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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/17/09

Jennifer Jones, RIP: A truly Great Lady

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Message Michael Fox


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Great patron of the arts, who also happened to be the Oscar winning widow of both David O. Selznick and Norton Simon, SHE gave us the Norton Simon museum, for which she is owed a great and lasting tribute -grande dame, in the greatest sense of the phrase!

Here was a woman who was independently successful before marrying two tremendously accomplished men (incidentally, it was her money that kept Selznick afloat at the end, due to his gambling and foolish business decisions, like selling off the rights to Gone With the Wind in 1944 to Jock Whitney for $400,000, who in turn sold it to MGM one year later for $2million)

It was she who took arguably the finest privately held art collection and created the crown jewel of midsize museums in Los Angeles (and that's really saying a lot, when you think about it. This is a jewellike theTaylor/Burton Diamond is a wedding ring).

Every great city has its boldface public museum (the Met, Louvre, Prado, LACMA), and then there are the smaller collections - the Getty may get the glory nowadays, but as permanent collections go, the Norton Simon has a finer, more exquisitely selected permanent collection. Not one piece is "filler" - every single piece in the collection was selected as the finest representation of its period and artist. While Norton Simon surely made provisions, Jennifer Jones could've - like so many more selfish people today - fought to retain a lot of the art, auctioned it off and kept the money, but she was more civic minded, and gave back to the town that had given her so much; after his death expanding the museum and renovating the garden (in itself a marvel - because it's butt-up against a freeway, but so well done, you'd think you're in a peaceful Japanese country estate).

In spite of all the wealth and fame (and Oscar), hers was not a perfect life by any means. Her first marriage (Robert Walker) was plagued by his alcoholism and depression, her second, to Selznick, while it provided her with some choice roles, he, too, was a notorious benzedrine addict and gambler. Unquestionably a fine artist, the independent producer as auteur, Selznick made some of the finest films of all time (GWTW, Rebecca, Intermezzo, Garden of Allah, etc ), but he lost more money than he made, and yet she stayed with him until his death in 1965, and she supported him for the last ten years.

She lost two children (one to suicide, one to illness).

But it was with Simon that she found contentment, and the result of their civic mission, the museum (located in Pasadena), speaks of a thoroughly unselfish woman, and the entire Eastern art collection is a result of her tastes and influence. Her name could easily have been on the new building, but it isn't - she finished the museum as a testament to him. As if that wasn't enough, she dedicated herself to philanthropic work for the benefit of those seeking medical attention for drug addiction recovery.


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Michael Fox is a writer and economist based in Los Angeles. He has been a corporate controller, professor, and small business entrepreneur. After a life-altering accident, he spent five years learning more about medicine and the healthcare (more...)
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