When most people hear the name Jean Simmons, they immediately think of the “Kiss” guy (his name is spelled GENE), but some of us think of a delicate, beautiful British-born actress, a two-time Oscar nominee and Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner, whose career spanned six decades and who left a body of work that should have guaranteed her lasting fame but is largely unknown today. At Chelsea Pines Inn, where “there are more stars than there are in heaven,” Jean Simmons’ star continues to shine as brilliantly as it did during the height of her fame in the 1950s and 60s.
While some of her films are considered classics, it is generally the performances of their male stars that are remembered: Burt Lancaster in ELMER GANTRY (he deservedly won the Oscar, while Ms. Simmons’ equally unforgettable portrayal of Sister Sharon Falconer was not even nominated); Olivier’s HAMLET (she was nominated at the age of 19 as Ophelia, but Olivier won two Oscars as star and producer); Sinatra and Brando in GUYS AND DOLLS (their egos and acting styles got all the press, but it was Jean who stole the picture and got a Golden Globe as well).
But watch the aching beauty of her performances in such dramas as ALL THE WAY HOME and HOME BEFORE DARK (both sadly unavailable on home video) or in the tv miniseries THE THORN BIRDS; she could command the screen with her stillness and her small gestures and quietly break your heart. And when given the chance, all too seldom, she could cut loose as a terrfic comedienne, as she does as the daffy best friend in the little-known Cary Grant gem, THE GRASS IS GREENER, or in the delighftul THE ACTRESS, where she portrays the young Ruth Gordon as a fledgeling actress. Even the disappointing THE HAPPY ENDING, where she is front and center as an alcoholic wife going through a divorce, seems a whole lot better than it is thanks to her portrayal. And some of us were lucky enough to see her shine on stage, in the national touring company and London edition of the brilliant Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical classic, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
In short, she could do it all, and perhaps because of that, she never quite got her due as one of the screen’s great actresses. There are many great stars who were so good in so many different types of movies (Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy, Doris Day) that the Oscar eluded them throughout their working careers. Sadly, Jean Simmons now joins that illustrious group, but happily for all of us, a number of her great performances can be seen and enjoyed on home video, and Chelsea Pines will always proudly feature the Jean Simmons room.