Greer Garson

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Greer Garson
Greer Garson-publicity.JPG
Greer Garson, c. 1940s
Born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson
(1904-09-29)29 September 1904
Manor Park, London, Essex, England, UK
Died 6 April 1996(1996-04-06) (aged 91)
Dallas, Texas, USA
Resting place
Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas, Texas
Occupation Actress, philanthropist
Years active 1937–1982
Spouse(s)

Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson Fogelson, CBE (29 September 1904 – 6 April 1996), was a British American actress who was very popular during World War II, being listed by the Motion Picture Herald as one of America's top ten box office draws from 1942 to 1946.[1] As one of MGM's major stars during the 1940s, Garson received seven Academy Award nominations, including a record five consecutive nominations, winning the Best Actress award for Mrs. Miniver (1942).

Early life[edit]

Greer Garson was born on 29 September 1904[2] in Manor Park, London[3] in Essex, England, the only child of Nina (née Nancy Sophia Greer; died 1958) and George Garson (1865–1906), a commercial clerk in a London importing business.[2] Her father was born in London, to Scottish parents,[2] and her mother was from Drumaloor, Casar, County Down, Ireland.[3] The name "Greer" is a contraction of "MacGregor", another family name.[4] Her maternal grandfather was David Greer, an RIC sergeant in Castlewellan, County Down, Ireland, in the 1880s, who later became a land steward to the Annesley family, wealthy landlords who built the town of 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 that Garson was born in this house. She was, in fact, born in London, but spent much of her childhood in Castlewellan.

Garson was educated at King's College London, where she earned degrees in French and 18th century literature, and at the University of Grenoble in France.[5] She had intended to become a teacher, but instead began working with an advertising agency, and appeared in local theatrical productions.

Career[edit]

Greer Garson's early professional appearances were on stage, starting at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in January 1932. She appeared on television during its earliest years (the late 1930s), most notably starring in a thirty-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.[6]

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.[7]

Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet in 1941, 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' 1938–42 record, a record that still stands.[8] 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,[9] after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit.) She was also nominated for Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945).

Garson was a frequent costar of 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).

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!"[10] Gable argued for "He put the Arson in Garson"; she countered "She put the Able in Gable!"; thereafter, the safer catchphrase was selected. Garson's popularity dropped 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.[11] 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.

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.[12]

Garson appeared as a mystery guest on What's My Line on 25 October 1953.

Garson's 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, which continues to be aired on ABC Family. During this time she also appeared on Laugh-in and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, showing her great sense of humour.

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

In 1993, Queen Elizabeth II recognised Garson's achievements by investing her as Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Personal life[edit]

Garson in That Forsyte Woman

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. She lived with him briefly in Nagpur, a small town in central India but pined for the theatre and finally succumbed to its calling. A besotted Sir Snelson reportedly grieved at losing her and would watch multiple screenings of any movie of hers that played in Nagpur. The actual marriage reportedly lasted only a few weeks, but it was not formally dissolved until 1943.

Her second husband, whom she married (at age 39) on 24 July 1943,[13] was Richard Ney (1916–2004), the younger actor (27 years old) who played her son in Mrs. Miniver. They divorced in 1947. Ney claimed the divorce was due to the pressure of sharing a home with his mother-in-law,[14] while Garson testified in court that Ney was critical of her work and accused her of being a "has-been."[15] Ney eventually became a respected stock market analyst, financial consultant and author.[14]

In 1949,[16] she married a millionaire Texas oilman and horse breeder, E.E. "Buddy" Fogelson (1900–1987), and in 1967, the couple retired to their "Forked Lightning Ranch" in New Mexico. They purchased the U.S. 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, Texas, where Garson funded the Greer Garson Theatre facility at Southern Methodist University.

During her later years, Garson was recognised for her philanthropy and civic leadership. She donated millions 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 William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and 3) they have large ladies' rooms.[17]

Garson was a devout Presbyterian.[18]

Death[edit]

Greer Garson died from heart failure at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas 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.

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Katherine Chipping Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Remember? Linda Bronson Holland
1940 Miracle of Sound, TheThe 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 Youngest Profession, TheThe 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 Valley of Decision, TheThe 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
Miniver Story, TheThe 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 Singing Nun, TheThe Singing Nun Mother Prioress
1967 Happiest Millionaire, TheThe Happiest Millionaire Mrs. Cordelia Biddle
1968 Little Drummer Boy, TheThe Little Drummer Boy "Our Story Teller" Credited as Miss Greer Garson
1978 Little Women Aunt Kathryn March
1986 Directed by William Wyler Herself Documentary

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Quigley's Annual List of Box-Office Champions, 1932–1970". Reel Classics. 23 October 2003. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Troyan, p. 8.
  3. ^ a b Troyan, p. 10.
  4. ^ Troyan, p. 9.
  5. ^ http://www.thefilter.com/Actor-Director/156502-Greer-Garson Garson's educational details are provided near the beginning
  6. ^ Troyan, Michael (1999), pp. 57–58, 380.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (9 August 1940). "Movie Review Pride and Prejudice (1940)". nytimes.com. 
  8. ^ http://www.starpulse.com/Actresses/Garson,_Greer/Biography/
  9. ^ "The Longest Acceptance Speech". Infoplease. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  10. ^ Garnett, Tay, Light Your Torches and Pull up your Tights, New Rochelle, N.Y., Arlington House, [1973], ISBN 0-87000-204-X
  11. ^ Troyan, Michael (1999), pp. 240–241.
  12. ^ "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". tv.com. Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  13. ^ "24 Jul 1943". FamilySeach.org. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Richard Ney Dies; Actor, Investment Adviser". Washington Post. 22 July 2004. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  15. ^ "Garson Hasn't Got Ney". Life: 50. 6 October 1947. Retrieved 22 March 2013.  <references/>
  16. ^ "Forked Lightning Ranch". National Park Service. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  17. ^ Sarvady, Andrea (2006), p. 83.
  18. ^ Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, The University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, Kentucky (1999), pp. 8–9.

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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 links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Charles Edward Wilson
Cover of Time Magazine
20 December 1943
Succeeded by
Patriarch Sergius