Jean Simmons, Actress of "Guys and Dolls," "Spartacus" and A Little Night Music, Dead at 80

Obituaries   Jean Simmons, Actress of "Guys and Dolls," "Spartacus" and A Little Night Music, Dead at 80
 
Jean Simmons, the British-born actress who lent her ladylike beauty and graceful presence to a string of Hollywood films in the post-World War II era, died Jan. 20. She was 80 and lived in Santa Monica, CA.

Ms. Simmons' most significant films included "Spartacus" and "Elmer Gantry" and were usually tailored to the specifications of her male co-stars, which included Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.

Her theatrical resume was sparse, but included one significant credit: the London premiere of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, in which she played the central role of actress Desirée Armfeldt. She also toured the U.S. in the part, performing the musical for a total of three years.

Among her film assignments were two major theatrical adaptations. She played Sarah Brown in the movie version of Guys and Dolls (using her own singing voice), and Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet in Olivier's 1948 film of the classic Shakespeare tragedy. She was nominated for an Oscar for her work. The film came two years after her breakout performances, as the proud and fickle Estella in David Lean's Dickens adaptation, "Great Expectations."

Her demure beauty, natural elegance of manner and spirited personality kept the roles coming, even if few of the assignments were well suited to her talent. Film critic Pauline Kael, assessing her career, called Ms. Simmons, "one of the most quietly commanding actresses Hollywood has ever trashed." Her early years in Los Angeles were largely fruitless, as her contract was held by the reclusive Howard Hughes, who forced her to make several terrible films and would not lend her out to other studios. She ended up suing Hughes for the right to work elsewhere. She received a second Oscar nomination for "The Happy Ending" in 1970. For her appearance in the miniseries "The Thorn Birds," she won an Emmy Award.

She was married twice, to actor Stewart Granger and director Richard Brooks. Both unions ended in divorce. She is survived by her daughter with Granger, Tracy, and a daughter with Brooks, Kate.

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