Thursday, January 28, 2010

pan flutes are playing for her

Jean Simmons
Jean Simmons (born Jan 31, 1929; died Jan 22, 2010)

I thought she was spectacular. I realized in researching about her that I haven't seen her earlier work in films, but how I admired her portrayal as Fiona Cleary in 1983. Women who were middle-aged and older when they first saw the TV mini-series, The Thorn Birds, may well have related to Fiona. And women who were younger when the film was shown undoubtedly related, as I sure did, to the young Meggie -- played to the hilt by Rachel Ward --  (Meggie's line to Luke, "... you can't make love for toffee" is one of the best ever written/spoken). Meggie's mother, the icy Fiona Cleary, was so fascinating and complex as played by Jean Simmons that their heartrending coming-to-understand-one-another-as-women late in the movie helped me to see my own mother in fresh ways.

When I read that she died last Friday I had a strong desire to hear the theme song from The Thorn Birds. I loved it as much as the story.  It was one of those times that I was grateful for the Internet. Having instant gratification in hearing a long-loved song that remained only a strain or two in my brain was thrilling because I sat back and played it over and over, becoming reacquainted with the glorious trills of the pan flute while watching again scenes from the movie with its sweeping scenery, those gorgeous faces, that hot and forbidden love.

Jean Simmons would have been 81 this Sunday. Perhaps not by this weekend, but sooner rather than later, I would like to see her movie Angel Face -- described as her best work, albeit little recognized, in The Guardian's full and fascinating obituary of Jean Merilyn Simmons
Below is her life in a nutshell from another source.

Jean Simmons Dies
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) A representative of Jean Simmons confirms that the "Guys and Dolls" and "Spartacus" actress has died of lung cancer.

Agent Judy Page told The Associated Press on Sunday that Simmons died at her home in Santa Monica on Friday, surrounded by her family. Simmons was 80.

A classically trained actress who started appearing in films at 14, Simmons used her beauty and charm in virtually every genre and played leading lady to virtually every major leading man of the mid-century.
She sang opposite Marlon Brando in 1955's "Guys and Dolls," played Ophelia opposite Laurence Olivier in 1948 Best Picture Oscar winner "Hamlet" and appeared alongside Kirk Douglas in 1960's "Spartacus."
Simmons won an Emmy for her role in the 1980s miniseries "The Thorn Birds." 

Jean Simmons as Fiona 'Fee' Cleary in The Thorn Birds

Ralph de Bricassart: Poor little Meggie. It must be hard being the only girl.
Fiona 'Fee' Cleary: But I've been blessed with sons, these and the two I've buried. It's her sons a mother thinks of, isn't it?
[yells out to Meggie in the field]
Fiona 'Fee' Cleary: Meggie don't dawdle! You've got the chickens to feed!

Ralph de Bricassart: Fee, she's your daughter. It's as if you never remember that.
Fiona 'Fee' Cleary: Does any woman? What's a daughter? Just a reminder of the pain... a younger version of oneself... who will do all the same things, cry the same tears. No, Father. I try to forget I have a daughter.

This is some of the information about The Thorn Birds at The Museum of Broadcast Communications:

U.S. Miniseries
The miniseries The Thorn Birds, based on Colleen McCullough's 1977 best selling novel, was broadcast on ABC for 10 hours between 27 and 30 March 1983. Set primarily on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback, the melodrama focused on the multi-generational Cleary family, and spanned the years 1920-1962.

At the outset, the family--patriarch Paddy Cleary (Richard Kiley), his wife, Fiona (Jean Simmons), and children--moved from New Zealand to Australia to help run Drogheda, owned by Paddy's wealthy sister, Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck). Over the years, numerous deaths and disasters--fire, a drowning, a goring by a wild boar-- were to befall the family.

While the saga recounted the story of the entire Cleary clan, it focused primarily on the lone Cleary daughter, Meggie (Rachel Ward) and her relationship with Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain). Although they met when she was just a child, Meggie grew up to fall in love with the handsome, young Catholic priest who had been banished to the outback for a previous disobedience. Father Ralph was torn between his own love for Meggie, his love for God, and his ambition to rise in the Catholic hierarchy. Spurred on by the spiteful Mary Carson--who was herself attracted to the priest--Father Ralph was forced to choose between his own advancement in the church and his love for Meggie. . .


Melinda said...

Lydia--wow--this was a great reminder for me! I actually an old movie buff and so I am quite familiar with Jean Simmons films. I remember The Thorn Birds, also--although the miniseries (to me) was a disappointment after reading the book (which I really loved so much). She lived a long good life and this was a great tribute to her.

Thanks, Lydia--


Hattie said...

I admired Jean Simmons in Great Expectations. She played the cruel flirt, Estella. I also remember her as a rather over the top Ophelia in Olivier's Hamlet. She was very beautiful and had such a lovely voice
Her first husband, Stewart Granger, was an adolescent passion of mine. She starred in a movie with him, "Young Bess," about Queen Elizabeth and her reputed lover, Thomas Seymour.
I missed The Thorn Birds so will order it on Netlix. It sounds wonderful.

earthtoholly said...

Hi Lydia. My mother just loves this movie. I got her a copy of it a few years ago...maybe I'll watch it with her when I go visit next week, as I've never seen it. And that music was beautiful! Thank you for sharing it.

Yeah, Jean Simmons was great (and beautiful!). I always liked her in The Big Country and couldn't wait until she and Gregory Peck got together!

That line, "What's a daughter? Just a reminder of the pain... a younger version of oneself... who will do all the same things, cry the same tears." First thing I thought of was Jennifer's (WTS) latest post. So fitting.

Great post, Lydia. :o)

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Dea Lydia don't laugh but I'll think Jean Simmons looks like to you!

Rhiannon said...

I loved this mini-series on tv so much. I could watch it again and again..and I have! One of Richard Chamberlains best roles..and Rachel's also. An unrequited loved.

I also loved the tv mini-series "East of Eden" with Jane Seymour playing the role of a selfish conniving woman so well indeed. It was one of her first major roles, along with doing the James Bond movie.

I also loved the original East of Eden movie with James Dean and Julie Harris. She played the role so well. The way she would say "Cal"...and James Dean was incredible in the part of a young man who never felt loved by his matter what he did the other brother was always "Better" and loved by his father. Do you remember that movie and book Lydia?

Like you am very thankful that the two measure 66 and 67 passed. However on a local news show here congressman Dr. Alan Bates from Ashland found it "totally ironic that here in Southern Oregon the place where those measures needed to be passed, due to it being the largest area in Oregon where there is so much poverty, poor and disenfranchised, most southern Oregonians were against it! that's because this is the main radical conservative area in Oregon. Not me though!

Hope your husbands job is going to stay intact due to both measure being passed.



Rhiannon said...

P.S. In regards to Jean Simmons death. I always loved her and thought her a classic beauty. I just saw her in an old film last night on tv right before I went to bed. I used to get her and Leslie Caron confused because I always thought they looked a lot like one another...except for Leslie's french accent.

I am also a Bridget Bardot movie buff..I used to work late at night many eons ago and would watch these French Bridget Bardot movies late at night on a black and white tv. I became her best fan! I am trying to collect all of her movies. There is one movie where at the end she falls from a high building and they just show her flying in the air as she just keeps falling, like she an angel with her hair flying around her and her whispey dress blowing in the ends like that she never hits the ground she just keeps flying in the air as she moves her arms in a graceful flow...It's beautiful.

Wow, you got me thinking about a lot of the old movies I've loved and still do. They just don't make them like that anymore. I hate to say that but I feel it is true.


Lydia said...

Melinda- Ah, so you read the book and have that comparison.
In my online reading about her I found that she was an alcoholic and was in the program at the Betty Ford Clinic, after which she spoke in public about addiction/recovery. Was not aware of that; were you?

Hattie- Interesting to read your impressions of her roles; I will definitely check some of these out. My cousin gave me a freebee offer for Netflix that I haven't used, and this gives me incentive to do so. I hope Thorn Birds is available on Netflix.

earthtoholly- That's great that you may see the film with your mom soon! I'm sure it would mean a lot to her for you to share it with her, and besides, I think you'd love it.
The Big Country! There's another one to enjoy again, hopefully available on Netflix.
Your comment about Jennifer's latest post led me straight there and I agree about the tie-in (and what a great post that is and I've linked it for the enjoyment of others).

Phivos- Huge compliment! I do not see that but wow you made my day. :)

Rhi- My movie-buff friend, you are full of wonderful memories and observations! East of Eden --the film--is another I'd like to see again, and I also enjoyed the TV version with Jane Seymour (have not read the book).
Quite recently I saw a piece in which Bridget Bardot was discussed and her work praised. I find it fascinating that you are a collector of her work; most people aren't much aware of her anymore. The movie you describe sounds phenomenal.
I love the old movies too but do enjoy quality new ones. If you haven't seen 500 Days of Summer you might give it a try. It's not the genre or caliber of the films you've mentioned, but I thought it was perfect in its field and scope. My husband and I loved every minute of it and I highly recommend it. :)

RB said...

I totally relate to the loving the song as much/more than the movie. Beautiful post--and thanks for the wonderful comments on my blog! I would love to give you private lessons...

sharryb said...

Hi Lydia,
How nice of you to post the The Thorn Birds theme after raving about it! No having to search the internet.

I recently watched Elmer Gantry for the first time. Jean Simmons was good (as usual) in that too. Burt Lancaster? Fabulous!

Oh another note. I see that you claim to be grey (side bar). If I have that right you want to send in a photo to my site


Beth Niquette said...

I loved Jean Simmons. She was such a genuine person and her acting reflected that.

Thank you for your comment on my blog. I took the cloud test and I'm a Cirrus cloud--which is fun, because I do so love them.

They make the best angels! ((hugs))

Lydia said...

RB- Thanks for being here. :)
The next-best thing to having yoga lessons from you is reading your posts with your yoga observations. Very special stuff, RB.

Sharry- I'm glad you enjoyed the song. Elmer Gantry...I'd forgotten about that movie. Burt Lancaster was a powerful actor, so masculine.
Re: the hair. If you look at my portrait shot you will notice the bans of darker hair that goes ear-to-ear toward the crown of my head. That is the color of my gray. It's very dark, with lighter gray strands highlighting. I am trimming the ends every six weeks or so, therefore, I still have half a head of hair with the former dyed color. And since I'm wearing braces on my teeth I'm not crazy for the camera these days! But if a shot is taken that shows the grays well - and has a decent smile - I'll email it your way.

@Beth- Left you another message at your blog to let you know that I'm a Cirrus cloud too. They are my favorites.
I love your cloud paintings, Beth!

Anonymous said...

I guess most people would have said well of course he would have chosen her. Since this is the tired narrative of the west that psysical love always conquor. I think so too. The trouble (perhaps) is that this narrative has been repeted many times. So people get tired and wants him to chose something else (church) from boredom.

This is the problem with limited choises I think. If only the man could have been a sailor AND husband evryone would have been happy since now he could be both lover and service.

Lydia said...

Jukka- You make really valid points that people can become bored from a standardized storyline. I never even thought that there would have been viewers who were hoping he would choose the church, but of course there were!
Sailor AND husband...a fine combination and probably not all that many left in the world today. That is sad. :(



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