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Oklahoma Memories

Jennifer Jones Dies

2010-01-04

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"You do realize that you're on trial for the murder of your husband?" "Yes, I understand that, and I'm not afraid - not now - but you see I've sworn to tell the truth, and I don't remember that I had a husband.""Don't you want to try and help me? Don't you want to remember?""No. I know I should, and I'm trying as hard as I can. I must tell the truth, and I don't want to remember. I don't know what I did or what happened. So long as I don't know it, it never happened, not really, not to me."

That's the voice of Jennifer Jones in her 1945 movie Love Letters in which she played the role of Singleton, or Victoria Moreland, and for which was nominated for her second Academy Award.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

On March 2, 1919, Phylis Lee Isley was born in Tulsa. She attended Monte Cassino School in Tulsa. Her parents had a touring stock company, and by the time she was in junior high school, the family had moved to Oklahoma City where Phylis attended Harding Junior High School. Following high school she attended Northwestern University, then in 1938 transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Acting was in her blood. There she met fellow acting student Robert Walker and fell in love. They were married in January 1939. Following the wedding they returned to Tulsa for a 13-week radio program her father had arranged, then they were off to Hollywood.

Almost immediately she landed a small role in a John Wayne western, New Frontier, then a small part in a Dick Tracy serial. She was billed as Phylis Isley in both those movies. The couple then left Hollywood for New York. Walker found steady work in radio; Phyllis was modeling hats. Then she learned the New York office of David Selznick was auditioning for a particularly good role. She didn't get the part, but Selznik was so impressed with her, he signed her to a seven-year contract and began grooming her for stardom and gave her a new name: Jennifer Jones. In 1943, back in Hollywood she read for the part of Bernadette in the movie The Song of Bernadette. She won the role.

The movie opens with Bernadette, her sister Marie and sister's friend Jeanne collecting firewood near the town of Lourdes, France. Bernadette is left behind when her sister and friend cross a cold river and warn Bernadette not to follow them for fear of becoming ill.

"Bernadette, don't you come in that water. Remember what Mamaw told you.""I won't catch cold.""Oh, won't you? You'll get a cough then your asthma will keep me awake all night long.""Maybe I can jump across the rocks or something.""Yes and tumble in, and when you fall in and get your bottom wet, don't ask me to wring you out." "But if I dry my seat real well I won't catch cold." (Scene from The Song of Bernadette)

On her 25th birthday in 1944, Jennifer Jones was named Best Actress, winning the Oscar for part as Bernadette. Over the next 20 years Selznick featured Jones in a variety of roles, including Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck.

"Well, you got gumption, girl, but you ain't got no sense.""If you'd only let me start him right instead of scaring him that way.""It wasn't him that was scared.""He won't throw me next time, I'll bet he won't.""Ahh, you better stick to buggy riding. Maybe him and me ain't your style." "There ain't no maybe about you. Lewt, I wish you'd let me ride him some more.""Why, sure sure, how'd you like me to give him to you?""You mean for keeps? You're not just teasing?""Nah, nah, guess you'd rather have Jesse pick you out a riding horse, even if he don't know the difference between a Pinto and a Strawberry Roan.""No, I like this one, and you like me, don't you, honey? You won't throw me no more.""Alright, he's yours."(Scene from Duel in the Sun)

This was another part for which she was nominated for an Oscar. In 1955 she was again nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Dr. Han Suyin in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing with William Holden.

"It wouldn't be good for you to see much of me, anyhow. Might even be harmful.""Oh? Why?""I'm Eurasian. The word itself seems to suggest a certain moral laxity in the minds of some people." (Scene from Love is a Many-Splendored Thing)

Jennifer Jones passed away last month on December 17th at the age of 90, her son, Robert Walker Jr., at her bedside.

You can learn more about arts and artists from Oklahoma by visiting the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.