Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Jones, 90

LOS ANGELES - Jennifer Jones, 90, the beautiful, raven-haired actress nominated for Academy Awards five times, winning in 1943 for her portrayal of the title character in The Song of Bernadette, died yesterday.

Jennifer Jones in the 1943 film "The Song of Bernadette."
Jennifer Jones in the 1943 film "The Song of Bernadette."Read more20th Century Fox

LOS ANGELES - Jennifer Jones, 90, the beautiful, raven-haired actress nominated for Academy Awards five times, winning in 1943 for her portrayal of the title character in

The Song of Bernadette

, died yesterday.

Ms. Jones died at her home in Malibu of natural causes, Norton Simon Museum spokeswoman Leslie Denk said. Ms. Jones was the widow of the museum's founder and namesake, and served as chair of the board of directors after his death in 1993.

Known for her intense performances, she was one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1940s and '50s. Among her most memorable roles were the vixen who vamps rowdy cowboy Gregory Peck in Duel in the Sun, and the Eurasian doctor who falls for Korean War correspondent William Holden in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Despite her dramatic roles, Ms. Jones conveyed an aura of shyness, even aloofness offstage. She rarely gave interviews, explaining to a reporter in 1957: "Most interviewers probe and pry into your personal life, and I just don't like it. I respect everyone's right to privacy, and I feel mine should be respected, too."

Early in her career, she became nearly as famous for her marriages as for her movie work. She met actor Robert Walker when both studied acting in New York, and they married and came to Hollywood, where her star ascended more rapidly than his.

Ms. Jones' boss, David O. Selznick, became obsessed with her and spent much of his time promoting her career. They married four years after she divorced Walker in 1945. Selznick died in 1965, and in 1973 Ms. Jones married Simon.

She was born Phylis Isley on March 2, 1919, in Tulsa, Okla., to parents whose touring stock company presented melodramas in tent theaters in the Southwest. She began doing roles in their plays at the age of 6.

After graduating from a Catholic high school, she toured with another stock company, studied drama at Northwestern University for a year, then persuaded her father to support her for a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

She married Walker in 1939 and they spent their honeymoon traveling to Hollywood. They could find only bit roles in small pictures, she in a western, New Frontier, and a serial, Dick Tracy's G-Men.

The pair retreated to New York before Ms. Jones was selected for the lead in The Song of Bernadette, about a French peasant girl who claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in 1858. Her performance and the Best Actress Oscar helped make her one of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies.

Among her other films were Love Letters (with Joseph Cotten), We Were Strangers (with John Garfield), Madame Bovary (with Louis Jourdan) and A Farewell to Arms (with Rock Hudson).

She received a supporting-actress Oscar nomination for Since You Went Away and lead-actress nominations for Love Letters, Duel in the Sun, and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Her last appearance was in 1974's The Towering Inferno.

Two years after she filmed The Idol, a sheriff's deputy found Ms. Jones in the surf at Malibu. She was not breathing but still had a heartbeat and he was able to revive her.

She had earlier called her physician to say she was taking pills, and it appeared she had fallen from a cliff into the ocean.

Her daughter plunged to her death from the 22d floor of a hotel in West Los Angeles in 1976, and tests showed traces of morphine, barbiturates, and alcohol in her system. The death was ruled a suicide.

After retiring from acting after The Towering Inferno, Ms. Jones avoided the limelight as much as possible.

She is survived by her son, Robert; eight grandchildren;and four great-grandchildren.