They played lovers in the film. They were married in real life. They had two young sons. But she was under the spell of another, much older, much more successful man.

That’s Jennifer Jones, dancing with Joseph Cotten, and her husband Robert Walker, dancing with Claudette Colbert, in a scene from their 1944 film, Since You Went Away.

All was not well at the time. David O. Selznick, the famed producer was also married, but was obsessed with Jennifer.

Cotten remembered that one day while sitting quietly between rehearsals, Colbert turned to him and asked, Is it true, Joe, this talk I hear around the lot?

Cotten responded, What talk? I haven’t heard a word.  Concluded Colbert: If you haven’t heard about it, it’s not true.” The subject was dropped and never brought up again.

A few days later director Alfred Hitchcock visited the movie set, and casually remarked to Cotten: I suppose David and Jennifer are going to get married as soon as his divorce is final. I had a letter from England today.

A stunned Cotten later recalled that “Claudette and I, each thinking that we were sitting on a powder keg, remained silent.  The picture was not in any way affected by their romance.”

Jones eventually ended her marriage to Walker. But didn’t marry Selznick until 1949.

Cotten and Jones went on to star in a trio of solid pictures: William Dieterle’s Love Letters in 1945, King Vidor’s  Duel in the Sun a year later and Dieterle’s 1949 classic  A Portrait of Jennie.

Cotten and Jones proved to be an adept and easy-to-look at screen couple.  Off-camera, producer Selznick and Jones became fast Cotten friends. After his first wife, Lenore Kipp Lamont, died in Rome, Cotten was personally at sea.

Selznick and Jones took him under their wing, aiding and abetting Cotten’s subsequent romance with actress Patricia Medina, who eventually married the actor in 1960.  That was a happy union, lasting until Cotten’s death in 1994.

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