Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Jean Simmons: My Spartacus Beauty

10 May

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Jean Simmons is my idea of the perfect pin-up. She was curvaceous, sexy and could turn the world on with a million-watt smile. I first met her in a Roman riverbank thanks to AMC (back when classic movies ran commercial-free!) and the Stanley Kubrick directed SPARTACUS with Kirk Douglas. This was the same fever-induced weekend when I was binge-watching classics while high on Nyquil. The stuff didn’t make me sleep off the flu as much as put me in an altered-state of consciousness. One in which I was prey to some of the most beautiful silver screen goddesses. But the greatest goddess of all that weekend was the bosomy Jean Simmons. She was destined to even beat out Elizabeth Taylor in CLEOPATRA. All because of that skinny-dipping scene opposite Kirk “The Chin” Douglas.

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For anyone who hasn’t seen Spartacus, it’s a fantastic sandal & sword epic from back when studios were banking big bucks on putting their a-list stars in burlap sacks and parading them in front of epic backdrops a la ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Egypt – anywhere that the studios could build their massive backlots to emulate. Most of the time they look fake and you need to use more than a little imagination (or Nyquil) to believe. But none of that mattered when Jean swam into frame. I caught the movie in the middle but as far as I was concerned my timing was impeccable. If first impressions are everything, then Jean Simmons made an entrance like no other movie star, ever.

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The scene was obviously risque for the time-period. Late 50’s early 60’s were still chaste by any standard. But Kubrick had a way of justifying his directorial leanings to the censors in such a way that he could get away with having one of the most gorgeous leading-ladies strip down, get into the water and get audiences to buy that her nudity was in keeping with the storyline and her character. Of course, all I cared about at the time was that AMC was going to rebroadcast Spartacus over and over again that weekend, and I could spend my entire time laid out in bed with the beautiful Ms. Simmons.

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One of the great things about AMC back then was they would show a featurette before the movie about the making of the classic called BACKSTORY. I was enthralled with all things Spartacus that weekend, especially how Kubrick shot nude-scenes with Jean and Kirk in a ploy to shock the censors. When they inevitably balked at having her appear topless in love scene (above) Kubrick would “compromise” with the scene he had always intended on using – and everyone was happy. It was a tantalizing tease for the movie’s release back in the day. And the added benefit of Kubrick’s ploy was capturing the beautiful Ms. Simmons at the zenith of her beauty for all future generations to ogle over – especially me – albeit in stills.

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To my knowledge, the offending nude scene footage did not survive. Like so many movies before it, Spartacus was not taken care of the way it should have been and was not restored to full-glory until decades later. These still are all that remain of Jean’s daring skinny-dip for the sword & sandal epic. But there is enough of her in the movie to still make it a thrilling watch. And need I stress that Jean Simmons is an amazing actress aside from her feminine beauty. She is and always will be a class-act in every sense of the word. I only wish that I had seen Spartacus in a movie theater the way it was intended to be watched. Seeing her projected on a 40-foot screen would have made my head spin more than it did that weekend. But until I catch a retrospective, I’ll just have to suffice by seeing her on my flatscreen at home and reminisce of the weekend Jean Simmons nursed me back to health by repeated viewings of seeing her swim in the buff in ancient Rome.

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Here’s Jean with a lot more clothes on looking Pretty in Pink.

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Here she is in her Hollywood heyday hobnobbing with Stewart Granger (Jean’s husband from 1950 – 1960) and that other buxom beauty, Jane Russell.

And one more of Jean, a goddess of the silver screen – dressed down and casual in a contemplative mood.

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Jane Greer: Smoking in Bed

28 Sep

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Jane Greer grows on you. At least she did on me ever since I saw her in Out of the Past (1947). I can see why Howard Hughes fell for her and fell for her hard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Little baby Greer first started her career by winning beauty contests. And as a teenager, her good looks had come into full bloom and an attractive contralto voice made her a desirable addition to any band. Greer was singing with big bands (most notably Enric Madriguera’s orchestra in Latin Club Del Rio in Washington, D.C.) before she was out of her teens.

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The legend goes that age 15, Jane suffered an attack of palsy that left her face partially paralyzed. She claimed that it was through facial exercises to overcome the paralysis that she learned the efficacy of facial expression in conveying human emotion, a skill she was renowned for using in her acting. Plus, it made her hard as nails and when she didn’t like something or someone, well, good luck trying to win her over.

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Howard Hughes spotted Greer modeling on the cover of Life magazine of June 8, 1942 and sent her to Hollywood to become an actress. Now this is where everything gets interested with Greer, starting with the Life photo shoot. Here is a series of photos taken from that session.

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Greer is beautiful and can pour on the cheesecake better than any of them. I especially love her negligee.

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But, true to Jane’s nature she can’t take this stuff, or herself, so seriously and breaks into a play grin that makes her more sexy than ever – IMO.

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But then she gets back to business after a cigarette break.

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And the final version of that life magazine cover is her big break into the business.

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Jane married Rudy Vallee, her senior by 22 years, in 1943. Hughes lent out the actress to RKO to star in many films, including Dick Tracy (1945), Out of the Past (1947), They Won’t Believe Me (1947), and the comedy/suspense film The Big Steal (1949), alongside Out of the Past co-star Robert Mitchum.

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Out of the Past with favorite co-star was a huge hit for both up and coming stars.

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Jane was at first intimidated by her hunky co-star but she quickly got over it after getting to know Mitchum. For all his tough-guy reputation, Robert was one of the nicest, most intelligent and most giving actors who rose to fame in noir.

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Both stars became great friends for the rest of their lives and would star again with each other on screen.

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But it was Out of the Past that anyone who wants to see Greer and Mitchum perform at the top of their form.

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And see Jane Greer as the defining femme fatale that would influence so many others.

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Greer was also the first woman to sue Howard Hughes and RKO Pictures because she didn’t like the films he was putting her in. And here’s the best part – she won. And here’s the even better part, Hughes loved her so much that he kept using her.

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Jane was a true original and one of the first femme fatales onscreen. Offscreen, she told it like it was and played by her own rules as well. Makes you wonder how art does imitate life sometimes.

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Especially when both are starring a leading lady as beautiful and talented as Jane Greer!