More December Milestones of the Marrying Kind

Birthday greetings to Jane Fonda, born on this day in 1937 (and also married on this date in 1991 to now ex-husband Ted Turner), and to the lovely former starlet Colleen Townsend, who was born on this day in 1928.  (More on Ms. Townsend and her interesting career and life switch coming up in my entry on Monday!)

Yesterday, December 20th, was a productive day for Hollywood marriages.  In 1949, the actor forever known as Rhett Butler, Clark Gable, was married to Gable and Lady Sylvia AshleyLady Sylvia Ashley, a pale blonde British beauty who was variously a socialite, a model, an actress, and the bride of a succession of rich and important men.  Achieving the title from the marriage (her first) to Lord Ashley, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, she subsequently turned her sights to former silent screen matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks, from whom she was widowed in 1939.  Another marriage to a titled gentlemen, then divorce from him, freed her up to marry Gable, a union which would last a scant eighteen months, though reportedly Gable had already declared the marriage a mistake less than a month later.  The marriage to Gable and AshleyLady Ashley was Clark Gable’s fourth, following a seven year period of bachelorhood after the tragic plane crash death of the love of his life Carole Lombard back in 1942.  After Ashley he would marry one last time in 1955 to Kay Williams (then recently divorced from a Spreckels sugar empire heir), a happy marriage that was unfortunately cut short by Gable’s heart attack and death in 1960.  Kay was pregnant at the time and delivered his son several months later.  Lady Ashley would go on to marry once again, to car racing enthusiast and hotelier Prince Dimitri Djordjadze, and the now Princess Sylvia and the Prince had a happy marriage until her death in 1977.

And one year later, in 1950, delicate and talented 21-year-old British actress Jean Simmons tied the knot with a fellow actor, the debonair, previously Granger and Simmons nearly marriedmarried, and sixteen-years-older-than-she-was Stewart Granger.  The extremely attractive couple, who had become acquainted while working in England on 1945’s Caesar and Cleopatra, both came to Hollywood and appeared in a scant handful of movies together, probably the most famous of them 1953’s Young Bess, with Jean as a young and vibrant pre-Queen Elizabeth and Granger as her ardent suitor.  Both had successful careers in 1950s Hollywood, though Simmons’ list of Grade A credits – The Robe (1953), Desiree (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), and 1960s’ Elmer Gantry and Spartacus — perhaps overshadowed her husband’s slightly less weighty but nonetheless very entertaining and often Granger and Simmons marriedswashbuckling resume, including Scaramouche (1952), King Solomon’s Mines (1950), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), and Beau Brummel (1954), among others.  Ultimately the pair divorced in August of 1960, and Jean married director Richard Brooks, who gave her the role in Elmer Gantry.  (For the weird and a bit creepy story of eccentric genius Howard Hughes’ contractual – and otherwise – interest in Miss Simmons, a relationship which ultimately wound up in court, check out this excellent website).  Stewart Granger died in 1993; Jean Simmons continues to act, especially in voice work, and her reputation as one of the most gracious and unaffected women in Hollywood is intact to this day.

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