The actress Jennifer Jones died on December 17, 2009; her death was reported in today’s New York Times and Los Angeles Times. I remember attending several receptions at her home in Bel Air. It was a novel sensation to see multi-million dollar works of art casually displayed on a wall in a hallway where others might hang their family pictures. No doubt about it, she exuded star-power wattage even at her then-advanced age. I enjoyed speaking with her, but it was more of a phenomenological encounter with celebrity than a genuine person-to-person conversation.
Both obituaries mentioned her fascination with Far Eastern-based spiritual traditions such as meditation and what now has morphed into the idea of “mindfulness” in psychology. Properly understood, “mindfulness” really is an outgrowth of the human potential movement of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. It will come as no surprise that Ms. Jones was highly involved with it. For example in the book Please Touch – A Guided Tour of the Human Potential Movement (1970), the author Jane Howard states at p. 44: “One enthusiast who has thought of leading workshops herself is a veteran member of many encounter groups: the actress Jennifer Jones Selznick. Her guest house in Los Angeles is often used for groups and marathons and informal human potential meetings. Once when I was at Esalen for a workshop (the ‘Quest for Love’), she was there, too. At first I didn’t recognize her, and could only think ‘Gee, whoever she is she looks so clean; she’s so much more well-groomed than the rest of us.’
Jones’ involvement in the human potential movement is not particularly unusual. Many other actors, actresses, singers and artistes of similar ilk also were in its thrall. She must have been more so than others; there are a plethora of other then-celebrities whom Howard could have mentioned, but she doesn’t. I suspect most of them now are vaguely embarrassed at the association.