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Aug 7, 201312:06 PMThe Telegraph

The Premier Blog of the West

Off The Beaten Trail: Jennifer Jones In 'New Frontier'

Aug 7, 2013 - 12:06 PM
Off The Beaten Trail: Jennifer Jones In 'New Frontier'

From 1935 to 1943, a trio of cowboy heroes called The Three Mesquiteers appeared in 51 Republic ‘B’ movies. One of them, New Frontier (1939) featured an actress newly signed to the studio named Phylis Isley. Four years after it was released and largely forgotten, Isley changed her name to Jennifer Jones, and won the Academy Award for Song of Bernadette.

Jones may have been destined for a career in show business — her parents owned a theatrical stock company, and toured the United States putting on plays for ten cents a ticket. She studied drama at Northwestern University and attended the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, but when she arrived in Hollywood with her husband, a then-struggling actor named Robert Walker, the only offer she received was a six-month contract at Republic Pictures, paying $75 a week.

New Frontier, her motion picture debut, starred John Wayne, Raymond Hatton, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan as the aforementioned Mesquiteers. In this rather laid-back adventure that was typical for these three amigos, they intervene when ranchers in New Hope Valley are threatened by a government project that would flood the valley to build a new dam.

Jones plays Celia Braddock, the granddaughter of the settlement’s founder. It’s not much of a role, and the use of a stunt double is obvious for her riding scenes. However, there’s a brief but memorably lovely moment when young Phyllis Isley, the best years of her career still ahead, shares a dance with John Wayne, who was also destined for greater heights. It’s a scene any classic movie buff will treasure.

Jennifer Jones’ most famous western role will always be the lusty Pearl Chavez in David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun. But her first western — and her first movie — was a 55-minute programmer that some crafty studio marketer should have re-released as Bernadette and the Duke.

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