Demure British beauty Jean Simmons was born January 31, 1929 in Crouch End, London. As a 14-year-old dance student, she was plucked from her school to play Margaret Lockwood’s precocious sister in Give Us the Moon (1944), and she went on to make a name for herself in such major British productions as Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Great Expectations (1946) (as the spoiled, selfish Estella), Black Narcissus (1947) (as a sultry native beauty), Hamlet (1948) (playing Ophelia to Laurence Olivier’s great Dane and earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination), The Blue Lagoon (1949) and So Long at the Fair (1950), among others.
In 1950, she married actor Stewart Granger, and that same year, starred in the Frank Sinatra/Marlon Brando musical Guys and Dolls (1955); she used her own singing voice and earned her first Golden Globe Award. Simmons divorced Granger in 1960 and almost immediately married writer-director Richard Brooks, who cast her as Sister Sharon opposite Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry (1960), a memorable adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel. That same year, she co-starred with Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) and played a would-be homewrecker opposite Cary Grant in The Grass Is Greener (1960).
Off the screen for a few years, Jean captivated moviegoers with a brilliant performance as the mother in All the Way Home (1963), a literate, tasteful adaptation of James Agee’s “A Death in the Family”. However, after that, she found quality projects somewhat harder to come by, and took work in Life at the Top (1965), Mister Buddwing (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), Rough Night in Jericho (1967), The Happy Ending (1969) (a Richard Brooks film for which she was again Oscar-nominated, this time as Best Actress).
Jean continued making films well into the 1970s. In the 1980s, she appeared mainly in television miniseries, such as North and South, Book I (1985) and The Thorn Birds (1983). She made a comeback to films in 1995 in How to Make an American Quilt (1995) co-starring Winona Ryder and Anne Bancroft, and most recently played the elderly Sophie in the English version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). She now resided in Santa Monica, California, with her dog, Mr. Gates, and her two cats, Adisson and Megan. Jean Simmons died of lung cancer on January 22, 2010, nine days before her 81st birthday.
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