Friday, December 18, 2009

Jennifer Jones 1919-2009

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.


Caftan Woman said...

Carrie, Bernadette, Jennie Appleton, Betsy Rath, Miss Dove, Ruby Gentry, Madame Bovary. Only a few of of the movie characters brought to vivid life by Jennifer Jones. Brought to life as only she could bring them - memorably and beautifully.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Yes, Caftan Woman, it's hard to imagine anybody else in those roles.

Raquel Stecher said...

This is a very beautiful tribute. I like what you say about the less glamorous alternative of stars dying at old age versus dying tragically at youth. What would Marilyn Monroe be if she had lived to her 80s or 90s? Would she have been as iconic as she is now?

I do take a bit of exception to what you said about new young classic film buffs. I'm 29 so I'm not quite as young as the other new film buffs (who all seem to be from 16-23) but when I did start to appreciate classic films in my early 20s, I didn't necessarily latch on to images of youth. Sure it's nice seeing Robert Mitchum at his most handsome, but I didn't shy away from seeing him and appreciating him and loving him in his later roles when his eyes and face got sadder and sadder over time. I had an appreciation for all ages. I found older gentlemen very handsome and had crushes on men such as Lewis Stone and Alan Rickman! I might be an exception because I have heard other new classic film buffs say that they dislike old people (which to me seems like an oxymoron because the elderly have rich stories of the times in which our favorite movies took place). It also might be because my dad is 50+ years older than I am so I always tended to appreciate the older stages of people's lives more so because of watching my dad live through them. (He's 82 in January btw).

Now I'll stop rambling about ME and just want to thank you again for such a lovely tribute and a thought-provoking post.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Raquelle, for adding your own always impressive insight. I'm willing to gamble that Marilyn Monroe would not have achieved that iconic status had she lived to her 90s, but that, as with all discussion about old movies, is just opinion.

Thanks for raising that issue about my suggestion that young movie buffs are attracted to the images of youth. I did not mean this for a criticsm, for certainly it is understandable to feel attraction to the vibrancy of youth and beauty. However, that was too general a statement for me to make, and I was wrong to imply that all young movie fans are alike in this respect.

You certainly are not, and I applaud your openness and sensitivity to the work of older actors.

Jennifer Jones is an interesting case. Her last film was made when she was something like 55 years old (and had not made a major film for at least 15 years before that, so effectively her career came to a halt in her early 40s). She did not exactly walk away from Hollywood, like Greta Garbo in seclusion, or head for Europe like Audrey Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman. She was there in Hollywood all the time. She just became invisible. I hope it was by choice.

Phillip Oliver said...

A beautiful tribute. She was my favorite actress. Phillip (

Millie said...

Wow, lovely tribute!

I was so depressed when I heard that she died! She has never been one of my absolute favorites, but I had always thought her a very talented actress and so beautiful!

Anyway, I loved the post!


BTW, I'm fifteen and think although it can be true that young classic film fans only love those who die young (Marilyn, James Dean, etc...)I personally have a long list of favorite actors who lived a very long time! (My absolute number one favorites are Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, William Powell, Joel McCrea, Gregory Peck, and Fred Astaire)!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Phillip. I can certainly understand why she was your favorite actress.

Thank you, too, Millie. You have an impressive list of favorite actors. I was certainly wrong in suggesting that film stars who die young are more appreciated than those who are allowed by fate and their own initiative to stay the course of time. I'm glad to be so wrong. I like your blog.

Raquel Stecher said...

Jacqueline - There is a lot of truth in what you say and I don't think it's a wrong generalization. A lot of the blogs and websites out there that laud classic film actors/actresses are emphasizing a lot on their physical beauty and their youth. Not many young classic film buffs are supporting actors like Mickey Rooney who are not characteristically beautiful, lived a long time and are still going! I think that's a shame. But then others are. Like the young lady Jennifer who is in communication with Joan Fontaine and encouraging folks to send her Birthday and Christmas greetings.

I think your post is going to be great for starting some discussion!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Good point about Mickey Rooney. There's a guy loaded with his particular brand of talent who just keeps plugging along the unglamorous road of life like a dependable Jeep.

I was unaware of the young blogger you mentioned who is such a fan of Joan Fontaine. That's sweet.

I've already enjoyed the discussion so far and found it very interesting.

Millie said...

Jacqueline: Oh, I wasn't trying to say that you are wrong or anything, because you aren't! I just find it interesting how diverse the classic film community is, far more diverse than even the "modern" film-lovers. Everyone has a different mixture of favorites...and I think it's really interesting! And please, don't take anything I say as being intelligent! Most of what I say is most definitely NOT! Haha...

Awww, thanks! I LOVE your blog! It's so interesting!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I think what you say is very intelligent, Millie. And I agree that the diversity of classic film bloggers is something pretty wonderful.

normadesmond said...

i'd LOVE to send anything to joan fontaine! tell me how!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Beats me. You're going to have to check with Raquelle, she seems to know the story on the Fontaine fan.

Raquel S. said...

Joan Fontaine doesn't want any more correspondence because she's already overwhelmed with fan mail. That's why Jennifer, the curator of the Joan Fontaine fan page on Facebook, collected greetings from fans for Christmas and sent them off to her in one big group. It's more manageable for Joan.

Since it's already the day after Christmas, I would suggest just joining the fan page on Facebook or contacting Jennifer through Twitter ( or to go to her blog (

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks so much for the update, Raquelle.

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