December 17, 2009

Jennifer Jones Dies at 90

Jennifer Jones, who achieved Hollywood stardom in “The Song of Bernadette” and other films of the 1940s and ’50s while gaining almost as much attention for a tumultuous personal life, died Thursday at her home in Malibu, Calif. She was 90.

Ms. Jones, who was the chairwoman of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif., died of natural causes, said Leslie Denk, a museum spokeswoman. Ms. Jones was the widow of the industrialist and art patron Norton Simon.

After winning an Academy Award in 1944 for her performance in “The Song of Bernadette,” Ms. Jones went on to star in successful films like “Duel in the Sun” and “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.” She was nominated for Oscars five times.

She was also known for an off-screen life that included bouts of emotional instability; a second marriage to the Svengali-like David O. Selznick, the producer of “Gone With the Wind”; the suicide of their daughter; and a later marriage to another larger-than-life figure, Mr. Simon.

It was Selznick who got Ms. Jones the role of Bernadette Soubirous, the young French peasant girl whose visions at Lourdes created a sensation in 1858. “The Song of Bernadette,” based on Franz Werfel’s best-selling novel, was a huge hit, and it brought the little-known Ms. Jones instant fame.

“After that first big role, there was a kind of stage fright,” Ms. Jones said in 1981. She told another interviewer: “When you’re young, you’re full of hope and dreams. Later you begin to wonder. I did ‘The Song of Bernadette’ without knowing what was going on half the time.”

When she made “Bernadette,” Ms. Jones was the wife of the young actor Robert Walker and the mother of two small boys. She and her husband had met as students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1938 and married a year later. They had struggled together until Selznick put Ms. Jones under personal contract in 1941. A year later, Mr. Walker was signed by MGM and had a star-making debut in 1943 as a young sailor in “Bataan.”

But the marriage didn’t last; they separated in the fall of 1943, and by then Ms. Jones was deeply involved with Selznick. Seventeen years her senior, he would be the mastermind of her career.

Selznick’s wife, Irene, the daughter of the movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, left him in 1945, in part over his affair with Ms. Jones, who divorced Mr. Walker that year. David Thomson, in his biography of Selznick, “Showman,” said Selznick had found something special in Ms. Jones. “She was so meek, so young, so lovely, so entirely ready to be David’s creation that she left all the responsibility with him,” Mr. Thomson wrote.

Ms. Jones and Selznick were married in 1949 on a yacht off the coast of Italy. Until his death in 1965, he made virtually all the decisions in his wife’s career. He supervised her dramatic training and produced many of her early movies, including “Since You Went Away” (1944), “Duel in the Sun” (1946), “Portrait of Jennie” (1948) and a lavish version, the second, of Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms” (1957). The film, which also starred Rock Hudson, was a critical and box-office failure and the last movie Selznick made.

When Selznick lent his wife out to other producers, he often chose badly — turning down the classic film noir “Laura,” for example, or insisting that she star as the mentally ill Nicole Diver in the film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” when she was both too old for the role and in precarious mental health herself.

Ms. Jones never set her own course. Though her roles expanded — from the country girl Bernadette to the passionate half-caste young woman lusting after Gregory Peck in “Duel in the Sun” to the wealthy adulteress of Vittorio De Sica’s “Indiscretion of an American Wife” (1954) — the screen image was always as molded by Selznick.

But her acting was admired. She received Oscar nominations as best actress for her performances as an amnesiac cured by Joseph Cotten’s love in “Love Letters” (1945), as the wanton Pearl Chavez in “Duel in the Sun” and as a Eurasian doctor in love with a Korean War correspondent (William Holden) in “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955).

Ms. Jones was born Phylis Lee Isley in Tulsa, Okla., on March 2, 1919, the only child of Philip and Flora Mae Isley. Her parents owned and starred in the Isley Stock Company, a tent-show theatrical troupe that toured the rural Midwest. As a child she spent her summers taking tickets, selling candy and acting in the company.

After a year at Northwestern University, she moved to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was cast as Elizabeth Barrett opposite Robert Walker’s Robert Browning in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” The two soon married, and on their honeymoon in 1939 they went to Hollywood, where they found bit roles.

Retreating to New York, the couple had a son, Robert Jr., in 1940, and another, Michael, less than a year later. Michael died in 2007. Robert survives her, as do eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Ms. Jones met Selznick in New York when she went to his office there to read for the lead in “Claudia,” Rose Franken’s hit stage play, which Selznick was turning into a movie. The title role went to Dorothy McGuire, who had starred in the play, but Selznick was taken by the lithe, dark-haired Ms. Jones and saw a future for her in Hollywood. (He came up with the name Jennifer Jones during that first encounter.)

Ambitious but emotionally fragile, Ms. Jones placed herself in Selznick’s hands. He cast her in a William Saroyan play, “Hello Out There,” in a theater season he was presenting in Santa Barbara, Calif., and she received rave reviews. He was already planning to lend her to his brother-in-law, the producer Bill Goetz, at 20th Century Fox, for “Song of Bernadette.”

After “Bernadette,” Selznick cast her as Claudette Colbert’s daughter in “Since You Went Away,” his bid to make a “Gone With the Wind” about the World War II home front. Ms. Jones was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar as the girl whose first love is a young soldier.

Though Ms. Jones and Mr. Walker were by then estranged, Selznick cast Mr. Walker as the soldier who is strengthened by Ms. Jones’s love. Mr. Walker, who later scored a success as the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” died at 32 in 1951 after years of emotional problems and drinking, which he attributed to his loss of Ms. Jones.

Among Ms. Jones’s other movies were the comedy “Cluny Brown” (1946), directed by Ernst Lubitsch; “Carrie” (1952), a film version of Theodore Dreiser’s novel “Sister Carrie” co-starring Laurence Olivier; John Huston’s “Beat the Devil” (1954) co-starring Humphrey Bogart; “Madame Bovary” (1949), co-starring James Mason; and “Ruby Gentry” (1952), a King Vidor film with Charlton Heston about destructive passions reminiscent of “Duel in the Sun.”

After Selznick’s death in 1965, Ms. Jones’s film career petered out in “The Idol” (1966), about a young man sleeping with the mother of his girlfriend; the low- budget “Angel, Angel, Down We Go” (1969); and the ensemble disaster movie “The Towering Inferno” (1974). In 1966 she made a rare stage appearance, in a revival of Clifford Odets’s “Country Girl” at New York City Center.

In 1967, Ms. Jones made headlines when she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills and was discovered, near death, lying in the surf at Malibu. In 1976, Ms. Jones’s 21- year-old daughter, Mary Jennifer Selznick, jumped to her death from a building in West Los Angeles.

Ms. Jones married Norton Simon, in 1971, in a ceremony on a yacht in the English Channel after a courtship of three weeks. Mr. Simon, a multimillionaire industrialist who had turned a bankrupt orange juice bottling plant into a conglomerate that included Hunt Foods and Canada Dry, had retired in 1969 at 62 to concentrate on collecting art.

He spent more than $100 million on his collection, one of the country’s greatest private art collections, housed at the Norton Simon Museum.

After being stricken by the paralyzing neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome, Mr. Simon resigned as president of the museum and was succeeded by Ms. Jones, who also took the title of chairwoman. She oversaw a gallery renovation by the architect Frank Gehry. Mr. Simon died in 1993 at age 86.

Throughout her life Ms. Jones appeared shy and aloof in public, and she rarely gave interviews. She explained why in one of the few she did give, in 1957.

“Most interviewers probe and pry into your personal life, and I just don’t like it,” she said. “I respect everyone’s right to privacy, and I feel mine should be respected, too.”

December 08, 2009

Suh, Tebow among 5 Heisman finalists

NEW YORK - Tim Tebow added another Heisman first to his long list of accomplishments just by being selected a finalist for this year’s trophy.

Tebow became the first player to be invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony three times when the Florida quarterback—along with Colt McCoy, Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Ndamukong Suh—was named a finalist Monday for college football’s most prestigious player of the year award.

“Having the chance to go back to New York means a lot to me,” Tebow said in a statement. “It is a special honor but it wouldn’t be possible for me to have this opportunity without my teammates and coaches.”

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded Saturday in Manhattan. The presentation ceremony has been televised since 1981 and since 1982 at least three players have been invited to attend.

The last time as many as five players were invited to New York was 2004, when USC quarterback Matt Leinart won the award.

Tebow, who was the first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007, is trying to become the second two-time Heisman winner, joining Ohio State’s Archie Griffin. Tebow finished third in the voting last year, while getting the most first-place votes.

He’s also the first player to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting three times since Georgia tailback Herschel Walker did it in the early 1980s.

McCoy was the runner-up last season to Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and has led No. 2 Texas to the BCS national championship game this season.

Ingram has rushed for 1,542 yards and scored 15 touchdowns for No. 1 Alabama.

Stanford’s Gerhart, meanwhile, has run for more yards (1,736) and scored more touchdowns (26) than any player in the nation.

And Nebraska’s Suh had 4 1/2 sacks in an attention-grabbing performance against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He is the first defensive player to be a finalist since 1997, when Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson became the first full-time defensive player to win the Heisman.

Tebow and McCoy entered this season as heavy Heisman favorites, but neither has been as productive this season as last and neither will go into Saturday’s presentation as the front-runner.

Tebow returned for his senior season to try and lead the Gators to a third national title in four seasons, but he won’t reach that goal. After being No. 1 almost all season, Florida lost to Alabama 32-13 in the Southeastern Conference title game on Saturday and was knocked out of the national championship race.

The loss likely damaged Tebow’s chances at a second Heisman, too. He has passed for 2,413 yards and rushed for 859 yards this year.

Like Tebow, McCoy also returned for his senior season to make a championship run. He has Texas a victory away from its first national title since 2005, but his numbers also have fallen off compared to ’08.

McCoy has passed for 3,512 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also nearly threw away the Longhorns’ national championship hopes on the second-to-last play of the Nebraska game, coming within a second of letting the clock run out before Texas could attempt the winning field goal in a 13-12 victory.

McCoy could become the first player to win the Heisman the season after finishing second since Walker did it in 1982.

If there is a favorite, it seems to be Ingram., which polls 13 voters throughout the season, had Ingram on top of it’s latest results, just ahead of Gerhart.

Ingram could become Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner. He gave his Heisman campaign a late boost by running for 113 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the SEC title game against Florida.

“I’m looking forward to the experience and appreciate the opportunity to represent our team at the Heisman ceremony,” Ingram said in a statement.

Gerhart also ended his season with a flourish, running for 205 yards and three touchdowns and throwing a touchdown pass in a victory against Notre Dame.

“I am most pleased that my efforts along with those of so many others this year have put Stanford Football back on the national map,” Gerhart said.

Nobody finished stronger than Suh, who put together one of the most dominant defensive games in recent college football history in Nebraska’s near-upset of Texas. He finished the season with 12 sacks.

“It is good to see that the Heisman voters have recognized the true impact a dominant defensive lineman like Suh can have on a football game,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.

Among the top players who didn’t make the cut were Clemson’s versatile tailback C.J. Spiller and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore.

December 04, 2009

Film star Richard Todd dies at 90

LONDON – Richard Todd, who re-enacted his wartime exploits in the 1962 film "The Longest Day" and was Ian Fleming's choice to play James Bond, has died of cancer at age 90, his family said Friday.

Todd, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1949 film "The Hasty Heart" and starred as U.S. Senate chaplain Peter Marshall in "A Man Called Peter" (1954), died Thursday at his home in Little Humby, Lincolnshire in central England, according to his agent, the Richard Stone Partnership.

In Britain, one of his best-known roles was playing Royal Air Force pilot Guy Gibson in "The Dam Busters."

"He had been suffering from cancer, an illness that he bore with his habitual courage and dignity," the family said in a statement.

Fleming had preferred Todd to take the lead in "Dr. No" in 1962, The Daily Telegraph said in its obituary, but a schedule clash opened the way for Sean Connery to define the part. Instead, Todd took the role of role of Inspector Harry Sanders in "Death Drums Along the River," released in 1963.

Born Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Todd at first hoped to become a playwright but discovered a love for acting after helping found the Dundee Repertory Company in Scotland in 1939.

He volunteered for the British Army, and was among the first paratroopers dropped into Normandy in the D-Day invasion. He was also one of the first paratroopers to meet the glider force commanded by Maj. John Howard at Pegasus Bridge; he played Howard in "The Longest Day." After being discharged in 1946, he returned to Dundee. His role as male lead in "Claudia" led to romance and then marriage to his leading lady, Catherine Grant-Bogle.

A Scottish accent mastered while preparing for his role in "The Hasty Heart" proved a useful skill in his later film career.

He won praise for his performance in the film of "The Hasty Heart," which included Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal in the cast. The New York World-Telegram hailed Todd as "a vivid and vigorous actor" and the New York Herald Tribune said his performance "combined lofty stature with deep feeling, attracting enormous sympathy without an ounce of sentiment."

In "A Man Called Peter," Marshall's widow Catherine said Todd "was just about the only film actor whose Scottish syllables would have met (her husband's) standards."

Other film roles included Sir Walter Raleigh in "The Virgin Queen" (1955), costarring Bette Davis; a lead role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1949), with Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich; and the lead in Disney's "Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue" (1953).

In the 1980s, Todd made more than 2,500 appearances headlining the London run of "The Business of Murder," and appeared in four episodes of the BBC's "Doctor Who."

Todd had a son and a daughter from his first marriage, and two sons from his marriage to Virginia Mailer. Both marriages ended in divorce.

His son Seamus from the second marriage killed himself in 1997, and his eldest son also killed himself in 2005 following the breakdown of his marriage.

Todd said dealing with those tragedies was like his experience of war.

"You don't consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for," he said.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.