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Monday, October 09, 2006



Jennifer Jones --- Part Two


With Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick now separated from respective mates, they could proceed with collaborations that would confirm Jennifer’s status as the screen’s finest actress. That Selznick elected to do so with Duel In The Sun reflects contradictory impulses that ruled him. It was anyone’s guess as to why he would set out to produce the world’s most expensive smutty western, but reason and restraint were strangers to DOS, Duel In The Sun a lightning rod for censors to surpass even The Outlaw and Forever Amber. Critics and clergy felt betrayed by the actress who had once been their Saint Bernadette, and reviews were withering. All this was tempered by huge grosses, but so much money had gone into Duel In The Sun that getting it back would take massive infusions of marketing cash. Jennifer’s performance went unrecognized by mainstream reviews at the time, whereas in fact, she was of time that was 1947, one of the boldest and most uninhibited turns to come from any actress of the period. Selznick meanwhile dithered at other projects, several started, then stopped. A Little Women with Jennifer died on the vine, but not before much money was spent amidst months of pre-production and several weeks shooting. Portrait Of Jennie, on the other hand, had to be finished, despite everyone’s conviction that it wasn’t working. Banks were tired of seeing cash advances go down Selznick rat holes. Jennie was another venture that might better have been abandoned. Not for all tastes at the least, it was also wildly expensive, so couldn’t hope to get back the negative cost. Ordeal of shooting, and re-shooting, was nearly the death of its leading lady. Reports suggested she tried to jump out a hotel window at one point to escape it all.


Selznick was still a comparatively young man in 1950 (48), but he’d been in the business since silents, having started out 
as a teenager with his father. Selznick felt outmoded and said as much. It was a business he no longer pretended to understand. Selznick did appreciate the impact of foreign films, and supported them by way of production support for The Third Man, which became an unexpected mainstream hit. His idea was to merge the realism of art pictures with his own Hollywood know-how to create something new in American movies. A collaboration with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger resulted in Gone To Earth, another of their Technicolor-ed experiments quite unlike anything being done in 1950. Jennifer Jones assured the boxoffice, but Selznick lost his nerve at the eleventh hour and hacked down the completed feature for stateside release. Portions were re-shot, much of Powell’s footage jettisoned, and a new title imposed (The Wild Heart). Still deemed unreleasable, there was but scant US distribution. Selznick was undaunted in his quest for a perfect filmmaking marriage between the shores. He financed a neo-realist drama to feature Jennifer under the direction of Vittorio DeSica, one of Italy’s most honored names. White-hot leading man Montgomery Clift would co-star. Again Selznick panicked and Terminal Station was mutilated in post-production. The domestic title, Indiscretion Of An American Wife, emerged with barely enough footage to qualify as a feature. Its utter failure to recoup ($607,000 in domestic rentals) convinced Selznick to give up his European experiment. Having served as lure for these risky ventures, Jennifer sought the refuge of a three-picture deal with 20th Fox in the mid-fifties. Her biggest money show of the decade, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, would emerge from this group. Gone To Earth and Terminal Station were exhumed and restored for Blu-Ray in the twenty-first century, both recognized for the excellent films they always were, before Selznick’s tampering compromised them.








Jennifer Jones might have had a bigger career without Selznick’s interference, but not necessarily a better one. Carrie for director William Wyler was accomplished work, but depressing as to subject matter (one million in domestic rentals against a negative cost of $2.1). Ruby Gentry was a steamy hit, but Beat The Devil failed. Directors knew they would be bombarded with Selznick memos should they work with her, and this may have cost the actress jobs. All the while, her husband sought re-entry into active production. A Farewell To Arms in 1957 brought him back, only this time it was Fox’s money, and their control, not Selznick’s. The resulting disaster was galling, Fox taking what little profit ($365,000) there was, Selznick left with nothing. Jennifer had been miscast with Rock Hudson. Her age was an issue now, the part calling for a younger actress, critics satisfied she was there because of her husband’s participation. There was but one more for Jennifer Jones (Tender Is The Night, with losses of four million) before Selznick’s death in 1965.





We can but wonder what possessed her to do The Idol and Angel, Angel, Down We Go; neither played many dates, minimizing embarrassment to some extent. There was another marriage, this time to wealthy Norton Simon, whose obsessive art collecting must surely have evoked Selznick memories for Jones. She was unstrung much of the time, and there were suicide attempts. It was thought good therapy for her to make another movie, but what an ordeal The Towering Inferno was, the actress (or her double) dangling off collapsed stairwells and pitching backwards out of scenic elevators. It was in some ways the old Hollywood reborn, what with a veteran cast in addition to Jones. The all-star cast even locked arms for a walking toward the camera publicity shot as was done back in days of Libeled Lady 
and Boom 
Town. Unlike her last two, people actually went to see Jennifer Jones in The Towering Inferno, and she got flattering notices. Maybe it was time to get back in the game. Jones bought Terms Of Endearment as a vehicle for herself, but was persuaded to cede the leading role to a younger actress (Shirley MacLaine). Norton Simon built an art museum in Pasadena and Jennifer sometimes conducted tours. Otherwise, she couldn’t be bothered about her old movies. The Bernadette Oscar was blithely handed over to a hairdresser who admired it (fortunately returned later), and there were several appearances at Academy Award ceremonies, the last in 2003. A revealing interview was hoped for, but not forthcoming. Maybe there was more drama here than Jones was comfortable recalling. She died in 2009 without leaving her side of a remarkable story.


Photo Captions

Jennifer Jones with Joseph Cotten in Duel In The Sun
With Joseph Cotten in Portrait of Jennie
With Van Heflin in Madame Bovary
Jennifer in Gone To Earth
With Laurence Olivier in Carrie
Jennifer as Ruby Gentry
With Humphrey Bogart in Beat the Devil
With William Holden in Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
With Gregory Peck in The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit
Travelling with husband David O. Selznick
Jennifer in The Towering Inferno

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of Miss Jones’ films that hardly ever gets mentioned is the very popular is “Good Morning Miss Dove”. Jennifer ages 30 years in the picture and her acting is wonderful. Alas it’s based on a novel so it remains in copyright hell except for an occasional showing of FMC (Fox Movie Channel).

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She seemed to have been typecast(at first)as characters who die at the end.

5:13 PM  
Blogger convict 13 said...

Seeing Joseph Cotten, any chance of getting a blog of him in the future.

6:49 PM  

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