Jean Simmons

For the musician, see Gene Simmons.
Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons in a 1955 studio publicity shot
Born Jean Merilyn Simmons
(1929-01-31)31 January 1929
Lower Holloway, London, England, UK
Died 22 January 2010(2010-01-22) (aged 80)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Nationality British-American
Alma mater Aida Foster School of Dance
Occupation Actress, singer, dancer
Years active 1944–2009
Spouse(s) Stewart Granger (1950–60; divorced); 1 child
Richard Brooks (1960–80; divorced); 1 child
Children Tracy Granger (b.1956)
Kate Brooks (b. 1961)
Parent(s) Charles Simmons
Winifred Loveland Simmons

Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE (31 January 1929 – 22 January 2010) was an English actress.[1][2] One of J. Arthur Rank's "well-spoken young starlets", she appeared predominantly in films, beginning with those made in Great Britain during and after the Second World War, followed mainly by Hollywood films from 1950 onwards.[3]

Simmons was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Hamlet (1948), and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for Guys and Dolls (1955). Other notable film appearances included Young Bess (1953), The Robe (1953), Elmer Gantry (1960), Spartacus (1960), and the 1969 film The Happy Ending, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won an Emmy Award for the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds.

Early life and career

Simmons was born in Lower Holloway, London, to Charles Simmons, a bronze medallist in gymnastics at the 1912 Summer Olympics and his wife, Winifred (née Loveland) Simmons. Jean was the youngest of four children with siblings Lorna, Harold and Edna. She began acting at the age of 14.[4] During the Second World War, the Simmons family was evacuated to Winscombe, Somerset.[5] Her father, a physical education teacher,[6] taught briefly at Sidcot School, and some time during this period Simmons followed her eldest sister onto the village stage and sang songs such as "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow". Returning to London and just enrolled at the Aida Foster School of Dance, Simmons was spotted by the director Val Guest, who cast her in the Margaret Lockwood vehicle Give Us the Moon.[7]

Small roles in several other films followed including the high-profile Caesar and Cleopatra, produced by Gabriel Pascal. Pascal saw potential in Simmons and in 1945 he signed her to a seven-year contract. Prior to moving to Hollywood, she played the young Estella in David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946) and Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), for which she received her first Oscar nomination. She played an Indian girl in the Powell-Pressburger film Black Narcissus (1947).[8]

It was the experience of working on Great Expectations that caused her to pursue an acting career more seriously:

I thought acting was just a lark, meeting all those exciting movie stars, and getting £5 a day which was lovely because we needed the money. But I figured I'd just go off and get married and have children like my mother. It was working with David Lean that convinced me to go on.[9]

Playing Ophelia to Olivier's Hamlet made her a star while still in her teens, although she was already well known for her work in other British films, including her first starring role in the film adaptation of Uncle Silas, and Black Narcissus (both 1947). Olivier offered her the chance to work and study at the Bristol Old Vic, advising her to play anything they threw at her to get experience; she was under contract to the Rank Organisation who vetoed the idea.[10] In 1949 Simmons starred with Stewart Granger in Adam and Evelyne. In 1950 she was voted the fourth most popular star in Britain.[11] In 1951 Rank sold her contract to Howard Hughes,[12] who then owned the RKO Pictures.[13]

In 1950 she married Stewart Granger, with whom she appeared in several films, and the transition to an American career began. She made four films for Hughes, including Angel Face, directed by Otto Preminger. According to David Thomson "if she had made only one film – Angel Face – she might now be spoken of with the awe given to Louise Brooks."[14] A court case freed her from the contract with Hughes in 1952.[14]

In 1953 she starred alongside Spencer Tracy in The Actress, a film that was one of her personal favourites. Among the many films she appeared in during this period were The Robe (1953), Young Bess (1953), Désirée (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Big Country (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), (directed by her second husband, Richard Brooks), Spartacus (1960), All the Way Home (1963) and The Happy Ending (1969), for which she received her second Oscar nomination. In the opinion of film critic Philip French, Home Before Dark (1958) saw her give '"perhaps her finest performance as a housewife driven into a breakdown in Mervyn LeRoy's psychodrama".[15]

By the 1970s Simmons turned her focus to stage and television acting. She toured the United States in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, then took the show to London, and thus originated the role of Desirée Armfeldt in the West End. Performing in the show for three years, she said she never tired of Sondheim's music; "No matter how tired or off you felt, the music would just pick you up."[16]

She portrayed Fiona "Fee" Cleary, the Cleary family matriarch, in the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds; she won an Emmy Award for her role. In 1985-86 she appeared in North and South, again playing the role of the family matriarch as Clarissa Main. In 1988 she starred in The Dawning with Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant, and in 1989 she appeared in a remake of Great Expectations, in which she played the role of Miss Havisham, Estella's adoptive mother.[8]

She made a late career appearance in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead" (1991) as a retired Starfleet admiral and hardened legal investigator who conducts a witch-hunt. In 1991 she appeared in the short-lived revival of the 1960s daytime series Dark Shadows, in roles originally played by Joan Bennett. From 1994 until 1998 Simmons narrated the A&E documentary television series, Mysteries of the Bible. In 2004 Simmons voiced the lead role of Sophie in the English dub of Howl's Moving Castle.[8]

Personal life

Simmons was married and divorced twice. She married Stewart Granger in Tucson, Arizona, on 20 December 1950.[17] In 1956 she and Granger became U.S. citizens;[18] they divorced in 1960.[19]

On 1 November 1960, she married director Richard Brooks;[20] they divorced in 1980.[21] Although both men were significantly older than Simmons, she denied she was looking for a father figure. Her father had died when she was just 16 but she said: "They were really nothing like my father at all. My father was a gentle, softly-spoken man. My husbands were much noisier and much more opinionated ... it's really nothing to do with age ... it's to do with what's there – the twinkle and sense of humour."[9] And in a 1984 interview, given in Copenhagen at the time she was shooting the film Yellow Pages, she elaborated slightly on her marriages, stating,

It may be simplistic, but you could sum up my two marriages by saying that, when I wanted to be a wife, Jimmy (Stewart Granger) would say: "I just want you to be pretty." And when I wanted to cook, Richard would say: "Forget the cooking. You've been trained to act – so act!" Most people thought I was helpless – a clinger and a butterfly – during my first marriage. It was Richard Brooks who saw what was wrong and tried to make me stand on my own two feet. I'd whine: 'I'm afraid.' And he'd say: 'Never be afraid to fail. Every time you get up in the morning, you are ahead.'

She had two daughters, Tracy Granger and Kate Brooks, one by each marriage – their names bearing witness to Simmons' friendship with Spencer Tracy[22] and Katharine Hepburn. Simmons moved to the east coast of the US in the late 1970s, briefly owning a home in New Milford, Connecticut. Later she returned to California, settling in Santa Monica, where she lived until her death.


She died from lung cancer at her home on 22 January 2010, nine days before her 81st birthday, surrounded by her family.[23][24][25]


Throughout her life Simmons spoke out publicly about her struggle with addiction, and in 2003 became the patron of the British drugs and human rights charity Release. In 2005 she signed a petition to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to a class B.[26]


Year Film Role Notes
1944 Sports Day Peggy[27]
Give Us the Moon Heidi[28]
Mr. Emmanuel Sally Cooper[29] Billed as Jean Simmonds
1945 Kiss the Bride Goodbye Molly Dodd[30]
Meet Sexton Blake Eva Watkins[31]
The Way to the Stars A singer
Caesar and Cleopatra harpist
1946 Great Expectations Estella as a girl
1947 The Woman in the Hall Jay
Uncle Silas Caroline Ruthyn[32]
Black Narcissus Kanchi
Hungry Hill Jane Brodrick
1948 Hamlet Ophelia Volpi Cup
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1949 The Blue Lagoon Emmeline Foster
Adam and Evelyne Evelyne Kirby
1950 So Long at the Fair Vicky Barton Bambi Award for Best Actress – International (2nd place)
Cage of Gold Judith Moray[33]
Trio: "Sanatorium" Evie Bishop Bambi Award for Best Actress – International (2nd place)
1951 The Clouded Yellow Sophie Malraux
1952 Angel Face Diane Tremayne
Androcles and the Lion Lavinia
1953 Young Bess Princess Elizabeth National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for The Robe (film) and The Actress)
Affair with a Stranger Carolyn Parker[34]
The Robe Diana National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Actress)
The Actress Ruth Gordon Jones National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (also for Young Bess and The Robe (film))
1954 She Couldn't Say No
(AKA Beautiful but Dangerous )
Corby Lane
Demetrius and the Gladiators Diana Appeared in a clip from The Robe
The Egyptian Meryt
A Bullet Is Waiting Cally Canham[35]
Désirée Désirée Clary
1955 Footsteps in the Fog Lily Watkins
Guys and Dolls Sergeant Sarah Brown Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1956 Hilda Crane Hilda Crane
1957 This Could Be the Night Anne Leeds Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Until They Sail Barbara Leslie Forbes
1958 The Big Country Julie Maragon
Home Before Dark Charlotte Bronn[36] Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (4th place)
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1959 This Earth Is Mine Elizabeth Rambeau[37]
1960 Elmer Gantry Sharon Falconer Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (3rd place)
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Spartacus Varinia
The Grass Is Greener Hattie Durant Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (5th place)
1963 All the Way Home Mary Follett
1965 Life at the Top Susan Lampton[38]
1966 Mister Buddwing The Blonde
1967 Divorce American Style Nancy Downes
Rough Night in Jericho Molly Lang
1968 Heidi Fräulein Rottenmeier
1969 The Happy Ending Mary Spencer Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1971 Say Hello to Yesterday Woman
1975 Mr. Sycamore Estelle Benbow
The Easter Promise (TV) Constance Payne [39]
1978 The Dain Curse (TV) Aaronia Haldorn
Dominique Dominique Ballard
1979 Beggarman, Thief (TV) Gretchen Jordache Burke[40]
1981 A Small Killing (TV) Margaret Lawrence[41]
1983 The Thorn Birds (TV) Fee Cleary Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1984 December Flower (TV) Etta Marsh[42]
1985 Midas Valley (TV) Molly Hammond[43]
North and South Clarissa Gault Main
1986 North and South Book II Clarissa Gault Main
1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love Laura Robertson [44]
1988 Inherit the Wind (TV) Lucy Brady
Yellow Pages Maxine de la Hunt[45]
The Dawning Aunt Mary
1989 Great Expectations Miss Havisham
Murder, She Wrote
Episode: "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: "The Drumhead"
Rear Admiral Norah Satie
Dark Shadows Elizabeth Collins Stoddard/Naomi Collins
They Do It with Mirrors Carrie-Louise Serrocold
1994 In The Heat of the Night (1994 TV Series) Episode:"Chez and the Grand Lady" Miss Cordelia
1995 How to Make an American Quilt Em Reed Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Daisies in December Katherine Palmer[46]
2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Council Member 2 (voice)
2003 Winter Solstice Countess Lucinda Rhives[47] Released in Germany as Wintersonne
2004 Jean Simmons: Rose of England Herself
Howl's Moving Castle Grandma Sophie (voice)
2005 Thru the Moebius Strip Shepway (voice)[48]
2009 Shadows in the Sun Hannah [49]

Box office ranking

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted her among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1949 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Hamlet Nominated
1953 National Board of Review Best Actress The Actress / The Robe / Young Bess Won
1956 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Guys and Dolls Won
1957 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Guys and Dolls Nominated
1958 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy This Could Be the Night Nominated
1959 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Home Before Dark Nominated
1961 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Elmer Gantry Nominated
1961 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Elmer Gantry Nominated
1970 Academy Awards Best Actress The Happy Ending Nominated
1970 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama The Happy Ending Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie The Thorn Birds Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television The Thorn Birds Nominated
1989 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Murder, She Wrote Nominated
1996 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture How to Make an American Quilt Nominated


  1. Jean Simmons obituary, Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2010 .
  2. Obituary The Independent, 26 January 2010 jean simmons actress who dazzled
  3. Aljean Harmetz (23 January 2010). "Jean Simmons, Actress, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2010. Jean Simmons, the English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major mid-century star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 80. The cause was lung cancer, according to Judy Page, her agent.
  4. "Jean Simmons' Age Is Exposed". The Salina Journal. 116 (96). 26 April 1967. p. 20. Retrieved 14 March 2015 via
  5. "Are They Being Fair To Jean Simmons?", Picturegoer, 2 August 1947.
  6. Per Gloria Hunniford in Sunday, Sunday television interview LWT, Autumn 1985
  7. So You Want to be in Pictures? by Val Guest, p. 58; ISBN 1-90311-115-3
  8. 1 2 3 Biography,; accessed 24 April 2014.
  9. 1 2 Woman's Weekly, Christmas 1989
  10. French, Philip (24 January 2010). "Jean Simmons: an unforgettable English rose". The Observer.
  11. "Critics Praise Drama: Comedians Win Profits.". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  12. Howard Hughes, The Untold story, Peter Brown, Pat Broeske, p.241 Sphere 2005
  13. The Guardian, interview with Peter Lennon, November 1999
  14. 1 2 Thomson, David (25 January 2010). "Jean Simmons obituary". The Guardian.
  15. French, Philip (6 April 2008). "Philip French's screen legends – No 11: Jean Simmons profile". The Observer.
  16. Sondheim Guide – A Little Night Music; accessed 24 April 2014.
  17. "English Stars Married Here". Tucson Daily Citizen. 78 (304). Tucson, Arizona. 21 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 16 March 2015 via
  18. "The Stewart Grangers Become Citizens of US". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Journal Company. Associated Press. 9 June 1956. p. 1. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  19. "Jean Simmons Files To Divorce Stewart Granger". The Blade. Toledo, Ohio. United Press International. 8 July 1960. p. 7. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  20. "Actress Weds Film Director". The Odessa American. 35 (263). Odessa, Texas. Associated Press. 2 November 1960. p. 27. Retrieved 1 April 2015 via
  21. Daniel 2011, p. 210.
  22. Picture Show and TV Mirror, 2 July 1960, p. 7. Simmons says her daughter was named after Spencer Tracy in interview, but adds, "Jimmy (Stewart Granger) says he got the name from the role Katharine Hepburn played in The Philadelphia Story."
  23. "British-born Hollywood actress Jean Simmons dies at 80". BBC. 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  24. Jean Simmons obituary,; accessed 24 April 2014.
  25. Jean Simmons obituary, The Telegraph; accessed 24 April 2014.
  26. Goodchild, Sophie (2005-12-18). "Sting leads campaign against Blair's plan to reclassify cannabis". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  27. "Sports Day (1944)". IMDb.
  28. "Give Us the Moon (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  29. "Mr. Emmanuel (1944)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  30. "Kiss the Bride Goodbye (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  31. "Meet Sexton Blake (1945)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  32. "Uncle Silas (1947)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  33. "Cage of Gold (1950))". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  34. "Affair with a Stranger (1953)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  35. "A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  36. "Home Before Dark (1958)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  37. "This Earth is Mine (1959)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  38. "Life at the Top (1965)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  39. "The Easter Promise (1975)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  40. "Beggarman, Thief (1979)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  41. "A Small Killing (1981)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  42. "December Flower (1984)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  43. "Midas Valley (1985)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  44. "Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  45. "Yellow Pages (1988)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  46. "Katherine Palmer (1995)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  47. "Winter Solstice (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  48. "Through the Moebius Strip (2005)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  49. "Shadows in the Sun (2009)". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  50. "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity.". Canberra Times. ACT: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  51. "TOPS AT HOME.". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  52. "BOB HOPE BEST DRAW IN BRITISH THEATRES.". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  53. "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year.". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Queensland, Australia: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012.


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