski).

That said Portrait of Jennie is a magnificent film(and a favourite of Luis Bunuel's) and Duel in the Sun is also great in spite of Selznick's major flaws.

She's damn good in Michael Powell's flawed Gone To Earth(She plays the Tess of the d'Urbervilles type heroine seduced by David Farrar). The film should have been great but isn't. Powell and Pressburger kept ignoring Selznick's memos during production. He later said, "We went ahead with David O. the way the hedgehogs make love - verry carefully!"

Selznick was always on the lookout for international film-makers to make masterpieces with his muse - Vittorio De Sica, Michael Powell. He even tried Roberto Rossellini and tried to corner Satyajit Ray at a Hollywood party. King Vidor noted that he was obsessed with her, when he ran the rushes of Ruby Gentry(from whose set Selznick was banned) he noted that he shivered every time she came on screen. And honestly, who can blame him.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Sorry that I can't supply more about Mary-Jennifer, which is what she went by at the time. She was something like 15, say, and I didn't know her very well. She was kinda gawky and coltish, in a way not unusual for that age. I remember thinking that Mary-Jennifer would probably turn out beautiful -- Only Not Now. Or at least that was how I, unkindly, phrased it at the time.

Trivia Item: there was a Halloween party, at her house, for the classmates, and the entertainment was a screening of "Francis In The Haunted House."

Arthur S. said...

Cluny Brown I am yet to see, it was Lubitsch's last film he directed entirely by himself.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

More like the mother, I'd hazard (cf. "beautiful" comment).

Ian said...

Jennifer Jones... *heartbroken*

I love your tribute. I remember first falling for Jones in Portrait of Jeannie, but it's her performances in Cluny Brown and Gone to Earth which are closest to my heart.

Gloria said...

Jennifer Jones, simply my favourite screen plumber.

(And not forgetting Una O'Connor as the most harumphing prospective mother-in-law ever)

m.b. said...

Portrait of Jennie was what first hooked me. Thanks for this lovely tribute, and for the link to my piece. Just to clarify, it’s not David Selznick’s involvement with her career that I think was to the detriment of her performance, it’s her *marriage* to him. I’m with you, I love some of the films with Selznick’s handprints all over them: Duel in the Sun, Carrie, Since You Went Away, and Madame Bovary. All of these films, though, were made when she was his paramour living in a separate house from Selznick, an arrangement she preferred. (Though I think Carrie was made just after the marriage.)

She was very serious about acting but superstitious, almost mystical, about needing lots of space to get herself into the right zone of concentration for it. But being his wife was exhausting! The same attention he gave in all those memos to her clothes, her coloring, her make-up, he also saw to in real life! And she had to constantly play hostess for all his Hollywood parties (which she was famously late for after usually spending half the party upstairs, changing outfits twenty times.)

Cluny Brown, Love Letters, Gone to Earth--were all made in the period before she was Mrs. Selznick. (Though I think she married him during the production of the P&P.)

Anyway she was REALLY resistant to marrying him. Eventually he had to practically kidnap her to make it happen! Slim Hawks/Hayward/Keith writes in her very entertaining autobiography of being enlisted with her husband (I forget which one) and another couple to become the “impresarios” in charge of getting her to finally marry him. With the help of these heavies, he whisked her off on a Mediterranean wedding cruise. But just before the ceremony she dived off the yacht and swam ashore! They dragged her back. Slim writes of seeing her so dewy, wet and beautiful that instantly all was forgiven. But I think she was on to something with that neurosis/instinct.
[Sorry for the ridiculously long response!]

Karen said...

Cluny Brown is another of the films that will live on my DVR until the Powers That Be have the good sense to release it on DVD. Good call, Siren, on Jones nailing the combination of innocence and passion that Cluny possesses. I'm not sure many other actresses would have come close.

Jones starred in remakes of two of my favorite books, both of which I'd read to death long before I saw the film versions: Portrait of Jennie and Good Morning, Miss Dove. Because I tend to have a difficult time with film versions of beloved books (don't even get me started on every film version ever of Little Women, one of my Sacred Texts), Jones got tarred a bit with my displeasure.

I do like her, very much, in many of her other films. I hadn't realized she'd made so few. I didn't know about her private life. I think this is why I tend not to want to know that much about actors' private lives: I don't want too much information interfering with my impression of them on the screen. (I just watched Stephen Bogart's documentary about his father and, frankly, Bogey comes off like a real asshole. I didn't really want to know that.)

This week, TCM released its "TCM Remembers"--which, I firmly believe, should be used annually instead of the Oscars' dreadful "In Memoriam"--and I hope they update it to include Jones. She was truly a rare treasure.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Lovely tribute. I wonder if in time there will be an examination of her work without the constant, and I feel tiresome, references to her being merely a Galatea under DOS influence.

Her being such an introvert may have enabled him to take over so much control of her career and personal life, but when she was on camera, for instance, in those scenes you mention of "Jennie", she is alone, in a place by herself. What she creates as an actress comes from somewhere within.

I really don't think Selznick's long reach went that far, no matter how many memos he wrote about her costume, makeup, and lighting.

DavidEhrenstein said...

There's some very interesting stuff about Jennifer Jones and David O. in my friend Bob Hofler's book about Henry Willson, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson.
When Selznick began his affair with Jone he was already amrried -- and didn't want anyone to know. He had Willson squire her to events where he arrranged to meet her afterwards, and such. While working as a talent scout for Selznick Willson discovered Guy Madison -- who was immediately cast in as the most drop-dead beautiful sailor you've ever laid eyes on.

The Siren said...

Budda, thank you! My own father has passed away, so I can't ask him. While I remember the story very well, I can't be sure it was in New York. He traveled a lot when I was young. Like many men he had the softest of soft spots for Jennifer Jones.

The Siren wonders if David O. called her "Jennifer." What did her friends call her, I wonder? I do remember reading that she used to get letters commiserating with her over being stuck with the too-common name "Jones" and she never had the heart to reply and explain she'd chosen to be saddled with it.

The Siren said...

All right, all you Beat the Devil fans, the Siren apologizes for not sharing the love. I didn't hate the movie, I just thought it was messy and not that amusing. If anyone has a good BtD appreciation he or she would like to tout, fire away and I will link. Miss Jones deserves it.

m.b. said...

Agreed that Selnick's reach never went too far, as a producer. But you should look at the (very short) list of films she made after her marriage to him... definitely not her best work. Even her good performances in this time are tense--The Man is the Gray Flannel Suit, and even The Barretts of Wimpole Street, though I can't claim to like that movie very much.

What-ifs are useless, I guess. But it's hard not to with someone with such a small filmography of so many deeply moving and unusual films.

The Siren said...

Very glad to see the love for Portrait of Jennie, and also for Cluny Brown. Saw that one in 2008 at the Jones retrospective and can't for the life of me understand why it was classed for years as sub-par Lubitsch. I think it's wall-to-wall brilliant.

David E., so glad someone else cries over the train scene in Since You Went Away. Like Duel in the Sun, there's a great deal of beauty in that film, padded out with some--longueurs, I guess you could say.

Arthur S., the Siren will go on record as saying Selznick was most definitely a genius, whatever black marks mar his biography.

Karen, I too read Portrait of Jennie several times before seeing the film but as with Rebecca, I got used to the liberties quickly and learned to love the film on its own terms. But of course any reader does know the reaction you describe all too well. The Siren could go off on several rants, but she doesn't want to hijack dear Miss Jones's thread.

Exiled in NJ said...

When she plants a kiss on Bogart's cheek in BtD, his reaction is priceless. My late wife thought it was entirely unscripted, or maybe she heard this from the host on TCM, or way back then, AMC [Bob Dorrian?]. We bought a tape for my mother-in-law and husband. They could never understand it (more than likely the copy was washed out, like ours) but after both of them died, he at 99, my brother-in-law asked me if I wanted it. "That's that movie Howard and Betty couldn't stand, and which I don't understand one bit."

Marilyn said...

I have to rent Portrait of Jennie now. It's gnawing at my emotions just thinking about it.

Thanks, Siren, for linking to my article. Very fair-minded of you, though it truly wasn't necessary. I just hope Jones fans get something out of it.

X. Trapnel said...

A lovely tribute, Siren and , yes, try to imagine anyone else as Cluny Brown. I'd like to put in a word for the much underrated Love Letters. Gone to Earth is an astonishment (made me an Archers convert) and Jones is fine if somewhat miscast (accent slippage, which I'm sure would Yojimboen note)but brings off the character's feral allure bewitchingly. In the 30s Danielle Darrieux tried to interest French filmakers in Mary Webb's very odd novel. That would have been something to see.

Arthur S. said...

The best way to understand BEAT THE DEVIL is to accept it as a Nathanael West adventure story about ugly Americans in Italy. It was basically a post-modern film before it's time although as Huston noted with pride in his autobiography it's influenced a number of films. The Coens obviously channel the film for their THE BIG LEBOWSKI with Julianne Moore wiping out the entire cast in the Jennifer Jones role and Jeff Bridges in the...heh heh...Humphrey Bogart role. Bogart didn't like the film and said it was for phonies. He's right although I'd say it's about phonies and made by someone who was aware that the lines between the genuine article and the camp was breaking down. And Bogart gives what Chris Fujiwara described, "his sourest performance". Well considering he had a bad accident during the making of the film and he produced a film whose production was going crazy...Huston noted later that Bogart shrugged off the box-office failure of the film, "It's only money!" No phony, he!

The scenes between Jennifer Jones and Bogart are part of the greatness of it all. The main problem with appreciating it might be the fact that it doesn't circulate very often in good prints being that it's in public domain and all.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's so beautiful about the train scene is that right up to it Jones' character has been pretty much strining the lovesick Robert Walker along. So there he is goign off to war and right then she realizes that she really loves him. It's an incredibly true moment on an emotional level, and Jones is Beyond Brilliant.

The Siren said...

Marilyn, my thanks to you -- I should have thought to link to another perspective on Bernadette as it's a well-loved film, and Miss Jones deserves to have people hear from someone who appreciated it. Your post proves we often write best about what we really love.

Raquelle said...

Thank you for this. I don't quite think I ever forgave Jennifer Jones for what she did to Robert Walker but I might start the process of acceptance after reading your post.

It's posts like these that make me want to give up classic film blogging and just leave it to you. :-)

Happy Holidays.

Vanwall said...

I never had a grip on Jennifer Jone's career and maybe her best acting, which was more than just acting, for it seemed as if part of her self was on screen - always a risky business - required a total commitment from the viewer, and if you didn't connect on her level it was often a washout, and I don't think it did her psyche any good.

Her periods of stale work was certainly through the controlling aspects of the Studios and DOS's attempt to mold her for a time, and it was obvious even as a young man seeing those for the first time - she needed to have her what I thought were her best, deepest qualities displayed.

I liked her when she had a chance to use her mercurial qualities, like "Cluny Brown" and "Beat the Devil", and the more ordinary the character was meant to be, the less she shined.

In "Portrait of Jennie", when she was onscreen, she was the whole picture, the rest of it being somewhat pedestrian, and that one in particular gave her an ethereal quality unlike anyone else, something she didn't have enough chances to display.

Nice tribute and comments here, as usual.

Kevin Deany said...

Her first leading man was none other than John Wayne, in the 1939 Republic B-western "New Frontier." She was billed as Phyllis Isley.

She started with the Duke and ended her screen career with Fred Astaire in "The Towering Inferno." I well remember her death scene the first time I saw that film. Sitting next to me in the theater was a group of high school age guys. There was an audible groan when she died and the big guy next to me, who looked like he played football, said out loud, "Oh no, I didn't want her to die." She still had the capacity to break an audience's heart.

X. Trapnel said...

V, imagine if Val Lewton (think of the theatrical subplot of Curse of the Cat People) rather than Selznick had been the guiding hand. The non-Jenny portions would have maintained the eerie/eldritch quality especially if Herrmann, the original composer had been retained rather than Tiomkin, working off some deeply held grudge against Debussy. The Kellaway/Barrymore/Gish/Wayne stuff is too cozy and sentimental. And a better portrait might have helped. Cotten is fine and the film has just the right look.

Dan Callahan said...

I was very sad when I read Jones had died yesterday. Her son said last year that she had been senile for a while, but he had told her about the Lincoln Center festival devoted to her films, and she seemed to understand that.

As tribute, I think we should all try to watch "Cluny Brown" and "Ruby Gentry." Very different films, equally beautiful. And I hope that Criterion does an edition of Michael Powell's cut of "Gone to Earth," which just stunned me when I saw it on Lincoln Center's big screen. I really do think that movie might contain her best, most personal performance.

Quite interesting about JJ wanting to avoid marrying Selznick; you're right, Miriam...after the actual marriage, a real decline sets in. All those parties, changing clothes obsessive-compulsively, etc.

But she really landed on her feet with her third husband. Such a mysterious person! I imagine her after Simon's death, in her black "Ruby Gentry" hat, his employees startled as she takes quiet but firm control. It must have been a very special brand of neuroticism that allowed her to last so long.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"more than just acting, for it seemed as if part of her self was on screen"

That's the very definition of a star.

TS said...

That's it! The book you need to write. In three words, "Actors: The Guide." Is there anyone who writes appreciations of actors big and small, their charms and their failures to charm, like you do? Think about it. ;-)

Yojimboen said...

From the set of Since You Went Away, this is for me one of the saddest, most poignant photographs in Tinseltown history.

I wouldn’t dare caption it.

The Siren said...

Ah Y., indeed that is a very sad picture. In many of the stills on and off set from that movie, Walker is looking at his soon-to-be-ex wife with puzzlement and longing.

David, I love your description of the train scene in Since You Went Away. It's one of those things that has been imitated so often, you forget the beauty of the original. I also agree about Vanwall's comment, and love this from V: "the more ordinary the character was meant to be, the less she shined."

Arthur, thanks for the detailed defense of Beat the Devil. I admit that the print I saw was bad, but I don't know if a clearer picture would have altered my particular take, which wasn't far off from Bogart's.

Kevin, The Towering Inferno is my favorite of the 70s disaster cycle, and Jones's death is quite sad. She seems a bit far away but her beauty was still very much present and Astaire's love seemed quite natural.

TS, only if you & your better half consent to blurb it. :D

Donna said...

Siren, what a lovely, lovely tribute.

Having recently watched the AFI Tribute to Lilian Gish, one of the standouts for me was the presence of Jennifer Jones. She looked like 10 million dollars and not merely her clothes, stunningly beautiful.

Song of Bernadette is not entirely factual in some respects and being based on Franz Werfel's novel of the same name. Some fictionalized characters, Gladys Cooper for one. I only am familiar from the time I was going through my "I think I want to be catholic" phase and read everything I could on this particular Saint. As Marilyn stated, Bernadette's life was hard. For the record, I did not convert. :-)

I rewatched Portrait of Jennie last night in tribute to Jones and was struck again at her realistic child Jennie and sultry as the adult. It was and remains a lovely performance and a film that retains its mystical magic for me to this day. So well cast and beautifully filmed and sensitively directed. Then again, I am a total sucker for Debussy.

Verification word for the day: snettes

Yojimboen said...

There was a time when the BBC would broadcast Portrait of Jennie at Xmas at least as often as Wonderful Life. I don’t know why; I doubt there was any real system of viewer polling in place at the time but they somehow knew it was an audience favourite. My own family, father, mother and various siblings – a group for whom “pass the salt” was a profound exchange – would sit down to watch it every time it played; and watch it in rapt silence. The next day at work or school, the movie was talked about in hushed reverence. It is a magic film, and if JJ had done nothing else in her career, it would still permit her entry into the Pantheon.

Yojimboen said...

It need be said, chère Madame Sirène (and pray forgive me for not adding my voice sooner) that your piece on Ms Jones is as exquisite, elegant and elegiac as the lady herself could be, and was as Jennie. Granted it’s missing the Tiomkin/Debussy score in the background (sorry, X, for once I’m not completely convinced that Herrmann could have bettered it) but it is nonetheless head and shoulders above the 20 or so obits I’ve perused in the last two days. That you seemed to produce your piece in a matter of minutes (are you sure you don’t have a basement-full of staff mini-bloggers keeping the obits up to date?) makes it all the more miraculous.

Donna said...

Siren, TCM will be showing a 4 film tribute to Jones on January 7, 2010. Striaght from the TC site:

Turner Classic Movies will present a four-film tribute to Jennifer Jones, who died yesterday at the age of 90, on Thursday, Jan. 7, beginning at 5 p.m. (PT). The four films are:

Duel in the Sun (above, 1946), a campy Western in which Jones plays a fiery "half-breed" desired by two brothers, dour Joseph Cotten and smirky Gregory Peck. Veteran King Vidor was one of the men who directed this attempt by David O. Selznick — Jones was his protegee and future wife — to achieve two goals with one single megaproduction: to create another Gone with the Wind and to transform his beloved Jennifer into a superstar. Selznick failed on both counts even though Duel in the Sun turned out to be a major blockbuster, one condemned as evil and sinful by the Catholic Church, while Jones earned her fourth consecutive Academy Award nomination. Also in the Duel in the Sun cast: Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Herbert Marshall, Walter Huston and Butterfly McQueen.

Beat the Devil (1954), a flop starring Jones, Humphrey Bogart, and Gina Lollobrigida, written by Truman Capote and directed by John Huston. Wearing a weird blond wig, Jones is at her weakest here as a pathological liar. Though poorly received upon its release, this Maltese Falcon send-up has obtained quite a cult following. Also in the cast: Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, and Robert Morley.

Madame Bovary (1949), Vincente Minnelli’s lush but dramatically unexciting version of Gustave Flaubert’s tale of a woman (Jones) who throws husband and social standing to the dogs in order to go after the man she loves. James Mason (as Flaubert), Van Heflin (as the husband) and Louis Jourdan (above, as the lover) co-star. The film’s ball sequence is justifiable famous. Also in the cast: Gene Lockhart, Gladys Cooper, and Ellen Corby.

Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954), a melodrama directed by Vittorio De Sica, who at the time was making much better films about the lives of underprivileged Italians. Jones plays a (quite privileged) married woman meeting her lover, a miscast Montgomery Clift, in a railway station. Though dramatically dead (the film was butchered upon its release), Indiscretion of an American Wife is great to look at — cinematography by Aldo Graziati aka G.R. Aldo. Also in the cast: Gino Cervi and future West Side Story star Richard Beymer.

Yojimboen said...

Duel in the Sun:
“a campy Western”

Beat the Devil:
“a flop”

Madame Bovary:
“dramatically unexciting”

Indiscretion of an American Wife:
“dramatically dead”

And TCM is calling this a tribute?

The Siren said...

Y., I had the same thought. I'm quite taken aback. Perhaps TCM just cut-and-pasted old descriptions?

Many thanks for the compliments, btw, they do my heart good. Some posts come easily, as did this one; I guess I had already thought a lot about Jones during last year's Lincoln Center tribute.

OldMayfly said...

Portrait of Jenny gave me goosebumps when I first saw it, and still does.

Charles Boyer was very good in Cluny Brown (a movie that was as entertaining as the novel) and was also excellent in Tovarich. I don't know of any other comedies he did. I wish he had done more.

The Siren said...

OldMayFly, I am a big Charles Boyer fan. Cluny Brown is his best comic turn, I agree. He is very funny in Barefoot in the Park, and in his cameo in Around the World in 80 Days. I also like him in Fanny and How to Steal a Million, in terms of his lighter roles.

Of course his best role was Madame de... but he was good on many occasions.

Josie said...

I have always thought that for such an excellent actress, Jennifer Jones's performances could be so uneven in quality.

She's so convincing in reserved, childlike, or unearthly roles like in Portrait of Jennie, Since You Went Away, Love Letters, or Love is a Many Splendored Thing. But she tends to overact in vamp roles and when she has to show anger. She was awful in Duel in the Sun and in the quarrel scene with Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

I really need to see her other movies mentioned here, especially Cluny Brown, Bernadette, and the Barretts of Wimpole Street. The only version I've seen of Barretts is the Norma Shearer one, and Shearer is just too stagey in it for my taste.

The Siren said...

Josie, I also prefer the Barretts remake. Fredric March is a much better Browning than whatshisface, but Laughton and Richardson are about even in my book (don't kill me Gloria) and yes, Shearer is way too stagey.

boywon said...

I was a very bored 11 year old boy home sick from school in Dallas when I first watched Song of Bernadette. It was being rerun on network television. I was mesmerized by Jennifer's beauty and expression. From that point forward, I was obsessed with all things Jennifer Jones. I don't think I can possibly remain objective about her body of work given my intense infatuation.

While living in LA for many years, I'd always hoped to see her, but as we know, she was an extremely private person, and it was not to be. After moving back to Dallas, I became aware that her parents spent their last years here and are entombed in a mausoleum two miles from my home. I visited it last month.

I had heard through a story written by Carrie Fisher (who was supposedly a good friend) that Jennifer gave her Oscar statue to her hairdresser and said that she didn't remember winning it. (It was given back to her family). I assumed that her time here wasn't long, but I am still reeling from the fact that she's no longer with us.

I thought her beauty in her old age was remarkable as seen on her fan website where it shows pictures of her in her 80's. It is very evident that she still possessed that inner quality that is God given and cannot be manufactured. The quality we all fell in love with while watching so many of her movies.

Flickhead said...

I first saw Portrait of Jennie in the mid 1970s playing on a double bill with Duel in the Sun at 80 St. Marks. An English teacher from my high school recognized and shared my passion for movies, so he took it upon himself to educate me. Most of the lessons took place at 80 St. Marks, which showed a lot of Warners and RKO.

He was a romantic and loved Portrait of Jennie, and I can still hear his gasp when the film turned to color. His adoration hit me: I could feel the nostalgic value of the film right then and there. I'll always regret revisiting Portrait of Jennie some twenty years later, hardened and cynical and losing my appreciation for nostalgia. It lost everything for me; the memory had been so much sweeter.

In my teens I had no idea who Jennifer Jones was. We didn't stay for Duel in the Sun that night because, he felt, one needed to savor Jennie. He was right.

Not long after, we saw Duel in the Sun -- I believe it was shortly after a July 4 1976 screening of Gone With the Wind (everyone else in Manhattan was going to see The Tall Ships in the harbor for a bicentennial gala). It was my education in Selznick. He assured me that Duel in the Sun (which my parents always referred to as "Lust in the Dust") was no Gone With the Wind even though David O. intended it to be.

All I knew was that Jennifer, her skin darkened, her character a prediction of Little Annie Fanny, was about the hottest thing I'd laid eyes on since Raquel Welch in Fathom.

Mary said...

I admired Miss Jones in that she always seemed so natural, that she was playing herself in so many roles. My favorites are PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, and GONE TO EARTH. Many of her best performances come when she's playing otherworldly, neurotic, innocent, or enthusiastic characters.

She was remarkably resilient and strong. She endured a lot of tragedy: the marriage with Walker and its aftermath, losing Selznick, seeing Mary Jennifer commit suicide two days after Mother's Day and one day after what would have been her father's birthday. MJ was much closer to her father than her mother, he lavished all the attention on her he couldn't provide to his sons Jeffrey and Danny.

The strange ironies connecting her, DOS, and Norton Simon: Irene Selznick kept an apartment in the Pierre along with the Simons it seems, and POJ is about an artist inspired and transformed by the love of a beautiful girl, something both DOS and art collector Simon seemed to have been in a way.

Hazel said...

I was nine when I saw Jennifer Jones for the first time and that was in The Towering Inferno. I was gutted when she died and I always watched out for her films from then on. My favourite role of hers was Carrie although I did love the insanity that was Duel in the Sun.

The Siren said...

Mary, what a lovely point about Portrait of Jennie.

Hazel, it's a particularly terrible death; over at Glenn's place someone reminded me of how graphic her fall is. I have an odd relationship with Duel in the Sun. On the one hand, there are parts that just plain do not work on any kind of serious level and Ruby Gentry is a better take on the same themes. On the other hand, I love King Vidor, despite Selznick's meddling I see a lot of him in it, and visually it is quite the eyeful. Plus the Tiomkin score is some kind of high-water mark, but for what I am not sure...

I also want to speak up for the Portrait of Jennie score; like Donna, I am a sucker for Debussy and I suppose I have to admit, variations on him as well.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Portrait of Jennie is also noatble for the way it turns Central Park into an enchanted wonderland compelte with a Time Warp.

I've always found the park enchanting, but for far less ethereal reasons.

Yojimboen said...

I hadn’t looked at We Were Strangers (1949) for at least 30 years, until yesterday. Somehow categorized as a ‘lesser’ Huston (mostly because it’s surrounded by Key Largo & Asphalt Jungle), it’s certainly not a ‘lesser’ Jones. Maybe it’s just me, but she is hot in this opus, with a gown by Jean-Louis and a sub-machine gun by Thompson. JJ plays a quiet spinster turned nostril-flaring, teeth-baring, gun-blazing Cubana revolutionary by her love for John Garfield’s American fifth columnist. Every Latin actor in H’Wood worked on this one: Pedro Armendáriz, Gilbert Roland, Ramon Novarro et al. The biggest question remains; how Huston got away with this nakedly anti-establishment, pro-revolutionary tract at the height of McCarthyism is anybody’s guess. (Producer Sam Spiegel was already billing himself by his pseudonym S.P. Eagle.) It’s been called the most radically leftist movie ever to come out of a major studio (Columbia); but JJ sails serenely through it – charming Cuban accent intact – and unashamedly steals it from Garfield.
To cover the last two topics, a JJ film definitely worth re-viewing.

Salty Dog said...

I was inspired by this thread to watch both "Beat the Devil" and "The Big Lebowski" today again. Didn't see much similarities, and those that were there seemed to be because both used "The Maltese Falcon" as inspiration, and both were very funny. Julianna Moore seemed more inspired by Kate Hepburn then Jennifer Jones. I enjoyed both films very much, I was glad to see them both again.

X. Trapnel said...

k.netMy kvetch about Tiomkin's use of Debussy (anything of his own would have been worse) is that it doesn't (to my ears, anyway) achieve an otherworldly sound. Clair de Lune on the piano is exquisite, orchestrated it's merely pretty (in general, Debussy's piano music, like Chopin's doesn't adapt well to orchestration; unlike Ravel who orchestrated a lot of his major piano Debussy never did.) If Tiomkin had chosen some of the scarier late Debussy (St. Sebastian music, second book of preludes ["Brouillards," in particular], chamber music--music that will disturb your sleep) he might have achieved something, but I'm sure Selznick would have intervened.

The only survival of Herrmann's score is Jenny's song "Where I come from nobody knows..."

Yojimboen said...

Speaking of bad music, pardon me while I sound a little trumpet for Joe Cotten, a vastly underrated actor. Imagine POJ without him; or Kane; Ambersons; Third Man; Shadow of a Doubt etc. I can’t.

Vanwall said...

M. Yo - And don't forget "Latitude Zero" !!!!

X. Trapnel said...

Y, Oh my yes; a whole brass section for the inestimable and irreplacable Mr. C! I treasure his "That's what you think!" in Touch of Evil. It more than makes up for "Let's go to the window."

I was chatting with Robert Kaplow (author of Me and Orson Welles; he and I once did a radio play version of 3rd Man, he Holly M to my Major C) last night and we were both enthusing over Cotten. He was also telling me about the crafting of Cotten hair for the actor who plays him in the film, which I'm very much looking forward to seeing.

Exiled in NJ said...

Searching our collection for Christmas movies, we put on Bell, Book and Candle. In a neat coincidence, the credits told us the play of same name was produced on Broadway by Irene Mayer.

Yojimboen said...

X., please convey a serious tip o’ the hat to yr pal R. Kaplow for a brilliant novel. Of the 40 or so DVD Screeners currently on my shelf (most of them still in their shrink-warp and destined to remain so; ethics, schmethics, do I really have to watch the Jim Carrey movie to know I won't vote for it?), Me and Orson Welles is the only film I’ve screened twice. I’d put it in my top five films of the year, not least because of the lovely original story, but mostly because of Christian McKay’s scarily (and I mean scarily) accurate portrayal of Welles.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, will gladly convey yr hat tip. Robert is a local boy (Metuchen, NJ, 10 minutes from the teeming megalopolis of Highland Park, where the muse of obscurity grants me her favors) who made good. The story of how the book got picked up for filming is astonishing (no agents, no nuthin); just word of mouth. Christian McKay Couldn't believe he had the part even as the cameras began to roll.

Yojimboen said...

All right, it’s been a year since I last plugged my favourite Xmas movie, We’re No Angels - link here for a trip down Sirene’s memory lane, and search “we’re”.
Dec 16th last was a particularly lovely thread (there’s also an interesting discussion of another movie, Lola something…).
Listen, I’m not going to stop pushing We’re No Angels until everybody here has seen it, okay? (Dear me, a year? I really should get a life, shouldn’t I?)

Meanwhile, a Happy Holiday to all our readers!

The Siren said...

Y., I did see it! and want to write about it but so swamped I am not sure I will get the chance. It was really charming, particularly Aldo Ray, which surprised me.

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

Well Thomson is hung up on Nicole Kidman. What he says reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Eyes Wide Shut.

Not that he's alone in this.

Aldo Ray had a marvelous working-class charm, comparable to a great many French actors of the 30's. Mr. Cukor recogized this immediately and put it to great use, particularly in The Marry Kind. Alas his career didn't pan out (to put it mildly) and he spent his last days living in an empty room above a novelty store on Hollywood blvd.

Flickhead said...

"...a fundamental misunderstanding of Eyes Wide Shut.

Not that he's alone in this."


To not flaunt my stupidity, I deleted the offending remark.

Adios.

Donna said...

In case there is not holiday themed posting, just wanted to stop by to wish the siren and everyone who posts here a happy holiday. I love the siren's blog and I learn so much from the commentary.

Happy Happy and Merry Merry to all!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Latest FaBlog: Have Yourself A Merry Little Mithras (Contains tribute to Christmas Holiday)

Yojimboen said...

Not really on topic, but what the hey – it just ain’t Christmas until this lady says so!

Arthur S. said...

Happy Christmas to one and all...

My latest post is up to, where I talk about my favourite underrated Christmas film,
http://thispigsalley.blogspot.com/2009/12/people-dont-always-like-to-admit-this.html

Missing from all the fine contributions herein,
http://www.thelmagazine.com/gyrobase/the-discerning-persons-guide-to-underrated-christmas-movies/Content?oid=1467924&showFullText=true

Including one by our own self-styled siren.

CineMaven said...

Good Day...I'm a little late to the party, but I do want to express my broken-heartedness at the news of the passing of the great JENNIFER JONES. My favorite film is "LOVE LETTERS." She shatters and destroys my heart in this movie with her vulnerability and guileness. Her vulnerability is palpable to me.

I often post on the TCM Message Board, and posted this entry way back on Sept. 16, 2009 (6:14pm) about the movie "LOVE LETTERS" where we had a lovely discussion about it:

http://forums.tcm.com/jive/tcm/thread.jspa?threadID=130411&start=315&tstart=0

You could also go to YouTube and check Ms. Jones out in this scene from "LOVE LETTERS."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQBjqJPztuw&NR=1

And her beauty...that smile, those applecheeks, the sensuality...it's heartstopping (IMHO).

Flickhead, you wrote: "...I first saw Portrait of Jennie in the mid 1970s playing on a double bill with Duel in the Sun at 80 St. Marks. An English teacher from my high school recognized and shared my passion for movies, so he took it upon himself to educate me. Most of the lessons took place at 80 St. Marks, which showed a lot of Warners and RKO."

You must be a native Noo Yawka like I am. I remember the Thalia, the Symphony and the Carnegie Hall Cinema as revival houses back in the 70's. You took me back mentioning Theatre 80 St. Marks.

TCM did a wonderful tribute to Jennifer Jones in their TCM REMEMBERS short. And as I watched it, tears welled in my eyes for her. As many have mentioned, "The Portrait of Jennie" "Duel in the Sun" "...Bernadette" and "The Towering INferno" are among my favorites. But I also love her as a plain ol' American wife in "The Man With the Grey Flannel Suit." But it's "LOVE LETTERS" that destroys me. Can you deny her trying to retrieve those letters from the fire?

Thank you for allowing me to post my sudsy, sentimental, soggy, love-sick feelings for Jennifer Jones. Oh yes, there was Davis and Crawford and Stanwyck and DeHavilland...

But even those grande dames didn't have what Jennifer Jones had. An ethereal loveliness that touches and breaks your heart.

She did mine.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Love Letters almost makes up for Atlas Shrugged

but not quite.

CineMaven said...

Ha!!!!

MovieMan0283 said...

Just wanted to let you know I'm soliciting submissions for best of the blogosphere, according to the authors of said best. I did this last year by picking my own favorites but this year laziness and the democratic impulse, in hopefully equal proportions, led me to solicit submissions from the bloggers themselves.

Here's the relevant post:
http://thesunsnotyellow.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-of-blogosphere.html
Feel free to respond there or here, whichever suits. Personally, I was quite fond of the Molly Haskell piece, but let me know what your own favorite is, if you can choose of course.

Still looking forward to TCM this month, though my DVR is nowhere near ready; hopefully I can clear some space before the Russians arrive...

Rhapsody in Blue said...

This is a really great overview of Jennifer Jones' life in film. You've really captured in words Jones' onscreen appeal. I agree that her best performance was in Portrait of Jennie because as you said she excelled as characters with an air of mystery.

I agree that Jennifer Jones' career as an element of 'what if'. Maybe if O'Selznick hadn't had such a command on her career, we could have seen more versatility in her acting. Still as you mentioned there are some real gems in her filmography.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I really enjoyed your tribute to Jennifer Jones. I adore her but after so many noteworthy deaths last year I had no desire to mention her passing over at my own blog. I guess I was suffering from celebrity death fatigue.

I also thought it would be a good time to mention that I'm looking forward to the Shadows of Russia film event on TCM this month. I hope to see you during my viewing! I don't know how many films I'll be able to see but I don't want to miss The Way We Were since it happens to be one of my favorite romantic films and I adore young Streisand (yes, I'm a proud Streisand fan!).

It seems like a very silly but I'm participating in some kind of meme/award thing making the blog rounds and just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you as well as the upcoming Film Preservation blogathon: http://cinebeats.blogsome.com/2010/01/10/blogger-awards-2/

Phillip said...

This is a wonderful tribute to Jennifer Jones and I'd like to add the link to my Jennifer Jones website. I have been a fan of her since I saw her photo in a movie star encyclopedia after seeing one of her films on late night television. I still regret not being able to attend the Lincoln Center tribute but I hope to go to Pasadena in October for the Norton Simon retrospective. It is also great to discover your blog.

The Siren said...

Phillip, thanks so much for dropping by and thank you for the kind words about this post. It was sad writing, because I am always sad seeing a fine actress pass on, but it is always good to reacquainted with great work. I don't see your Jones site linked; please leave me the link and I'll add it to the "library" section of the sidebar.

I'm also personally delighted to see that you're apparently in Florence, Alabama, where my father's family has lived for generations and which I visited during many summers when I was growing up in Alabama.

Phillip said...

What a coincidence - yes, I do live in Florence, Alabama! My site URL is http://home.hiwaay.net/~oliver/jones.html

I appreciate the link!

brookesboy said...

Of all the many actresses who have graced the screen, Jennifer Jones was the truest of the true movie stars. I saw her in The Towering Inferno when I was 11, and have never been the same since. I had never seen her before, didn't know who she was. But her presence entranced me. Her shocking death scene still haunts me. It was the first time at the movies that I felt my heart shatter.

Ciana Bone' said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
monescu said...

Long delayed dissenting opinion... Jennifer Jones performance is probably the one thing I don't care for in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. Not her fault, probably-- to convincingly portray a character who ages from 12 to 21 you should ideally cast someone in between those two numbers, and Jones was almost thirty at the time. I don't thin she pulls off the little girl at all.

That said, I think she is perfectly cast and perfect in CLUNY BROWN (one of Lubitsch's greatest and most underrated films). One might hold her inconsistent British accent against her, but I don't really consider it a problem.