Jennifer Jones is not the first name that automatically pop-ups to people’s head when thinking about classic Hollywood. A name like Ingrid Bergman has more chances to. It is intriguing, as Mrs. Jones had quite a prolific career in Hollywood. We remember her four pairings alongside Joseph Cotten, in Duel in the Sun, Love Letters, Portrait of Jennie, and Since You Went Away. The two had magical chemistry that electrified films. Ingrid Bergman also shared the screen with the underrated Jo Cotten in Gaslight and Under Capricorn. We suspect Enchanting Lady Grace Kelly might have had a soft spot for these two pictures as Cotten and Bergman were both her favourite classic actors when she was a young girl. But, to come back to Jennifer Jones, she also won an Oscar for The Song of Bernadette (and was nominated for three others). Overall, she played in a bunch of iconic films such as the ones previously mentioned but also Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Man With the Grey Flannel Suit or, her last one, The Towering Inferno. Jennifer Jones had talent, beauty, and the main ingredients to make her a star. But yet, she remains quite underrated.
But, today, we are interested in discussing a subject that concerns directly one of our three enchanting ladies: her friendship with Ingrid Bergman. The occasion is Jones’s centenary. She left us 10 years ago at the age of 90 but fans are always eager to celebrate her, especially on such a special day. And I thought this would be a good excuse to finally write something on this blog (I made myself the resolution to write articles here on a more regular basis). I am, most of all, particularly interested in making the connections between the two actresses’ lives, careers, and personalities.
The first word that comes to my mind when I think of Ingrid Bergman and Jennifer Jones’s relationship is Oscar (I mean the Academy Awards, not a man named Oscar). In 1944, both Jones and Bergman were nominated for Best Actress. This was both their first nomination. Jennifer Jones was nominated for The Song of Bernadette (Henry King, 1943) and Ingrid was nominated for For Whom the Bell Tolls (Sam Wood, 1943). As there could only be one winner (normally), the Award finally went to Jones. She managed to prove us her talent quite rapidly as this was only her third film. When she won, Jennifer actually apologized to Ingrid. What I love about the whole thing is that this one answered: “No, Jennifer, your Bernadette was better than my Maria.” This is one of the numerous reasons why I adore Ingrid. She knew how to recognize other people’s talent and didn’t get jealous if she didn’t win an award. As a matter of fact, she was pretty humble about the whole thing. We all remember when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Murder On the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974) and, during her acceptance speech, said that Valentina Cortese should have got it instead. She surely was a role model.
The following year, it was Ingrid’s turn to finally win her first Oscar, for her complex performance in Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944) and the Award was given to her in person by no one else than her friend Jennifer Jones. Very ladylike, she said to Ingrid “Your artistry has won our vote and your graciousness has won our heart.” The whole time Ingrid accepted her award, she was looking at her with a big smile of admiration and true respect (who wouldn’t). We suspect she was quite happy for her friend. It’s a shy but totally adorable Ingrid who accepted the award.
Just like Ingrid, Jennifer was discovered by producer David O. Selznick. She was, at the time, married to actor Robert Walker (Since You Went Away, The Clock, Strangers On a Train). She began an affair with Selznick, whom she eventually married. Does this remind you of something? The scandal is not as much known as the Rossellini-Bergman one but, sadly, the “abandoned” husband wasn’t as strong as Dr. Lindström, and Robert Walker died of a heart attack at the young age of 33. This was six years after his divorce to Jones but he, unfortunately, didn’t get over it. He didn’t only suffer from alcoholism, but also of great sorrow. Jones, as a matter of fact, had quite a difficult life and I think people like Ingrid who also suffered during their life were in the perfect position to understand her and vice versa. Unfortunately, it seems that Jennifer’s personal life kind of overshadowed her acting career but Jennifer never had the desire to be seen as”the mean woman”. Sometimes, life just happens. Interestingly, Ingrid was also a friend of David O. Selznick and his wife Irene and I always wondered how she positioned herself in all that…
Ingrid, during the scandal with Rossellini, was, of course, harassed by greedy reporters (to the point that she had to develop quite impressive skills to hide from them). Jennifer would also try to avoid the press. Like Ingrid, she was very shy (maybe even more) and very rarely gave interviews. Ingrid gave enough to gives us a good preview of which type of person she was in real life and accepted to discuss her private life in an autobiography. But Jones probably felt this was her own concern and didn’t necessarily wanted to be the center of attention. In an article by Karina Longworth on the website Slate, it is explained how insecure poor Jones was and how she hated to give interviews and have her picture taken. When approached for such things, she would make believe that she was the maid and say “Miss Jones is out of the city.” Jones was constantly a victim of Selznick manipulations and being way too kind, she wouldn’t even imagine asking him to divorce his wife. Ingrid’s relationship with Roberto Rossellini was also a complex one, despite the fact that it started quite passionately. But these complications weren’t exactly the same as the ones she had with Petter Lindström. Roberto Rossellini was just, overall, not always easy to live. Despite all that, Jones stayed married to Selznick until his death in 1965.
Another thing that both ladies definitely share was an undeniable sense of humour. We know how big Ingrid Bergman’s one was and so was Jennifer’s. She is quoted on IMDB saying “If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor.” And I totally agree with her. To me, a sense of humour is a magic trick to make people appreciate you. It gives you authenticity and sometimes makes people forget your mistakes. A lot of my favourite actors and actresses had a good sense of humour and didn’t necessarily took themselves too seriously. Jennifer had to go through a lot (the Selznick affair, a suicide attempt and the suicide of her daughter), so a good sense of humour was probably her strongest and best weapon.
There are, unfortunately, not a lot of information on how Ingrid became friend with Jennifer and how it got developed over the years. Well, the ladies both came from the same milieu, were around the same age (Ingrid was a bit older), were both Selznick’s protégées, so it’s more likely that they would eventually bump into each other. Two ladies with terribly humble, kind and shy personalities probably also made in sort that they would get along fine with each other, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case with two larger than life personalities or with people with a too competitive spirit (we can think of Bette David rivalry with Joan Crawford). One thing is sure, they definitely respected and appreciated each other.
If you are an Ingrid Bergman fan, I highly suggest you see some of Mrs. Jones films. Because discovering an actress via another one is always a good thing. My personal favourites are Portraits of Jennie, Since You Went Away, and The Towering Inferno. Sadly, Ingrid and Jennifer never starred in a movie together but this could have been an interesting experience to both of them.
Happy centenary Jennifer, wherever you are!
“Jennifer Jones: Biography.” IMDB, n.d., https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0428354/bio?ref_=nm_dyk_qt_sm#quotes. Accessed 2 Mar, 2019.
Longworth, Karina. “Portrait of Jennie- The terrible doomed romance of David O. Selznick and Jennifer Jones.” Slate, 27 November 2015, https://slate.com/culture/2015/11/the-terrible-doomed-romance-of-david-o-selznick-and-jennifer-jones.html. Accessed 2 Mar, 2019.
Vallance, Tom. “Jennifer Jones: Actress who won an Oscar for her role in ‘The Song of Bernadette’.” Independent, 19 December 2009, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jennifer-jones-actress-who-won-an-oscar-for-her-role-in-the-song-of-bernadette-1845130.html. Accessed 2 Mar, 2019.