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Hollywood Magazine (1941) - Next Year's Academy Award Winner!




Next Year's Academy Award Winner!

You think I'm a little premature? It's too early, you say, to guess who will be the honored player when, in February, 1942, the Academy poll names the best actress for 1941?

Well, you answer me a question. How is anybody going to stop Joan Fontaine? As this is written Joan is doing a top job opposite Cary Grant in Before the Fact, a true Hitchcock thriller. I sat several afternoons in Hitch's dining-room while around the table the script for that movie took form and shape. Even talking about it made my hair stand up. The man who directed Rebecca, for work in which Joan was nominated this year, is going to town in Before the Fact.

Incidentally, here's an odd one. Rebecca was named the finest picture of the year. But Hitch didn't get the nod for direction, Joan lost out to Ginger Rogers (and I've no quarrel with the choice) ; Larry Olivier lost out to Jimmie Stewart (again, no quarrel) , and even the writers of Rebecca didn't receive an award.

What do you suppose made Rebecca the best picture of the year? Perhaps some of its participants are overdue. Academy awards often come a year late.

Still I'm rash, you think, to gamble on Joan against the field? And on one picture?

What do you mean, one picture? It's an open secret in Hollywood that David Selznick has dreamed for years of doing the great old classic, Jane Eyre. I've no inside stuff, but Selznick's back at work. Jane Eyre could be electrified into a hair-stander-upper by emphasizing its eerie suspense. Now — watch closely! Mr. Selznick holds the contract for Alfred Hitchcock's services. Will he keep lending Hitch out, now that Selznick International is set to roll again? Watch the dealer! Mr. Selznick holds the contract on Joan Fontaine. Who could better play the young, frightened, sincere, naive heroine of Jane Eyre?

There's a poetic reason, a warm, human reason, why Fate ought to present Joan with that Jane Eyre lead. We'll retrieve the yarn in a minute, out of her strange, wistful childhood.

But, meanwhile, we're not gambling on Joan as an Academy winner on just two pictures. This girl may be set for the biggest, most important year that any actress has ever had in Hollywood.

You doubtless read that Mr. Selznick bought Rose Franken's smash hit, Claudia. I don't know. Maybe Selznick will wait the two years the play seems sure to run, and then cast in the picture the newcomer, Dorothy Mcguire, who's performing so brilliantly in Claudia on Broadway. But why should he? He's ready to roll, this David Selznick, and he's got Joan Fontaine!

Claudia is the tremendously sincere story of a young bride — gay, merry and unsophisticated, who suddenly becomes mature under the shock of a double emotional crisis in her life. Who could play it better than young, fresh, delightful Joan? You remember, of course, that character change — that waking — that made audiences want to cheer during Rebecca.

It's a mighty good bet that Joan will add to Before the Fact, either Jane Eyre or Claudia. She might land them both — and this year! If she does, she'll not only be an out-in-front candidate for the Academy Award, but seems a good bet to enter the magic "Box-office Ten."

Pretty nice!

Most followers of Joan's career know she was very frail as a child. In fact, there were five times when doctors told Mrs. Fontaine: 'You might as well know. We won't be able to save her." This on-the-brink-and-pull-me-back life began at birth. Joan's digestion was outrageous; it resulted in a skin rash, and she was wrapped in cotton batting the first two years of her life, with only the inquisitive Fontaine nose showing. Later, as Joan says, "I was the sort of girl who couldn't have pneumonia without adding pleurisy. Greedy!"

This made for a rather bookish child; it wasn't until late high school that she was able to swim, play tennis and generally take part in outdoor life. Meanwhile, she did a lot of dreaming always imagining herself strong and beautiful and mixed up in strange and mysterious adventures.

Near the house where Joan lived, in Northern California, was a field-and-woodsy place with a very high fence. "No Trespassing" signs abounded. The gate was always locked. Children of the neighborhood regarded virtually as witches the two grim-looking old maids who owned the forbidden retreat.

Joan went over the fence. Exploring through the grass she came, in another hundred yards, to the "sylvan bower" one reads about in fairy tales. The grass was greener there; wildflowers starred it; light and shade flecked back and forth from the leaves of a giant oak. Tiny white flowers even rooted themselves in the lichened bark of the old tree.

Joan made this private dell her own, reading there by the hour, or lying on her back, dreaming of herself as a tiny Irish fairy, dancing along the grass-tops, or a beautiful lady, girdled in white and very stately, bidding some armored knight good-bye.

Inevitably the Dragon, in the form of one of the maiden ladies (and no dream!), invaded this Paradise.

Joan remembers: "I didn't hear her come. I didn't see her. I felt her."

She looked up from her book, gulping, terror-stricken.

"You bad child!" said the Dragon. "Can't you read signs? Get up and leave, at once. And don't come back!"

The Dragon shook Joan, whose book tumbled from her lap. The Dragon picked it up. "And what are you reading? Trash, I'll wager."

A swift, bony hand picked up the book. "Ah!" The Dragon's face and voice softened; she looked curiously into hazel eyes. "Ah! Jane Eyre ... Jane Eyre."

Tears welled in Joan, who thought she would be barred forever.

But the Dragon said, "Come here and read, child. Come here whenever you like."

Joan came. She never again saw "Miss Jerusha," who didn't intrude on a child's world that she must have guessed.

Nevertheless, Joan played safe. She always brought with her Jane Eyre, regarding it as a sort of passport to Paradise. That summer she read it fourteen times.

So, if she gets to play Jane Eyre, it will mean that the particular, most intense dream of her childhood will attain "reality."

Few human beings have that happen to them.

Joan's imagination and intensity are both assets and liabilities. She feels everything too much and, being one of the shyest people in Hollywood, often ties herself in knots of nervous excitement, suspense or over-eagerness. Your reporter went to see her on the set of Before the Fact, just after lunch.

"Do I look all right?" Joan asked. "Do I look cool? Am I self-possessed?" (She was about to be called for a scene.)

Your reporter reassured her.

"I'm glad I look all right," said Joan. "I just had the same thing happen to my lunch that happened to a certain African empire."

"You don't mean it!"

Joan made a little face. "Not a single lunch has stayed with me in the three weeks since Before the Fact started shooting."

"But why?"

"Oh — a new job. New people to work with. It always gets me that way."

Maybe the Academy will have to design a triple Oscar and give it to Joan for all three of her pictures this year.

Even if they do, it won't change Joan.

Quite a gal — Mrs. Brian Aherne!