Birthday: March 2, 1919
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Phylis Lee Isley
Born in: Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: David O. Selznick (m. 1949–65; his death), Norton Simon, Robert Walker (m. 1939–45; divorced)
father: Phillip Ross Isley
mother: Flora Mae
children: Jr. (born 1940), Mary Jennifer Selznick (1954–1976), Michael Walker (1941–2007), Robert Walker
Died on: December 17, 2009
place of death: Malibu, California, U.S.
U.S. State: Oklahoma
City: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Jennifer Jones was an American actress, who dominated the silver screen during the Hollywood golden years. Having starred in more than 20 films in a career spanning three decades, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in ‘The Song of Bernadette’ and was nominated for her performances in four other films. She was exposed to the show business at a young age as her parents owned and operated a traveling tent show. After attending Northwestern University in Illinois, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, she proceeded to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She began her career in a 13-week radio program and soon ventured into Hollywood. A meeting with the producer David O. Selznick who recognized the potential the young woman possessed set the foundation for her future career. Selznick took her under his wing and groomed her into one of the most successful actresses of her era. Their professional collaboration turned into a personal one and duo entered into a romantic relationship despite both of them already being married. Eventually both Jones and Selznick divorced their respective spouses and wed each other. Later in her life, she founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education in the memory of her daughter who had committed suicide.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Phylis Lee Isley on March 2, 1919, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Flora Mae (née Suber) and Phillip Ross Isley as their only child. Her parents owned and starred in the Isley Stock Company, a tent-show theatrical troupe that toured the rural Midwest. Thus she was exposed to show business at an early age.
She attended Monte Cassino, a girls' school, before proceeding to the Northwestern University in Illinois, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Then she moved to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1938.
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Married in 1939, Isley began her career with a 13-week radio program, arranged by her father. Soon she ventured into Hollywood and found small roles in movies. In the early 1940s, she auditioned for the lead role in the hit play ‘Claudia’ which producer David O. Selznick was making into a movie. She did not get the role but Selznick recognized her potential and started grooming her for her future career.
Selznick gave her the name Jennifer Jones and helped her sign a seven-year contract. She appeared as Bernadette Soubirous in the 1943 drama film ‘The Song of Bernadette’ which was a great success both critically and financially. Jones’ performance was much lauded and she won an Academy Award.
As an ambitious but emotionally vulnerable woman, she let Selznick control her career and choose the roles she played. Throughout the 1940s she acted in versatile roles that Selznick chose for her. In 1946, she appeared in ‘Duel in the Sun’ as a bi-racial woman who becomes involved in prejudice and forbidden love.
She appeared in several other films like ‘Cluny Brown’ (1946), ‘Portrait of Jennie’ (1948), ‘Madame Bovary’ (1949), and ‘We Were Strangers’ (1949) in the late 1940s. She began the 1950s on a positive note, starring in ‘Carrie’ (1952), a film version of Theodore Dreiser’s novel ‘Sister Carrie’ co-starring Laurence Olivier.
Her career flourished throughout the 1950s, and her 1955 romantic drama film ‘Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing’ was especially successful. She played a Eurasian doctor Han Suyin who falls in love with a married-but-separated American correspondent. Her performance earned her a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress.
She followed up with much appreciated performances in ‘Good Morning, Miss Dove’ (1955), ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956), and ‘A Farewell to Arms. (1957). Her acting career almost ended in the 1960s following the death of her husband David O. Selznick in 1965.
She made her last big-screen appearance in the disaster film ‘The Towering Inferno’ (1974). Her portrayal of Lisolette Mueller in the multi-starrer film earned her the Golden Globe Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.
Jennifer Jones played the saintly Bernadette Soubirous in the movie ‘The Song of Bernadette’ which became one of her best known roles. Her wholesome, innocent image as a pious young girl in the film captured the audience’s hearts and impressed the film critics as well.
She portrayed a flirtatious bi-racial young woman Pearl Chavez in the film ‘Duel in the Sun.’ The movie though highly controversial due to its sexual content was a box-office hit and earned Jones a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Awards & Achievements
In 1944, Jennifer Jones won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bernadette Soubirous in the movie ‘The Song of Bernadette.’ She also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama for the same role.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jennifer Jones was thrice married. Her first marriage was to actor Robert Walker in 1939. The couple had two sons, both of whom went on to become actors. She developed an affair with film producer David O. Selznick while still married to Walker. The marriage ended in 1945.
She married Selznick in 1949 and had one daughter. The couple remained married until Selznick’s death in 1965. Their daughter committed suicide in 1976.
Her third marriage was to multi-millionaire industrialist, art collector and philanthropist Norton Simon in 1971. Simon died in 1993.
She lived a long life and died of natural causes on December 17, 2009, at the age of 90.