Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons

When I was a child spending my Saturday afternoons at the Princess Theater watching their matinees, I thought Jean Simmons was the most beautiful woman in the world and I wanted to be her when I grew up. She was often in the matinee features, usually in a biblical epic or a blood and sandals flick. Nobody was better in those roles and I loved those movies.

I particularly remember her in Spartacus. In fact, I was just thinking about that recently when I learned that there was a television remake of that movie. (And I really wish they wouldn't, but that's a subject for another day.) Ms. Simmons played a slave who fell in love with the gladiator Spartacus, leader of a rebellion that almost succeeded against the overpowering might of the Roman Empire. Spartacus, of course, was played by Kirk Douglas. The second most memorable scene of the movie for me was at the end when Spartacus is hanging on the cross and Simmons stands before him to show him their baby as he is dying. The most memorable scene, naturally, is when the Roman general played by Laurence Olivier offers the rebels freedom if they will identify their leader Spartacus, who will then be crucified. After a slight hesitation, each man, one after the other, steps forward saying, "I am Spartacus!" They are all crucified.

Before Spartacus, there were movies like Desiree and Guys and Dolls, in both of which she played opposite Marlon Brando, and The Robe with Richard Burton and The Egyptian. I didn't see any of those movies at the matinee, but, at some point, I saw them all on television, and I always marveled at Ms. Simmons' embodiment of the characters that she played.

Incidentally, last year, I finally got around to reading the novel that The Egyptian was based on. It was by Mika Waltari and is called, funnily enough, The Egyptian. Throughout my reading of the book, it was always Jean Simmons' face I saw as the tavern maid who loved the physician.

It was impossible that I should achieve my wish of growing up to be Jean Simmons. The role was already taken, and she played it so well. And even though the beautiful lady died this week at the age of 80, I'm afraid it is too late for me.

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