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Jennifer Jones ( 1919 - 2009 )  Category ( Actor_Actress ) [suggest a correction]

The acting career of Phyllis Lee Isley was short and sad -- a mere blip on the silver screen, as compared to the spectacular success of Jennifer Jones.

Fortunately, Isley and Jones were the same person.

Isley was born March 2, 1919 in Tulsa, OK, and spent her early years as a passenger on her parents' traveling tent sure. Grown up and off the road, she went to junior college in Tulsa and then transferred to Northwestern University, where her acting ability blossomed and prompted her to transfer once again, to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

There, she not only honed her skills, but met and married Robert Walker, a fellow student. In 1939, the couple headed for Hollywood, where Isley managed to earn a bit part in a John Wayne western and a cops serial. This led her to take a screen test at Paramount Pictures, which she failed.

Discouraged, she and Robert returned to New York, where he found some radio work and she modeled hats until she got the courage to test for another part, the lead in the play "Claudia." That audition also went badly, but something in Phyllis Isley caught the eye of producer David O. Selznick, who saw potential.

Selznick became the young actress' mentor -- and one of his first acts in that capacity was to change her name to Jennifer Jones.

Three years later, after a succession of small roles, Jones rewarded Selznick's faith in her by beating out a small army of actresses for the lead role in "The Song of Bernadette." Her portrayal of St. Bernadette earned her an Academy Award.

This turned out to be the only statuette she ever won, although she was nominated for Best Actress in 1945 ("Love Letters"), 1946 ("Duel in the Sun") and 1955 ("Love is a Many Splendored Thing") and for Best Supporting Actress in 1944 ("Since You Went Away").

The mentor/prodigy relationship with Selznick turned into something more, and led to her divorce from Walker. She married Selznick in 1949, and the couple had a daughter, Mary.

Jones' later life was marred by tragedy and loss. Selznick died in 1965, and his distraught widow attempted suicide two years later by jumping off a Malibu cliff (she survived, although she was hospitalized in a coma). Mary Selznick jumped to her death from a 20th-floor window in May of 1976, leading to Jones' later focus on mental health issues. Jones also survived breast cancer during the same period.

Jones' third husband was art collector and philanthropist Norton Simon, whom she married in 1971. They met when he made an offer on a portrait of her.

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