Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Just Who Is This, Girls??????????????
Indeed, darlings!!!!!!! Just who is the young girl in the above photo? I have to confess
I was stunned when I found out.
For starters, she is no longer among the Living. She would have been around my age
if alive today, but she passed away tragically in 1976, at the age of 21. I imagine the above
photo is not much removed from the time of her death.
The young woman in the above photo would also qualify by my definition for the title
of Hollywood's Most Unhappy Celebrity Child.
She is.....was.....Mary Jennifer Selznick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, if some of those names sound familiar to some of my girls, well, they damn well should!
Miss Selznick was the daughter--the only child--of film producer David O. Selznick, and his wife, actress
Jennifer Jones. And while Brooke Hayward brilliantly chronicled the pitfalls of being a celebrity's child in "Haywire" (and her parents were no slouches, being the producer Leland Hayward and the actress Margaret Sullavan) Mary had a much tougher road to haul. Her parents were not just celebrities; they were icons. Her father happened to produce what was the most important film of its day, a little something we still all know and love called "Gone With The Wind;" her mother was one of the most beautiful women to appear on camera, memorable for her stunning performance in "The Song Of Bernadette" (for which she won the Academy Award as Best Actress of 1943) not to mention the murderous, half-breed Indian girl, Pearl Chavez (who, the publicity said, was "built by the Devil to drive men crazy!") in "Duel In The Sun," as well as the ethereal ghost in the haunting "Portrait Of Jennie. With such a gene pool, Mary's pedigree was extraordinary, and she might very well have attained a youthful start very much like her almost counterpart onstage, Susan Strasberg.
But, along with this pedigree, Mary, I believe, also inherited some of the worst aspects of her parents' gene pool, which did not work in her favor. David O. Selznick was a bundle of nerves, who gulped pills constantly on every set he worked on. I am surprised he and Judy Garland never met up at the same rehab clinic at least once. He was strongly addicted to gambling, losing so much money that he had to sell off his share of profits in GWTW, and this habit was a constant source of anxiety to Jennifer Jones. And she had her problems, too. As Phyllis Isley, in Oklahoma, she had been Daddy's girl, and this drew her to older and more powerful men. This need for protection, for emotional security, may be one reason why her short lived marriage to the extremely handsome, vulnerable, unstable yet gifted actor, Robert Walker, did not work out. Common history blames Jennifer for abandoning him for career advancement via Selznick, and while it cannot be denied he did wonders for her, what I have read has led me to suspect more. For one thing, even after the divorce, Jennifer never denied Walker access to his sons. For another, it has been suggested that Walker's volatility sometimes erupted into physical attacks on Jennifer, which, Selznick or not, would have been something she would have wanted to get she and the boys away from. There are two sides to every story, darlings!!!!!!!! In addition, Jennifer was plagued with anxiety and insecurity--about her acting, her own self-worth. She needed strong direction to manage a performance, and she was highly sensitive when those performances came in for criticism. Several years after Selznick's death, in her late 40s, she was found wandering on a beach, having ingested a considerable amount of sleeping pills, in an attempt at suicide. Several years later, she married the philanthropist/art dealer, Norton Simon, who, ironically, had lost one of his children to suicide, as Jennifer Jones would eventually also.
It seems Mary Jennifer had trouble all her life. Measured against her mother, she never felt as attractive; the surprise is, the picture I have used shows a young woman a good deal more attractive than I had at first thought. But, girls, next to Jennifer Jones, who among us would look as good? Liz Taylor in her day, maybe, but that is an extraordinary exception.
Besides which, there was always mother-daughter friction between Mary and her mother; and before she turned twenty one she had survived a suicide attempt, an abortion, and a stint in a psychiatric ward. Mary was on fragile ground.
So, with her lineage, she decided to make a foray into acting, coming to New York for
a time, and studying with Uta Hagen at the HB Studio. It did not seem like Mary had the stuff her
Around this same time, in May of 1976, Phil Isley, father of Jennifer Jones (who was christened Phyllis Isley, after him) was dying of cancer, at 83. His actress daughter was with him in the hospital, when, on May 11, the day after what would have been Selznick's 74th birthday, had he lived, came word that Mary Jennifer had been found dead. Apparently, she had had some kind of emotional crash (and she was said to have substance abuse problems as well) and proceeded to the tallest building in the Brentwood area--10701 Wilshire Boulevard. A locale, ironically, plainly visible from the window of her psychiatrist's office. There, tragically, Mary Jennifer chose death, jumping off the roof.
Whatever may be said about Jennifer Jones, it cannot be denied that for whatever she got--stardom, wealth, security, she paid a high price for it, and then some. I guess my recent viewing of 'Bernadette' made me think of Jones, who has now been gone for over two years, and to wonder about Mary Jennifer, who, again, were she here now, would be about my age.
Girls, I promise to find something more cheerful to write about in the near future. Don't worry; I am not going from this, to Sylvia Plath. That would be cause for getting out the razor blades. Mary Jennifer Selznick was not the first celebrity child to commit suicide, and, sadly, she will not be the last. But of all the stories, hers to me seems the saddest.
She may not have been her mother. But she had a Future!!!!!!!!!
As do all my girls out there, loves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!