Oklahoma-born actor Phyllis Isley, known to movie fans as Jennifer Jones, was born into the theatrical world in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 2, 1919. She was the daughter of Flora Suber and Phillip R. Isley. Her father was a theatrical producer, and after the 1929 stock market crash he acquired a string of movie houses. Phyllis made her stage debut at age five and became a "star" in school plays at Monte Cassino, where she graduated high school in 1936. After studying at Northwestern University and at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, she and new husband Robert Walker came back to Tulsa and performed in radio dramas on KOME. In 1939 the duo went to Hollywood, where Phyllis tested with Republic Pictures. Her first film, Horizon, came in 1939 and her second, Dick Tracy's G-Men (based on the character created by Oklahoma cartoonist Chester Gould), in 1940. The family moved back to New York and soon included sons Robert, Jr., and Michael.
After testing for David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures, Phyllis Isley began a stellar career as Jennifer Jones. He cast her in The Song of Bernadette (1943), earning her an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Subsequent films Duel in the Sun (released 1946), Love Letters (1945), and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955) also brought Oscar nominations. Some of her most memorable performances came in Portrait of Jennie (1948) and A Farewell to Arms (1957).
In 1949 Jennifer Jones married Selznick and temporarily retired. The couple had a daughter. After Selznick's untimely death in 1965, Jones returned to films. Her credits include Cult of the Damned (1969) and The Towering Inferno (1974). In 1971 she married businessman and famed art collector Norton Simon. At the end of the twentieth century, Jennifer Jones Simon was involved in charitable activities and was president of Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum.
Jennifer Jones died December 17, 2009.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Edward Z. Epstein, Portrait of Jennifer: A Biography of Jennifer Jones (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995). Leonard Maltin, Spencer Green, and Luke Sader, Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1994). Dirk Mathison, "Jennifer Jones Has Spent Millions to Put the Best Art Collection West of Chicago Back on the Map," Los Angeles Magazine (November 1998). David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (3rd ed.;New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 15 March 1944.
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