Celebrity Deaths ›

Jennifer Jones: Acting and Art

Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection

Jennifer Jones: Acting and Art

Actress Jennifer Jones (1919 - 2009) made a name for herself in the 1940s and '50s with successful films such as The Song of Bernadette, Duel in the Sun and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. She was nominated for five Oscars, and won one for best actress.

While Jones is not as widely known as other leading ladies of her time like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford or Ingrid Bergman, she is still remembered in the art world. In 1971, she married industrialist Norton Simon and helped him expand the art collection now on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Legacy spoke to Suzanne Muchnic, author of a 1998 biography of Simon, Odd Man In: Norton Simon and the Pursuit of Culture. Muchnic was the arts writer at the Los Angles Times for more than 20 years and remains a frequent contributor to the Times and art publications. Her most recent book is Helen Lundeberg Poetry Space Silence. She is currently writing a history of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Should Jones be remembered as an Oscar-winning actress or an art collector? In which field do you think she had the most impact?

"She was not an art collector. She should be remembered as an Oscar-winning actress. But she should also be credited with enhancing and supporting the Norton Simon Museum, a cultural jewel of Pasadena that is widely recognized as one of the world's finest private-collection art museums."

How did she change Simon and his art collection?

"Her biggest influence was inadvertent. Jennifer and Norton took a honeymoon trip to India at Jennifer's request. Like many Westerners, she had developed an interest in yoga and Indian culture in the 1960s and yearned to go there. Norton being Norton, he soon got bored. After consulting with Pratapaditya Pal, curator of Indian art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he paid a visit to the National Museum in New Delhi and bought a few Indian pieces from local dealers. Soon after the couple's return to Los Angeles, Norton began seriously collecting Indian art and quickly built one of the nation's best collections of South and Southeast Asian art. That wouldn't have happened without Jennifer."

Jones told The Washington Post in 1977 that she spent most of her life "resisting" art and avoiding dreary museums. What changed her?

"I am not aware of a life-changing moment in terms of art, and I suspect that her words to The Post were a bit of an exaggeration. That said, she probably grew more interested and appreciative of her husband's passion for art over time, and she did love going to the big auctions."

Do you have any thoughts on the relationship/partnership between Jones and Simon?

"Norton adored Jennifer. I think the partnership was exciting for both of them in the early years, but it was difficult when Norton became ill and struggled for many years. Whatever the health challenges may have been, Jennifer ultimately supported the museum and encouraged physical improvements and programmatic changes that have made it more accessible and interesting to the public."

Do you have any favorite anecdotes about Jones that you discovered while working on your biography of Simon?

"She liked to tell a story about how they accidentally bid against each other at an auction. She was raising a paddle in the auction room and he was bidding by phone. When they discovered their mistake, they both dropped out, leaving someone else to pay the price they had raised."

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."