Inside Love Story of Jennifer Jones"
by Crawford Dixon
Screen & Television Guide - April 1949
"By the time you read this, Jennifer Jones, a tall, thin girl with gazelle-like eyes set in a sensitive face, and David Selznick, a tall, husky tycoon driven on by a boundless imagination and ambition, may be man and wife.
And then again, they may not be. They both have a sublime indifference for the scheduled life.
In any event, if marital love is not theirs already, it soon will be; for David and Jennifer, despite the disparity in age, background, and temperament, have sparked one of the most genuine, tempestuous love affairs in the long hectic history of Hollywood.
Their is the fruition of the American dream, the personification of the Cinderella legend, the story of the young girl from the country who fell in love with the boss and became his wife.
This is the story of a young mother mismated to an actor named Robert Walker, and a great producer mismated to a fabulous heiress named Irene Mayer, and of the shackles they dropped and the obstacles they surmounted to bring a togetherness to a love that could not be denied.
When David Selznick first set eyes on Phyllis Isley Walker, she was a young girl of twenty-two, living with her young husband Robert Walker, and her two babies in a six-room apartment in Garden City, Long Island. She was thin, pale, fragile, and looking for work.
Selznick was a good fifteen years older. He was a millionaire, internationally-known, as powerful as a Notre Dame tackle, and the father of two boys. He lived in a Beverly Hills mansion. He had experienced virtually no poverty in his life. By heritage, training, and background, he was obsessed by a restless, driving, overwhelming ambition.
If ever people were different, it was these two, who seem 'fated' to meet.
They had only one factor in common -- the entertainment business. Selznick was a great producer, and Phyllis Walker wanted to become a great actress.
Selznick was the son of Lewis J. Selznick, a motion picture pioneer who will long be remembered for his memorable maxim, 'There's no business in the world in which a man needs so little brains as in the movies.'
Phyllis was the daughter of Phil Isley, owner of the Isley Stock Company, a tent show that toured the rural districts in the Middle West.
Other than that entertainment background, Selznick and Phyllis were poles apart. In many things they still are, which proves true that old saying, 'Opposites attract.'
And yet these two, separated by the age of a generation, raised in different faiths, different environments -- these two fell in love.
What strange chemistry of events made that possible?
What characteristics did they see in each other that kindled the spark?
It is well-known in Hollywood, of course, that Jennifer regards David as a genius whose insight, ability, and imagination have brought the motion picture industry to new heights.
If she is aware of his faults, and like most of us he has a few, she never mentions them in public. When people are present and the subject of Selznick comes up, Jennifer always says, 'To me, David is the most wonderful and brilliant man I've ever known. He's so instinctively right about everything.'
Such ardent hero worship is flattering to any man's ego, and it may be that this young adoration of him, her wonderment at his sureness is what he finds most attractive.
Jennifer Jones thinks that the sun rises and sets on David Selznick. If she has any objectivity about his place in society as a man, a husband, a father, or a producer, none of it has ever been brought to light. Whatever David wants to do with her career is all right with Jennifer. 'He knows so much more about the motion picture business than I will ever know,' she recently told friends, 'that it would be silly for me to argue with him.'
There are many in Hollywood who insist that the mental gap between Selznick and his protegee is too wide, that not even marriage will help close it. 'David,' they say, 'is a dynamo. Have you ever seen him in action? He paces to and fro. He dictates memos that go on and on forever. His mind is trigger-sharp. He's worn out more secretaries than any other executive in the business. One of his secretaries, after spending a few years with him, sat down and wrote a book called 'I Lost My Girlish Laughter.' Read it. Then you'll understand how restless, driving, forceful, intelligent, and energetic this man is.
As for Jennifer, she's an intelligent girl, all right. She attended Monte Cassino Junior College, a Benedictine Sisters school in Tulsa. She rides horses as well as any man, and she loves the outdoors. In disposition she's sweet-tempered, gracious and thoughtful -- but not dynamic.
They eventually became fascinated by their cultural and environmental differences. For example, they had both married persons who were similar to them in background and culture.
Selznick had married Irene Mayer, daughter of L.B. Mayer, chief of M-G-M. L.B. Mayer had come to this country from Russia as a little boy and had worked himself up to the highest rungs of the financial ladder. As a father, he had seen to it that his daughter, Irene, was given all the advantages that money could buy.
David's father, Lewis J. Selznick, had also come to this country from Russia. He, too, had worked himself up into the millionaire class. A brilliant promoter, old man Selznick had the unique philosophy that the more money a person spent, the more he was driven to achieve. He therefore gave his sons the most amazing allowances.
His eldest boy, Myron, for example, was given an allowance of $1100 a week when he was twenty-one. David received an allowance of only $300 a week when he was eighteen.
Of this sum, David used to try and bank a portion for the proverbial rainy day, but his father always looked upon that action with amusement. When David later became a producer, he adopted his father's extravagance, and to good purpose, too. In the midst of the depression, he produced 'Gone With the Wind', the most successful picture ever made. To date it has grossed $35 million.
Anyway, when it came time for him to marry, David Selznick married a girl who was raised in the same world as himself. Irene Mayer was wealthy, city-bred, sharp, shrewd, intelligent, knowing, perceptive, beautifully groomed, and well-versed in the problems of the motion picture business. So, too, was Selznick.
She and David had everything in common, and yet their marriage ended in divorce.
The same thing happened to Jennifer and Robert Walker. Jennifer came from Tulsa in the mid-west. Walker came from Salt Lake City in the Rocky Mountain west. They were both children of average families. They both wanted to make the stage their career.
In 1938 they registered as students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. That's when they first met. They were cast as Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in the Academy version of 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street'.
'We played love scenes together from 2 to 4,' Bob says, 'and then we discovered that we weren't play-acting.'
The two students got married. They lived in New York, and Mrs. Robert Walker eventually gave birth to two sons, just as Mrs. David Selznick had given birth to two boys in California.
Despite the binding presence of children, despite the fact that both participants had the identical occupation, the Robert Walker marriage also ended in divorce. Jennifer would have divorced Bob if she had never met Selznick.
It so happens that she ran into Selznick while she was still married. She called at his New York office one day to try out for the title role in the screen version of 'Claudia'.
'They let me read the part,' Jennifer says, 'and I was very bad, and I started to cry and that's when David walked into the office and saw me crying and told me to come back on the following day.'
Two weeks later, Selznick signed Phyllis Walker to a long-term contract and sent her out to Santa Barbara to play in William Saroyan's drama, 'Hello, Out There'. After that, he returned her to New York for further study with the Group Theatre.
In February of 1942, he brought her back to the Coast and introduced her to the press.
'How did you get that lovely name, Jennifer Jones?' one of the reporters asked the actress.
She smiled demurely. 'My mother must have been reading an old English novel,' Jennifer averred.
There are many stories as to how Phyllis Isley Walker became Jennifer Jones. At one time or another every person in the Selznick organization has taken credit for the appellation.
The official story is that Selznick rechristened the girl because he had always wanted a daughter named Jennifer.
It was at this press interview that Selznick announced that Jennifer Jones would play the lead in 'Song of Bernadette'. As we all know, Jennifer received the Academy Award for her portrayal. It was inspirationally sensitive, angelically moving, and her large, sad eyes, her wistful naive manner, and her humble yet dignified attitude won the plaudits of virtually every critic in the nation.
The day after she won the Oscar -- the statuette itself means little to Jennifer and she seems to have lost it -- the actress announced her separation from Bob Walker and her intention to file for divorce.
The Selznick marriage was simultaneously tottering on the brink. After Jennifer divorced Bob Walker, David gave the girl more of his time. Gradually, he began to fall in love with her.
Ordinarily, when a man marries twice, his second wife is much the same as his first. That isn't true in Selznick's case. Jennifer is as different from Irene Mayer Selznick as is possible. She has none of Irene's seemingly innate shrewdness or sense of fashion. She lacks her dominant sophistication.
Despite her thirty years, Jennifer is essentially a girl. When she took the children to Switzerland last year, she was just as awed as they were at the majestic scenery. The Paris fashion designers overwhelmed her. She has never lost her girlish enthusiasm. This enthusiasm is one of the qualities about her that David likes so much.
Now that Selznick has ceased producing pictures himself, he has seen to it that Jennifer is starred in only top-flight productions such as 'We Were Strangers,' produced at Columbia, 'Madame Bovary,' at M-G-M, and 'Gone to Earth,' which she will make in Wales.
Will he make her the greatest actress in the world? 'Portrait of Jennie,' his last production, brings new lustre to Jennifer's fame as a top actress.
There's no doubt but what under David's capable management, Jennifer's career will achieve new importance and reach new heights.
All her fans hope her marriage to David achieves the same heights in happiness."
Copyright Screen and Television Guide