Phylis Isley in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2 March 1919.
Attended Monte Cassino Junior College, Tulsa; Northwestern University,
Evanston, Illinois, one year; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York,
Married 1) the actor Robert Walker, 1939 (divorced 1945), sons: Robert
and Michael; 2) the producer David Selznick, 1949 (died 1965), daughter:
Mary (deceased); 3) Norton Simon, 1971.
Acted in some of her parents' touring productions; some roles in
New York with Cherry Lane Troupe; 1938—radio actress, Tulsa,
followed by a couple of bit parts in films; 1941—contract with
David Selznick was followed by stage work in John Houseman's
Hello Out There
, and by study at Group Theatre with Sanford Meisner; 1943—starring
role in Selznick's
The Song of Bernadette
; 1966—played title role in
The Country Girl
Best Actress, Academy Award, for
The Song of Bernadette
P.O. Box 367, Malibu, CA 90265, U.S.A.
New Frontier ( Frontier Horizon ) (Sherman) (as Celia Braddock, billed as Phylis Isley); Dick Tracy's G-Men (Witney and English) (as Gwen Andrews)
The Song of Bernadette (Henry King) (title role)
Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (as Jane Hilton)
Love Letters (Dieterle) (as Singleton/Victoria Remington)
The American Creed (Robert Stevenson—short); Cluny Brown (Lubitsch) (title role); Duel in the Sun (King Vidor) (as Pearl Chavez)
Portrait of Jennie ( Jennie ) (Dieterle) (title role)
We Were Strangers (Huston) (as China Valdez); Madame Bovary (Minnelli) (title role)
Gone to Earth (Powell) (as Hazel Woodus); The Wild Heart (Powell and Pressburger—revised version of Gone to Earth , shortened)
Carrie (Wyler) (title role); Ruby Gentry (King Vidor) (title role)
Beat the Devil (Huston) (as Gwendolyn Chelm); Stazione termini ( Indiscretion of an American Wife ; Terminal Station ; Indiscretion ) (de Sica) (as Mary Forbes)
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (Henry King) (as Han Suyin); Good Morning, Miss Dove (Koster) (title role)
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Johnson) (as Betsy Rath)
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Charles Vidor) (as Elizabeth Barrett); A Farewell to Arms (Charles Vidor) (as Catherine Barkley)
Tender Is the Night (Henry King) (as Nicole Diver)
The Idol (Petrie) (as Carol)
Angel, Angel, Down We Go ( Cult of the Damned ) (Thom) (as Astrid)
The Towering Inferno (Guillerman) (as Lisolette Mueller)
She Came to the Valley (Band) (as Srita)
Huston, John, An Open Book , New York, 1972.
Memo from David O. Selznick , edited by Rudy Behlmer, New York, 1972.
Bowers, Ronald, The Selznick Players , New York, 1976.
Linet, Beverly, Star-Crossed: The Story of Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones , New York, 1986.
Carrier, Jeffrey L., Jennifer Jones: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1990.
Epstein, Edward Z., Portrait of Jennifer: A Biography of Jennifer Jones , New York, 1995.
Current Biography 1944 , New York, 1944.
Hume, R., "She Saw the Vision and Became the Star," in Films and Filming (London), June 1956.
Doyle, N., "Jennifer Jones," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1962.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 28 April 1983.
Hamel, Raymond, "Portrait of Jennifer," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), February 1993.
* * *
Jennifer Jones remains one of the more controversial actresses in the Hollywood cinema. In general, her professional and personal involvement with David O. Selznick has been given a prominence that has colored assessments of Jones's distinctive contribution to 1940s cinema. Interestingly, the central issue is not that Jones lacked talent or screen presence. The longstanding criticism is that Selznick, because of his commitment to Jones, had no critical distance and, with King Vidor's Duel in the Sun , tried to fashion an erotic identity for her, making Jones into a ridiculous creation. Previously, Jones's screen persona was as an innocent child/woman, an image established by her first starring role in Henry King's The Song of Bernadette . She had also given an intense and emotionally charged performance as a girl making the transition from youth to maturity in John Cromwell's Since You Went Away .
As the sensual half-breed Pearl in Duel in the Sun , Jones succeeds in giving an audaciously conceived performance employing a degree of physical gesture having more in common with silent-screen acting technique than with the naturalistic behavioral mannerisms associated with the sound cinema. In addition, while Jones's physical presence is intended to be provocative, she does not allow her physicality to undermine the complex psychological dimensions of the character. Duel in the Sun is thus a remarkable achievement but, like Jones's performance, it has often been misinterpreted as degrading to female sexuality. Though conceived on a lesser scale, Vidor's Ruby Gentry is equally successful in dealing with the same themes, and again Jones's sensuality is central to the expression of those concerns.
From the beginning, Jones's screen persona was imbued with a degree of hysteria, and in Vincente Minnelli's underrated Madame Bovary this characteristic erupts with particular impact. Minnelli, a director very sensitive to the various aspects of Jones's sensibility, including her romantic indulgence, encourages her to give a subtle performance without relinquishing the extravagant conception the character has of her identity. These same elements might have been as fully articulated in the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger version of The Wild Heart , but unfortunately Selznick's reworking of their footage does not present a rounded characterization.
Whether Jones would have ascended to the Hollywood Pantheon without her Svengali is less intriguing than revelations in the recent book Portrait of Jennifer that she regretted the pact she made with David O. Selznick, recast in this biography as a lumbering Lucifer. No matter what coloration one paints the envied Selznick-Jones collaboration with, her status as melodramatic princess of the forties is indisputable. If adjectives such as "ethereal" and "luminous" became excess baggage with the passage of time, these qualities were responsible for Jones's realizing the evocative fantasy of Portrait of Jennie , the fortunes fools romance of Love Letters , and the valentine to homefront frustration, Since You Went Away , projects in which this actress's breathtaking vulnerability aroused the audience's protectiveness. If Selznick overproduced Portrait of Jennie , he stayed out of William Wyler's way long enough for Jones to hold her own against Olivier with her superb characterization of an unwittingly destructive demimonde in the underappreciated Carrie .
Ultimately, Selznick's make-or-break desire to out-Thalberg Thalberg with his very own Norma Shearer plaything named Jennifer proved fatal to both their careers. Surviving the Hollywood-in-flux fifties due to the unexpected box-office bonanza of a two different-worlds weepie, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing , Jones invested Good Morning, Miss Dove with appropriate starchy decorum and erased memories of kindred spirit Shearer in a four-hanky revisit with The Barretts of Wimpole Street . It was Selznick's overblown, unnecessary revamp of A Farewell to Arms that proved a farewell to his moguldom and Jones's major stardom. Deftly imbricating the complexities in Jones's persona with F. Scott Fitzgerald's themes, the flawed Tender Is the Night is the last film to resurrect Jones's patented fragility to good effect. Afterwards, the neurotic mannerisms consume her performances in the unworthy The Idol and the downright cheesy Angel, Angel Down We Go . Having purchased the rights to the novel, Terms of Endearment , Jones was cheated out of the plum role of Aurora by the director she had handpicked to helm her comeback. Perhaps, such ignominious treatment proved that cutthroat Hollywood had not changed much since her heyday. Offscreen, she has found philanthropist Norton Simon to protect her, but her radiance has been sorely missed on the big screen for many years.
—Richard Lippe, updated by Robert Pardi