Jennifer Jones (1919-2009)
- Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph, 1942. Arriving for lunch at Romanoff’s, director Edmund Goulding stopped by Brian Aherne’s table to chat with his pal. (He had starred in the UK version, circa 1933). Goulding said it was impossible to find the lead girl. He’d tried Jones, Wendy Barrie, Eve March, Joan Leslie. Head brother Jack Warner craved A Star… “She has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and 14!” “How about me?” said the the freckled miss sitting with Aherne. “Who are you?” asked Goulding, somehow not recognising his friend’s wife in her leather flight suit and pigtails (they had just flown into LA from their Indio ranch). “Joan Fontaine.” “You’re perfect!” She was 25. So what! She signed next day and called it “the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career.” Oscar nomination, included.
- Dorothy McGuire, Claudia, 1943. Muddled between two aspirants, Phyllis Thaxter and Phyllis Walker, producer David Selznick eventually changed Mrs Walker into Mrs Selznick - making the re-named Jennifer Jones the fourth female star he “created” after Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Joan Fontaine. He liquidated Selznick International to create David O Selznick Productions to launch Jones in Fox's Song of Bernadette, 1943, a coup assisted by the fact that Fox production chief during Darryl Zanuck's war service was family: Selznick’s brother-in-law William Goetz. Bernadette won an Oscr for the "brilliant new discovery," remembered by some from Dick Tracy's G-Men, 1939. And Jennifer’s dumped husband, poor Robert Walker, got lost in the shuffle, never recovered from losing her and was dead by 1951.
- Jane Ball, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944. Producer David O Selznick was planning to start shooting in February 1942, with Ingrid Bergman, Shakesperean actor Maurice Evans and Jones (still known as Phyllis Walker until divorcing Robert Walker to become Mrs DOS). But only Evans’ role was important. The women were window dressing. And knew it. Bergman balked and the whole house of cards collapsed. DOS threw in the towel and sold out to Fox. Nora became Ball’s screen debut. The ex-chorus girl’s career was over three films later in 1951 and she became a nurse. DOS also off-loaded…
- Joan Fontaine, Jane Eyre, 1944. A third chance disappeared as Selznick searched for extra income to finance future plans.
- Gene Tierney, Laura, 1944. And a fourth... Selznick stopped her reporting to Fox on April 24, 1944. Because, said Selznick’s right hand, Daniel T O’Shea, her Fox contract stipulated that her films be consistent with her standing as The Song of Bernadette Oscar-winner. Yeah, yeah… Truth of the matter was Vera Caspary's novel contained too many echoes of their own life: ambitious beauty dominated by an obsessive older man.
- Lana Turner, Cass Timberlane, 1947. David Selznick wouldn’t loan his Jennifer to MGM on seeing how much Donald Ogden Stewart’s script favoured Spencer Tracy’s titular judge.
- Alida Valli, The Miracle of the Bells, 1947. Jones, Barbara Bel Geddes, Greer Garson and ballerina Ricky Soma were in the mix for the Polish actress dying upon completion of her Joan of Ark film in Hollywood. Plus the unknown Jane Garth, who played the role on-stage. Naturally, the screen’s next Maid, Ingrid Bergman, was also considered by producer Jesse L Lasky for his surprisingly limp version of Russell Janney’s novel.
- June Allyson, Little Women, 1948. Selznick decided to re-make his l933 version in 1946 with Jones (his very own Susan Alexander) as Jo, of course. He was undecided between Shirley Temple or Dorothy McGuire for Meg. When both Jones and Selznick proved greatly fatigued, physically and emotionally, from making Duel in the Sun, he sold the project to MGM to inaugurate its 25th anniversary agenda.
- Ingrid Bergman, Joan of Arc, 1947. Merry-go-round… In 1935, Joan was to be Katharine Hepburn, but colour was pricey and her films were flopping. In 1940, David O Selznick talked to Bergman about it. Nothing happened. By 1944, Gabriel Pascal chose the (still) unknown Cornell for another project that never heard voices… or, at least, not in financial agreement. In 1946, producer Walter Wanger tried to set up a version for Selznick’s missus, Jennifer Jones. What kinda guy wants to burn his wife?
- Betty Hutton, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. Three years before CB De Mille made his old dream of a circus film (and inspired a six-year-old Phoenix kid named Spielberg to make movies), the Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick planned risking $6m on a big top number named after the slogan of the Ringling Bros circus. The DOS line-up would have featured Jones, Joseph Cotten, Louis Jourdan, Dorothy McGuire, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Shirley Temple and Alida Valli. Obviously the DeMille epic had a different script, but it’s safe to surmise that the characters would have been much the same… trapeze stars, lion-tamer, elephant girl, circus boss.
- Olivia De Havilland, My Cousin Rachel, 1952. In good company. Garbo considered it as a comeback. For at least seven seconds. (A day, actually). First director George Cukor wanted Vivien Leigh. The second, Henry Koster, preferred Olivia opposite Richard Burton’s Hollywood debut. He failed.
- Barbara Stanwyck, The Moonlighter, 1952. One reunion for another…When Warners could not get the Ruby Gentry star and her director, King Vidor, it settled for Double Indemnity’s Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Cowboys stars Gene Autry and Roy Corrigan also made a few dollars - their ranches ranches in Placerita Canyon and Simi Valley were chosen as locations.
- Jean Simmons, The Robe, 1953. Also considered: Ingrid Bergman. Orson Welles called Jones “just hopless.”
- Eva Marie Saint, On The Waterfront, 1953. In the mix for a wee while for Edie Doyle (like Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Montgomery) before producer Sam Spiegel gave Saint her debut role. And a Best Supporting Oscar.
- Lana Turner, Betrayed, 1953. You don’t mess with MGM… When La Turner missd a wardrobe fitting appointment in London for Clark Gable’s Metro finale, the suits reached for Plan G and J. Gardner or Jennfier Jones. Turner talked her way back in. She was, after all, on honeymoon with the fourth of her seven husbands. Lex Barker, aka Tarzan, circa 1948-1952.
- Grace Kelly, The Country Girl, 1953. Producer William Perlberg revealed that Jones was his first idea for Georgie. Hardly surprising as she had the role in the play’s 1966 New York revival. Until another Selznick production intervened. Jones was pregnant with Mary Jennifer Selznick (a suicide in 1976). Grace got the Oscar.
- Gloria Grahame, Human Desire, 1953. When the just-married Rita Hayworth fell out of the Fritz Lang re-make of the 1937 Jean Renoir/Jean Gabin French classic, La bête humaine, De Havilland fell in. Then, out. And Columbia called producer David O Selznick for a loan of Jones, his missus. No, well, hello Gloria… You're lookin' swell, Gloria You're still glowin' You're still crowin' You're still goin' strong…
- Ava Gardner, The Barefoot Contessa, 1954. Jones and Yvonne De Carlo were being pushed towards writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz but he only had eyes for Ava - despite the $200,000 MGM was charging for her. She made it to escape LA, the US and the collapse of her marriage to Frank Sinatra.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- Irene Papas, Tribute To A Bad Man, 1955. When Grace Kelly cooled (she was hoping for Giant), Spencer Tracy began to question his own interest on the project. All the more so when finding a replacement proved as troublesome as his health. Jones thought the roles were re-runs of Tracy and Katy Juardo in the previous year’s Broken Lance. No one wanted the film: Dorothy McGuire, Eva Marie Saint, Marjorie Steele, etc. Spence voted McGuire. Director Robert Wise preferred “the simply awful Greek” - of whom Tracy also commented: “Boy or girl?”
- Audrey Hepburn, War and Peace, 1956. Eager to get back into the big time, producer David Selznick started building Tolstoi’s epic around his wife with MGMoney. He threw in the towel when Mike Todd and Dino De Laurentiis announced their own versions. As usual, he saw Jennifer younger than anyone else. At 35, she was hardly "the quintessential" Natasha Rostova. No, that was Audrey, 27, going on 19.
- Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia, 1956. Four years earlier, having survived Gone To Earth, true Brit director Michael Powell planned his version with Mrs Selznick. "I had dozens of ideas but no idea how to present them - or get them financed."
- Ann Blyth, The Helen Morgan Story, 1956. For six months, Warner Bros scanned some 32 possible Morgans, including Jones, Dani Crayne, Susan Hayward plus singers Doris Day, Judy Garland, Helene Grayco, Peggy Lee, Jaye P. Morgan, Patti Page, Keely Smith. And even fashion model Nancy Berg. Morgan’s friends and fans were aghast when director Michael Curtis chose Blyth, with Cogi Grant dubbing the songs, as neither looked or sounded like Morgan. Curtiz said Blyth was the best actress for the rôle and Grant’s voice was better than Morgan’s “kind of high-pitched, low-voiced torch singing… it’s outmoded.” So, tell another story! Berg’s life, for example, was way heavier.
- Ava Gardner, The Sun Also Rises, 1957. Director Henry King had aimed at Lady Selznick for Lady Brett Ashley. Ava proved far better. "I always felt close to Papa's women," said Ava. Apart from being British, Ernest "Papa" Hemingway's heroine, Lady Brett Ashley, was pure Ava - passionately promiscuous. Producer David Selznick saw all that in his Jones girl. No one else did.
- Susan Strasberg, Stage Struck, 1957. David O Selznick naturally saw the 1932 Morning Glory re-make notion as a perfect vehicle for Jones in Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar-winning role. Jones was Mrs DOS. Suxan complained that her work was hampered by her Method-teacher father, Lee Strasberg, forever visiting the set. (Like his wife started to do wth Marilyn Monroe).
- Natalie Wood, Marjorie Morningstar, 1957. Head brother Jack Warner paid author Herman Wouk $1m, “probably the highest price ever paid for any story” - so stars were wanted to protect the investment. Such as Jones - at 38! – for the title role taken by Wood, aged… 19. No matter, Nat’s co-star was Gene Kelly... and he was playing 32 at 45. Hey, ‘twas the fag-end of the 50s.
- Kim Novak, Bell Book and Candle, 1958. Five years earlier, Selznick bought John Van Druten's play for the missus. They tired of it and sold out to Columbia czar Harry Cohn which meant Susan Hayward (opposite Rex Harrison). Ultimately, Cohn made a deal with Paramount - they could have Novak opposite Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as long as Jim rang the Bell with Novak at Columbia. And all the time, Cary Grant had been been pushing for it - it really required his unique sparkle.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra, 1963.
- Julie Adams, The Last Movie, 1970. In the late 60s, when deciding to succeed the late Montgomery Clift as Kansas, director Dennis Hopper assembled a cast including Jane Fonda, Jason Robards…. and Jones (reduced to AIP’s Angel, Angel, Down We Go at the time). And then decided not to risk Phil Spector’s promised $1.2m budget. Based on Hopper’s experiences while shooting The Sons of Katie Elder in Mexico (when indigenous natives re-enacted the movie-making), the film won the Critics’ Prize at Venice but The Last Movie was damn nearly The Last Hopper. Well, he shot it in Peru - coke capital of the world. ’Nuff said?
- Nastassja Kinski, Tess, France, 1979. Selznick had secured rights to Thomas Hardy's great heroine for his wife. And did nothing about it. Director Roman Polanksi and his discovery did plenty with it... when Paris producer Claude Berri gained the rights.
- Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment, 1983. Apart from replacing Olivia de Havilland in The Towering Inferno, 1974, Jones retired after her third marriage to industrial millionaire Norton Simon in 1971. Suddenly, she optioned Larry McMurtry’s book in 1979 - with Pacino as her leading man. Just as suddenly she sold it to Paramount where it won MacLaine her Oscar.
- Irene Jacob, Victory, UK-France-Germany, 1996. Looking for another grand role for his wife, producer David O Selznick met with Claude Chabrol at the Hotel Raphael in Paris - but the nouvelle vague icon was not keen on the Conrad book. Next to try was another New Waver, Louis Malle. With singer-actress Marie Laforêt.