YESTERDAY’S PIC: That marvelously playful photo of Joseph Cotten dancing with Jennifer Jones and Claudette Colbert in the arms of Robert Walker is glorious. How gorgeous these classic screen stalwarts looked off camera. The shot was taken circa 1944 when the quartet costarred in David O Selznick’s production of the wartime drama “Since You Went Away,” released by United Artists.
Cotten was 39 at the time while Colbert was the senior of the group at age 41. Jones and Walker, husband and wife at the time, were just 25 and 26, respectively. Jones played one of Colbert’s daughters in the picture (the other was Shirley Temple). All was not well at the time with her six-year marriage to Walker, however.
Cotten remembered that one day while sitting quietly between rehearsals, Colbert turned to him and asked, “Is it true, Jo, 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 blabbed to Cotten that “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 ended her marriage to Walker a year later, and married Selznick in 1949.)
Cotten and Jones went on to star in a trio of solid pictures: William Dieterle’s “Love Letter”s in 1945, King Vidor’s “Duel in the Sun” a year later and Dieterle’s 1949 classic “Portrait of Jennie.” While not exactly comparable to Gable and Lombard, 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. The couple eventually married in 1960. That was a happy union, lasting until Cotten’s death in 1994.