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Greer Garson
CBE
Greer Garson-publicity.JPG
Greer Garson, circa 1940s
Born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson
(1904-09-29)29 September 1904
Manor Park, East Ham, Essex, England
Died 6 April 1996(1996-04-06) (aged 91)
Dallas, Texas, US
Resting place Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery
Alma mater King's College London
Occupation Actress, singer, philanthropist
Years active 1932–1986
Spouse(s)

Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson, CBE (29 September 1904 – 6 April 1996), was a British-American actress popular during the Second World War, being listed by the Motion Picture Herald as one of America's top-ten box office draws from 1942 to 1946.[1]

A major star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the 1940s, Garson received seven Academy Award nominations, including a record-tying five consecutive nominations for Best Actress, winning the award for Mrs. Miniver (1942).

Contents

Early lifeEdit

Greer Garson was born on 29 September 1904[2] in Manor Park, East Ham, then in Essex, now part of London, the only child of Nina (née Nancy Sophia Greer; 1880-1958) and George Garson (1865–1906), a commercial clerk in a London importing business. Her father was born in London to Scottish parents,[2] and her mother was born at Drumalore (usually spelled as Drumalure or Drumaloor), a townland near Belturbet in County Cavan, Ireland.[3] The name "Greer" is a contraction of "MacGregor", another family name.[4]

Her maternal grandfather was David Greer (c. 1848-1913) from Kilrea, County Londonderry, an RIC sergeant stationed for a time in Castlewellan, County Down. In the 1870s or 1880s, he became a land steward to the Annesley family, wealthy landlords who built the town of Castlewellan. While he lived in Castlewellan, David Greer lived in a large detached house built on the lower part of what was known as Pig Street, or known locally as the Back Way, near Shilliday's builder's yard. The house was called "Claremount", and today the street is named Claremount Avenue. It was often reported erroneously that Greer Garson was born in this house (The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia gives her year of birth as 1908 and her place of birth as County Down, Ireland).[5]

Garson was educated at King's College, London and the University of Grenoble, where she earned degrees in French and 18th-century literature. While aspiring to be an actress, she worked at an advertising agency as a company secretary along with George Sanders, who wrote in his autobiography that it was Garson who suggested he take up a career in acting.[6]

CareerEdit

Greer Garson's early professional appearances were on stage, starting at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in January 1932 when she was 27 years old. She appeared on television during its earliest years (the late 1930s), most notably starring in a 30-minute production of an excerpt of Twelfth Night in May 1937 with Dorothy Black. These live transmissions were part of the BBC's experimental service from Alexandra Palace, and this is the first known instance of a Shakespeare play performed on television.[7]

 
Garson in Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talent. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in late 1937 but did not begin work on her first film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until late 1938. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film, Pride and Prejudice.[8]

Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet in 1941 (a poorly received and sanitized re-make of a Pre-Code version of the same name, which had starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy) and that same year became a major box-office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama Blossoms in the Dust, which brought her the first of five consecutive Best Actress Oscar nominations, tying Bette Davis's 1938–1942 record, which still stands.[9]

Garson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942 for her role as a strong British wife and mother in the middle of World War II in Mrs. Miniver. (Guinness Book of World Records credits her with the longest Oscar acceptance speech, at five minutes and 30 seconds,[10] after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit.)

In 1942, Garson also co-starred in the powerful, dramatic film Random Harvest with Academy Award winner Ronald Colman.[9] Set at the end of World War I with Ronald Colman as a shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier and Greer Garson as his love interest, Random Harvest received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It lost to Mrs. Miniver, and Garson won the Academy Award for that role. Colman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Random Harvest, and Garson could not be nominated for her role in that movie because she was already nominated for her title role in Mrs. Miniver.[citation needed]

Garson was also nominated for Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945). She frequently co-starred with Walter Pidgeon, ultimately making eight pictures with him: Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington, Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950), and Scandal at Scourie (1953).[9]

 
Garson and co-star Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Garson was partnered with Clark Gable after his return from war service in Adventure (1945). The film was advertised with the catch-phrase "Gable's back, and Garson's got him!".[11]

Gable argued for "He put the Arson in Garson"; she countered with "She put the Able in Gable!"; thereafter, the safer catchphrase was selected. Garson's popularity declined somewhat in the late 1940s, but she remained a prominent film star until the mid-1950s. In 1951, she became a naturalised citizen of the United States.[12]

She made only a few films after her MGM contract expired in 1954. In 1958, she received a warm reception on Broadway in Auntie Mame, replacing Rosalind Russell, who had gone to Hollywood to make the film version. In 1960, Garson received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt, this time losing to Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8. Greer was special guest on an episode of the TV series Father Knows Best playing herself.[citation needed]

On 4 October 1956, Garson appeared with Reginald Gardiner as the first two guest stars of the series in the premiere of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. She appeared as a mystery guest on What's My Line on 25 October 1953 and again on 6 April 1958 to promote her appearance onstage in Auntie Mame. She also served as a panelist rather than a guest on the What's My Line episode which aired on 12 May 1957.[13]

She returned to MGM for a role in The Singing Nun (1966) starring Debbie Reynolds. Her last film, in 1967, was Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire, although she made infrequent television appearances afterwards. In 1968, she narrated the children's television special The Little Drummer Boy. Her final role for television was in a 1982 episode of The Love Boat.[9]

HonoursEdit

Garson received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, her late husband's alma mater, in 1991.[citation needed]

In 1993, Queen Elizabeth II recognised Garson's achievements by investing her as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[14]

Personal lifeEdit

 
Greer Garson in That Forsyte Woman (1949)

Garson was married three times. Her first marriage, on 28 September 1933, was to Edward Alec Abbot Snelson (1904–1992), later Sir Edward, a British civil servant who became a noted judge and expert in Indian affairs. After a honeymoon in Germany he returned to his appointment at Nagpur, a town in central India, and she chose to return to her mother and to the theatre in Britain[15]. Sir Edward reportedly grieved at losing her and would watch multiple screenings of any film of hers that played in Nagpur. The marriage was not formally dissolved until 1943.

Her second husband, whom she married (at age 39) on 24 July 1943,[16] was Richard Ney (1916–2004), a dozen years' younger actor who had played her son in Mrs. Miniver. The relationship was under constant scrutiny due to their age difference, and despite attempts by MGM to falsely publicize that Garson was merely three years older than Ney and to portray the image of a happy couple, the marriage was troubled. They divorced in 1947 after several attempts at reconciliation.[17][18] Ney eventually became a stock-market analyst, financial consultant, and author.[17]

In 1949,[19] Garson married a millionaire Texas oilman and horse breeder, E.E. "Buddy" Fogelson (1900–1987).

 
Residence at Forked Lightning Ranch, New Mexico

In 1967, the couple retired to their "Forked Lightning Ranch" in New Mexico. They purchased the US Hall of Fame champion Thoroughbred Ack Ack from the estate of Harry F. Guggenheim in 1971 and were highly successful as breeders. They also maintained a home in Dallas, where Garson funded the Greer Garson Theatre facility at Southern Methodist University.[citation needed] She founded a permanent endowment for the Fogelson Honors Forum at Texas Christian University (TCU) in nearby Fort Worth. Although Buddy Fogelson never obtained a college degree, he attended TCU for two years and claimed it as his alma mater.[citation needed]

Garson was a registered Republican and in 1966 was asked to run for Congress on the Republican ticket against Democrat Earle Cabell but declined.[20].

During her later years, Garson was recognised for her philanthropy and civic leadership. She donated several million dollars for the construction of the Greer Garson Theatre at both the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts on three conditions: 1) the stages be circular, 2) the premiere production be A Midsummer Night's Dream, and 3) they have large ladies' rooms.[21] Garson was a devout Presbyterian.[22]

The actress suffered a back injury during her first 18 months at MGM while waiting for a role Mayer deemed worthy of her, and was nearly released from her contract. Her back was injured again while filming Desire Me in Monterey on 26 April 1946 when a wave knocked her and co-star Richard Hart from the rocks where they were rehearsing. A local fisherman and extra in the film rescued Garson from the surf and potential undertow. She was bruised and in shock and required by doctors to rest for several days. The injury to her back would require several surgeries over the coming years.[23]

From the early 1970s, interest was renewed in the stars of Hollywood's golden age, as their films received regular TV airings, and more facts about performers came to light as opposed to the information that the studios had circulated about them. Around this time, a somewhat plausible 1908 year of birth for Garson began to appear in print. This date achieved wide credence until after Garson's death when obituaries revealed she had actually been born four years earlier in 1904.[24]

DeathEdit

In her final years, Garson occupied a penthouse suite at the Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. She died there from heart failure on 6 April 1996 at the age of 91. She is interred beside her late husband in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.[9]

FilmographyEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Katherine Chipping Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Remember? Linda Bronson Holland
1940 The Miracle of Sound Herself Colour test for Blossoms in the Dust
Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet
1941 Blossoms in the Dust Edna Kahly Gladney Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
When Ladies Meet Mrs. Claire Woodruff
1942 Mrs. Miniver Mrs. Kay Miniver Academy Award for Best Actress
Random Harvest Paula Ridgeway
1943 The Youngest Profession Herself – Guest Star
Madame Curie Marie Curie Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1944 Mrs. Parkington Susie "Sparrow" Parkington Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1945 The Valley of Decision Mary Rafferty Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Adventure Emily Sears
1947 Desire Me Marise Aubert
1948 Julia Misbehaves Julia Packett
1949 That Forsyte Woman Irene Forsyte
1950 Screen Actors Herself Short subject, uncredited
The Miniver Story Mrs. Kay Miniver
1951 The Law and the Lady Jane Hoskins
1953 Scandal at Scourie Mrs. Victoria McChesney
Julius Caesar Calpurnia
1954 Her Twelve Men Jan Stewart
1955 Strange Lady in Town Dr. Julia Winslow Garth
1960 Sunrise at Campobello Eleanor Roosevelt Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Pepe Herself Cameo
1966 The Singing Nun Mother Prioress
1967 The Happiest Millionaire Mrs. Cordelia Biddle
1968 The Little Drummer Boy "Our Story Teller" Credited as Miss Greer Garson
1974 Crown Matrimonial Queen Mary
1976 The Little Drummer Boy, Book II "Our Story Teller" Credited as Miss Greer Garson
1978 Little Women Aunt Kathryn March
1986 Directed by William Wyler Herself Documentary

Radio appearancesEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Quigley's Annual List of Box-Office Champions, 1932–1970". Reel Classics. 23 October 2003. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Troyan, p. 8.
  3. ^ Troyan, p. 10.
  4. ^ Troyan, p. 9.
  5. ^ Ephraim Katz, The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia (1994)
  6. ^ Sanders, George (1960). Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Hamish Hamilton. p. 54. 
  7. ^ Troyan, Michael (1999), pp. 57–58, 380.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley (9 August 1940). "Movie Review Pride and Prejudice (1940)". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Greer Garson on IMDb
  10. ^ "The Longest Acceptance Speech". Infoplease. Retrieved 29 April 2007. 
  11. ^ Garnett, Tay, Light Your Torches, and Pull up your Tights, New Rochelle, NY, Arlington House, 1973; ISBN 0-87000-204-X
  12. ^ Troyan, Michael (1999), pp. 240–241.
  13. ^ What's My Line? (11 January 2014). "What's My Line? – Ziegfeld Girls; Walter Brennan; Adolph Menjou, Greer Garson [panel] (12 May 1957)". YouTube. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  14. ^ "Garson, Greer (1904–1996)". encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 21 February 2018. 
  15. ^ Troyan, Michael (1968). A Rose for Mrs. Miniver : The life of Greer Garson. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-8131-2094-2. 
  16. ^ "24 July 1943". FamilySearch.org. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Richard Ney Dies; Actor, Investment Adviser". The Washington Post. 22 July 2004. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Garson Hasn't Got Ney". Life: 50. 6 October 1947. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  19. ^ "Forked Lightning Ranch". National Park Service. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  20. ^ "Greer Garson Nixes Political Career". The San Bernardino Sun. United Press International. 12 January 1966. (Subscription required (help)). 
  21. ^ Sarvady, Andrea (2006), p. 83.
  22. ^ Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, Kentucky (1999), pp. 8–9.
  23. ^ Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, The University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, Kentucky (1999), Chapter 17.
  24. ^ Greer Garson tribute site, ggarson.weebly.com; retrieved 19 August 2017.
  25. ^ "Greer Garson Stars in 'Brief Encounter' On Academy Award—WHP". Harrisburg Telegraph. 16 November 1946. p. 17. Retrieved 14 September 2015 – via Newspapers.com.   
  26. ^ "'Lux' Guest". Harrisburg Telegraph. 23 November 1946. p. 19. Retrieved 13 September 2015 – via Newspapers.com.   
  27. ^ Kirby, Walter (14 December 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". Decatur Daily Review. p. 54. 

SourcesEdit

  • Katz, Ephraim (1994). The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia. Pan Macmillan Limited. p. 511. ISBN 0-333-61601-4. 
  • Sarvady, Andrea (2006). Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811852482. 
  • Troyan, Michael (1999). A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813120942. 

External linksEdit