Saturday, 23 January 2010

Jean Simmons

One of the longest screen careers came to an end yesterday. Jean Simmons started work at the age of 14 in 1943 and had her final credit in last year's "Shadows in the Sun". Along the way, she survived being sold, without her knowledge or say-so, by the Rank Corporation to Howard Hughes' RKO, whereupon "her career went down the toilet", according to her then husband, Stewart Granger. It would not happen even to second-division footballers today.

It is a sign of her determination that she rescued the career to star in "Guys and Dolls" and "Spartacus", as well as featuring in many other films. (Other British actors did not recover from initial disappointment in America; David Farrar and Diana Dors come to mind.) Then she managed the transition from big-screen popularity to more mundane work on TV (though with an alcoholic episode on the way). But even if she had never gone to Hollywood, the work she had done in Britain would have established her reputation. This lunch-time's BBC radio obituary picked out her Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, Estella in "Great Expectations" (she later went on to play Miss Havisham for US TV) and Kanchi in "Black Narcissus". I would add "So Long at the Fair", but there were many other assured performances. One I treasure is a very early one, when, for a joyous few minutes she took over the war-time drama "The Way to the Stars" by skipping on to a bandstand to sing "Let him go, let him tarry".

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