Jean Simmons (1929-2010)
- Hedy Lamarr, Samson and Delilah, 1948. The 1935 plan had been Miriam Hopkins. Now, apart from such inevitables as Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner, pompous director CB DeMille had some odd notions for his Delilah. The veteran Laraine Day (31), song ’n’ dancer Betty Hutton, even the demure Nancy Olson and the way too young Jean Simmons (19). Most of their studios were not interested in any loan deals. Or not with DeMille. His film might such a huge hit that the actress would improve her status and demand more pay from her home studio contract!
- Shelley Winters, Winchester '73, 1950. At half his age, she was a tad young to be James Stewart’s romantic interest. It was another two years before her Hollywood career truly began.
- Mala Powers, Cyrano De Bergerac, 1950. She was Roxanne opposite Orson Welles as Cyrano, director and writer (with Ben Hecht) until producer Alexander Korda sold it all to Columbia for $150,000 - “hard currency, my dear Orson.”
- Shelley Winters, Winchester ’73, 1950. An early thought from director Anthony Mann for Jimmy Stewart’s gal, Lola Manners... yet far too young for the ole cowpoke.
- Ann Blyth, I’ll Never Forget You (UK: The House in the Square), 1950. Five years earlier, the lively new Brit was seen for Tyrone Power’s co-star - with Carol Reed directing the time-travel romance. Hmm… Finished up as Power and a Blyth spirit, helmed by Roy Ward Baker. So it goes.
- Deborah Kerr, The Prisoner of Zenda, 1951. MGM used the same 1936 script, score and most of the camera angles. With slight variations. Simmons (wed to the hero Stewart Granger) and Eleanor Parker lost Princess Flavia to the more regal Kerr.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Ivanhoe, 1952. Metro decreed only a Brit could be Rebecca. And the studio had its pick of them: Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, Liz Taylor.
- Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday, 1953. “I wanted to hate you,” said Jean, phoning Hepburn. “I have to tell you I wouldn’t have been half as good. You’re just wonderful!” Simmons had the dream role when, without telling her, The Rank Organisation literally sold her to RKO mogul Howard Hughes and he would not, as usual, let anyone else use any of his contracted people. To get free from his cuffs, Simmons and husband Stewart Granger did the undoble. They sued Hughes... and won!
- Elizabeth Taylor, Elephant Walk, 1953. After a month’s location in what was is now Sri Lanka, Vivien Leigh suffered a breakdown. Working with her lover, Peter Finch, in a role refused by her husband, Laurence Olivier (who then recommended Finch!) sure didn’t help her brittle mental condition. SOS calls were sent out to Simmons, Taylor and Claire Bloom. Liz had been first choice for the film - but pregnant. Leigh remained visible in many of the long shots and when she turned for her close-up - bingo, it’s Liz!
- Deborah Kerr, The End of the Affair, 1954. Simmons and Gregory Peck were the intended, wartime lovers for the film of Graham Greene’s novel, shot in the UK from June 29 to September 10 1954. They became Kerr and Van Johnson - and in the 1999 re-make, Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes. Never the right couple!
- Elizabeth Taylor, Giant, 1955.
- Susan Hayward, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, 1955. When MGM voted for Hayward and against June Allyson for the alcoholic Broadway/Hollywood singing star Lillian Roth, director Charles Walters stormed out and Daniel Mann strolled in. Also in the loop were Roths of all ages… Piper Laurie, 22; Grace Kelly and Jean Simmons, 25; Janet Leigh, 27 ; Jane Russell, 33; and Jane Wyman, like Allyson and Hayward, 37. On Oscarnight, Hayward lost a fourth time.
- Dana Wynter, D-Day the Sixth of June, 1956. Or 1944, to be precise. And that is the only thing that is, as D-Day is used not as in The Longest Day, much less Searching For Private Ryan, but as mere backdrop for a soppy tale of two Allies officers Richard Todd and Robert Taylor - in love with the same dame. Dana said the “unresolved love story” was the favourite of her 83 screen roles. But Todd, who took part in the real D-Day, should have known better. This soap was no tribute to his fallen comrades.
- Heather Sears, The Story of Esther Costello, 1956. One year earlier, Sam Fuller was due to writer-direct but could never obtain any of the actresses on his short-list for the mute and blind heroine: Simmons, Joan Collins, Susan Strasberg, Natalie Wood. Romulus made it a UK film and Sears won the British Academy Best Actress Award. Joan Crawford played her wealthy protector.
- Susan Strasberg, Stage Struck, 1957. The succulent Brit was selected for Eva - then switched to another movie, Dr Spock, which was never made! Strasberg complained that Susan’s work was hampered by her Method-teacher father, Lee Strasberg, forever visiting the set. (She agreed).
- Carroll Baker, The Miracle, 1959. Director Irving Rapper wanted Jean. She was keen on the Napoleonic venture - suggesting, of course, husband Stewart Granger, as her co-star. No, said Rapper, and lost both of them.
- Haya Harareet, Ben-Hur, 1959. Stewart Granger's producer pal, Sam Zimbalist, asked him to be Messala - and, to sweeten the deal, his wife could have the female lead. By the time the Grangers agreed, it was too late - the film that might have saved their marriage had passed them by.
- Janette Scott, The Devil's Disciple, 1959. Kirk Douglas remembered her for his next one. Spartacus.
- Shirley Jones, A Ticklish Affair, 1963. Or Moon Walk, when Simmons was due to be the young widow getting an US Navy once-over when one of her three sons accidentally issues a distress call in Morse code.
- Deborah Kerr, The Grass Is Greener, 1960. Cary Grant wanted her for Lady Hilary, his screen wife. Jean was in the midst of divorcing Stewart Granger and asked Cary if a smaller role was available. There was - Hilary’s confidant, Hattie.
- Leslie Caron, The L-Shaped Room, 1962. Like the character, she was really pregnant.
- Joanna Dunham, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1964. First announced for Mary Magdalene when Richard Burton was offered Jesus (a year after refusing it in King of Kings). The two Brits had already suffered one Schmollywood epic (and the obligatory affair), The Robe, 1952.
- Joan Hackett, Will Penny, 1967. Unavailable. “The woman should be plain, which Jean (God knows) is not,” Charlton Heston noted in his diary, “but she’s a helluva good actress, no matter what [Paramount’s] Bob Evans thinks.”
- Jessica Walter, Pro (UK: Number One), 1967. Chuck Heston’s diary alludes to Simmons being suggested “through some agent’s shennanigans of the kind that amaze me, and that [his agent Herman] Citron wouldn’t dream of condoning... She’d be good... if it’s at last to be actually submitted to her.”
- Kim Hunter, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- Noel Coward, Boom, 1968. For the Witch of Capri... in a terrible version (for the Burtons) of Tennessee Williams much flawed The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. (No wonder!). Chicago critic Roger Ebert said: “It isn't successful, it doesn't work, but so much money and brute energy were lavished on the production that it's fun to sit there and watch.”
- Geneviève Bujold, Anne of a Thousand Days, 1969. Before Hal Wallis won the rights to Maxwell Anderson’s 1948 Broadway play, the BBC tried to mount a TV production in 1957, when trying to woo Peter Sellers into... well, anything, including Henry VIII. Simmons was invited to be Anne. Twenty years after the play opened, Wallis considered Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Olivia Hussey and Elizabeth Taylor for the queen who lost her head over Henry.
- Nanette Newman, The Raging Moon, 1971. Scenarist Bryan Forbes was directing... so obviously his star would be his wife.
- Piper Laurie, Tim, Australia, 1979. Producer Michel Pate (the Hollywood actor returned home) talked to Jean about being the friend of a newcomer called... Mel Gibson.
- Judi Dench, As Times Goes By, TV, 1992-2005. Dame Judi and Geoffrey Palmer made an excellent late-age couple in the BBComedy series... repeated more often than even Dad's Army! .