Jennifer Jones (1919-2009)

Agnes Moorehead
Jennifer Jones
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Jennifer Jones was an American actress who appeared in over twenty films during and after WWII, many of them in a starring role. She was nominated five times for the Best Actress Academy Award, winning once for her 1943 performance in 'The Song of Bernadette'. She was married to the producer, David Selznick who shaped and guided her movie career.


Jennifer Jones was born Phylis Lee Isley on March 2, 1919, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was an only child and her parents ran the Isley Stock Company, a theatrical show which toured the west and south of the country. Phylis toured with them and her first stage role was at the age of five in Dallas, Texas.

After attending Monte Cassino girls' school and then junior college in Tulsa she studied for a year at the Northwestern University in Illinois, but she already had theatrical ambitions and she transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1938 where she met and fell in love with fellow acting student, Robert Walker. Later that year she and Walker quit the academy in favor of getting acting work in order to save money to get married. They were able to obtain some small roles at a theater in Greenwich Village and then found radio work together in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They got married in January, 1939, and went to Hollywood for their honeymoon and also to find acting work.

Hollywood 1939

Still using her birth name, Phylis Isley, she appeared in small roles in two movies in 1939, 'New Frontier' and 'Dick Tracy's G-Men' before she and Robert returned to New York to start a family.

After having two sons in 1940 and 1941, Phylis worked part-time for an agency as a jewellery and glove model whilst her husband was able to find work in radio programs. She continued to look for acting work and in 1942 she attended a reading for the forthcoming play 'Claudia', at the New York office of independent producer, David O. Selznick. She impressed Selznick and was given a seven year contract. The course of her life was about to change forever.

David O. Selznick 1943

Selznick could see a star quality in Phylis and he began to groom her and to shape her life. He changed her name to the alliterative and easily remembered Jennifer Jones, and he and the actress, seventeen years his junior, began an affair. She separated from Robert Walker in late 1943. Initially her link to Selznick helped her husband's career when he was given a debut role in 1943 as a young sailor in 'Bataan', but when he and Jennifer separated due to her affair with Selznick, Walker began to drink heavily and ultimately died through alcohol and drug abuse in 1951 at the age of 32.

Hollywood Star

Jennifer's first movie under her new contract was in the starring role of Bernadette Soubirous in 'The Song of Bernadette' in 1943. The movie was a huge success. Jennifer won the Academy Award for Best Actress and was instantly transformed into a major Hollywood star. She gave another memorable performance in 'Since You Went Away' in 1944 and again received Oscar nominations as Best Actress for her performances in 'Love Letters' in 1945', and 'Duel in the Sun' in 1946. She continued as one of Hollywood's top actresses for the next ten years with acclaimed performances in such films as 'Cluny Brown' in 1946, 'Portrait of Jennie' in 1948, 'Madame Bovary' in 1949, 'Ruby Gentry' and 'Carrie' in 1952 and 'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit' in 1956. She received her fifth and final Best Actress Oscar nomination for 'Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing' in 1955.

The remainder of Jennifer's movie career was something of an anti-climax. She was not a natural self-publicist and preferred to keep her life private when off the screen. In fact, in 1947, she was named "the year's most uncooperative actress" by the Women's Press Association.

She appeared in some disappointing failures such as 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street' and 'A Farewell to Arms' in 1956 and 'Tender Is the Night' in 1962 and the decline in her popularity accelerated when her mentor and husband, Selznick, died, in 1965.

. After his death she made two very disappointing films 'The Idol' in 1966 and the low-budget 'Angel, Angel, Down We Go' in 1969 and then gave a well received supporting performance in 'The Towering Inferno' in 1974, after which she retired.


Jennifer married three times. She married Robert Walker in 1939 and separated from him in 1943. The couple had two sons, Michael and Robert, both of whom became actors. Michael pre-deceased his mother when he died in 2007 due to cardiac arrest, following the ingestion of propofol, the same drug which was to kill Michael Jackson two years later.

After a five-year affair, Jennifer finally married David O. Selznick in 1949. They had a daughter, Mary Jennifer Selznick in 1954. She proved to be an emotionally disturbed child who eventually committed suicide by jumping from a skyscraper window in Los Angeles in 1976.

Her third husband was Norton Simon, a multimillionaire businessman and art collector, whom she married in 1971 after a courtship of three weeks. Simon owned the Norton Simon Museum which housed one of the country’s greatest private art collections. When Simon became too ill to administer his collection, Jennifer successfully took over from him. Simon died in 1993.

There is little doubt that Jennifer Jones was emotionally malleable, which enabled David Selznick to exert control over her career. In 1967, two years after Selznick's death, Jennifer was found unconscious on the beach at Malibu after taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

After the suicide of her daughter in 1976, Jennifer founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation For Mental Health And Education.

Jennifer lived the last part of her life quietly with her son, Robert and his family, in Malibu, California. She died on December 17, 2009, aged 90 years

Jennifer Jones Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actress ... The Song of Bernadette (1943)
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actress ... Since You Went Away (1944)
Best Actress ... Love Letters (1945)
Best Actress ... Duel in the Sun (1946)
Best Actress ... Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)


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Jennifer Jones Filmography

New Frontier
Dick Tracy's G-Men (as Phyllis Isley)
The Song of Bernadette
Since You Went Away
The Fighting Generation (Short)
Love Letters
Cluny Brown
Duel in the Sun
Portrait of Jennie
We Were Strangers
Madame Bovary
Gone to Earth
The Wild Heart
Ruby Gentry
Beat the Devil