We make icons of film stars, particularly those who suffer the tragedy of dying young. It is as if we mourn these stars more for losing them while they are at the peak of their beauty or talent, and their brilliance is frozen in time forever.
As irresistible as that is, there is a finer and more meaningful, if less glamorous, alternative.
Jennifer Jones was beautiful, and most certainly talented. She conveyed in her acting, even in the stronger and funnier roles, a vulnerability that sprang from her own quiet personality. There were also tragic incidents in her life where she might have died young. Had that happened, perhaps she would have been fast tracked to that transcendent icon status, and remained there. There would be no need to revive reasons many decades later since she stopped working, why she was so special. As it is, at 90 years old she has few contemporaries in the industry left to mourn and remember her. Whether she intentionally retired from films in middle age or was simply not in demand, or a combination of both, is a question less easily answered. She just seemed to have quietly slipped away.
Growing old is seldom forgiven by the movie industry, particularly where ladies are concerned. But with luck, and courage, and grace, she survived both the tragic incidents of her personal life and the awesome pressures of her film career, and applied herself in other directions in another kind of wonderful transcendence.
And that is the triumph of her life. Notoriously shy, (she was one of those actresses who took her work seriously, but hated stardom) Jennifer Jones devoted her later life to supporting art, and contributing both funds and her personal time to the treatment of cancer and mental illness.
The immeasurable significance that she died an old lady, in her own bed, with those she loved to say goodbye (what we should call a lifetime achievement award) may, understandably, be lost on young movie buffs just discovering a love for classic films based on a crush for beautiful young icons. We’ve just lost a great actress and a special lady whose greatest gift was neither her beauty nor her talent, but probably her resiliency.
Those who are unfamiliar with her work will likely have opportunity now, as always happens after the death of a star, to watch a number of her films. They may find themselves adding the incomparable, transcendent, Jennifer Jones to their list of favorites. She deserves this, and more.